Samurai 7

In a future Japan where a feudal society co-exists with flying cities and advanced cybernetic and robotic technology, a long period of warfare concludes with the virtual destruction of the samurai class and their replacement as the dominant force within society by an emergent clique of merchant-aristocrats. Those samurai who survive are reduced to the lowly status of bodyguards or mercenaries, or else resort to banditry. The most notorious bandits are the “nobuseri”, former samurai who have fused their physical bodies with machinery in order to become virtually indestructible fighting robots. The “nobuseri” lead gangs of bandits who plunder rural villages for their annual tribute of rice; this rice is in turn paid to the Emperor’s court so that Imperial authorities will turn a blind eye to the bandits’ activities – so long as the bandits agree to not disrupt the trade upon which the merchants’ power rests and the economy of the new “age of peace” is based. The inhabitants of Kanna Village, however, have grown weary of being plundered and having their women abducted. At the instruction of the village elder, the “water priestess” of Kanna village and two companions journey to a nearby city to recruit samurai willing to fight for the villagers’ freedom. In doing so, they set off a chain of events in which the inner workings of power are exposed, the conflicting loyalties of the human heart are tested, and the fate of far more than a village and its harvest rest on the sharp blades and uncertain temperaments of a group of sometimes painfully human warriors…

Based on Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1954 film “Seven Samurai” and produced by famed anime studio Gonzo, “Samurai 7” first aired on Japanese television in 2004. With an animation style that owes a great deal to Hayao Miyazaki (think “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” or “Princess Mononoke”), and atmospherics that channel (or which would re-appear in) sources as diverse as “Afro Samurai”, “Wolf’s Rain” and “Last Exile”, “Samurai 7” is much more than a mere re-telling of an old tale. Utilising as a metaphor the historical discontent of the samurai class  – who were forcibly pacified by the Tokugawa shogunate in the 16th century in order to bring an end to the long era of warfare known as the Sengoku Period – “Samurai 7” critiques the corruption and nepotism that lay at the heart of the “miraculous” Japanese economic recovery after WWII. And unlike “The Magnificent Seven”, the romanticised western remake of “Seven Samurai”, there is no Hollywood happy ending; staying true to the original, the conclusion to “Samurai 7” articulates a bittersweetness from which hope is not necessarily absent. At 26 episodes, the series may challenge some viewer’s patience; but it is a beautifully realised and ultimately affecting story of honour, hope, love and loss that amply rewards anyone prepared to watch it through to the end.    

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.