Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oriental Accents -- Seven Samurai

I don't know if I need to say a lot about this masterpiece of cinema from 1954. If you haven't seen it--whether you play Asian themed games or not--go out and do so as soon as possible! It's one of the best films ever made.

Farmers from a village targeted by bandits hire a group of 5 ronin samurai, 1 young samurai away from his master, and one imposter samurai to defend them. Seven warriors isn't enough, so they train the villagers, set up defenses around the town, and try to whittle the bandit forces down by selective engagement.

Then of course there's the big battle scene at the end, when the remaining bandits and remaining samurai face off.

It's long--the full version is 207 minutes, but every minute of it is a beautifully crafted work of cinematic art. It's definitly no art film, though. It's called by some "the first modern action movie."

Yes, it's in black and white. Yes, it's got subtitles you'll have to read. Turn off your damn i-phone and live a little. You'll thank me for it.

Now, from a gaming perspective, the basic plot is one that many Game Masters have used before (just as plenty of other film makers have borrowed it). Motley group of untrustworthy 'heroes' defend the village from the bandits/orcs/undead. What's not to love?

It's also got some great tropes of the samurai for players to base characters off of. I'm all for taking literary, cinematic or even pop culture characters, giving them your own twist, and then using them as a character in an RPG. It's part of the fun that leads us from playing cops n' robbers to slinging them twenty-siders, or from reading a book and imagining ourselves in the middle of the action (sure, I could save Helm's Deep if only I were there with an M-60, 10,000 rounds of ammo, and a crate of hand grenades...).

The final great bit of inspiration comes from the sound track. I've got a CD of music from Kurosawa films, and it has a long medley of the various themes from Seven Samurai on it. It's great atmospheric music to play during a game. It's tragic-heroic, a mood that fits Asian themed fantasy gaming, I think. (I'll likely do an Oriental Accents post just on good music to use in the future.)

See this film. Period.


  1. I love that movie. I always thought it'd be neat to design a miniatures game or session of some kind around it.

  2. I am with ze bulette. This is a very atmospheric movie with a great story and superb direction. I hope to run a more Ruins & Ronin White Box one day to dig deeper into the feel of this world.

  3. They also made an anime series version of this movie which isn't all that bad. Perhaps not as great as the original movie, but for those who need bright colors and a robot fixation, it may be easier to watch.

  4. The story is easily transferable to pretty much any genre. When Hollywood started paying attention to Asian cinema this was one of the first (first?) remade as 'The Magnificent Seven', a western starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn. Also a great movie.

    A few years after they made a science fiction version which is pretty awful I think, but the western is great.

  5. Apparently, a new cleaned up DVD (Blue Ray?) version will be out soon from Criterion. The screencaps look beautiful.