Toho pulled the plug on the project several times when it ran over budget, forcing director Akira Kurosawa to go back and personally argue with the board of directors who were convinced they were making a flop.
Akira Kurosawa's original idea for the film was to make it about a day in the life of a samurai, beginning with him rising from bed and ending with him making some mistake that required him to kill himself to save face. Despite a good deal of research, he did not feel he had enough solid factual information to make the movie, but came across an anecdote about a village hiring samurai to protect them and decided to use that idea. Kurosawa wrote a complete dossier for each character with a speaking role. In it were details about what they wore, their favorite foods, their past history, their speaking habits and every other detail he could think of about them. No other Japanese director had ever done this before.
Often credited as the first modern action movie. Many now commonly used cinematographic and plot elements - such as slow motion for dramatic flair and the reluctant hero to name a couple - are seen for perhaps the first time. Other movies may have used them separately before, but Akira Kurosawa brought them all together.
This was the first film on which Akira Kurosawa used multiple cameras, so he wouldn't interrupt the flow of the scenes and could edit the film together as he pleased in post-production. He used the multiple camera set-up on every subsequent film.
The movie is set in 1586. We learn during the scroll scene that the real Kikuchiyo was born in year two of the Tensho era (1574) and is now 13 years old. Japanese convention considered a child to be one year old when he was born and advanced his age one year each new year.
Early in the writing process, six of the samurai were conceptualized, all loosely based on historic figures. Originally Toshirô Mifune was meant to play Kyuzo, the extremely stoic master swordsman. However, Akira Kurosawa and his collaborating writers decided that they needed a character they could more identity with who wasn't a fully-fledged samurai, so Kikuchiyo was created. Since Kikuchiyo didn't have a historic basis, Mifune was allowed to do an unprecedented (for a Kurosawa film) amount of improvisation in the part.
Akira Kurosawa did not get along well with actor Yoshio Inaba, (Gorobei), deriding and yelling at him for most of the shoot. Although Inaba appeared in a minor role in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957), Inaba apparently found the experience of shooting Seven Samurai (1954) so stressful that he limited the amount of film work he did after it.
This film is often described as the greatest Japanese film ever made, including by well-known Japanese film historian Donald Richie and by Entertainment Weekly, in its list of The 100 Greatest Films of All Time. Interestingly, despite its widespread commercial popularity, it was not particularly highly regarded by Japanese critics at the time of its release (the early 1950s is now regarded as a sort of Golden Age of Japanese cinema).
In recent decades, 'Yasujirô Ozu's' Tokyo Story (1953) and Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) have consistently polled as the two greatest Japanese films ever made in both Japanese and foreign movie lists. However, the two master directors had radically different styles and approaches, were employed (for the most part) by different studios, and thus worked with totally different crews. In fact, the only person associated with both films is the prolific character actor Eijirô Tôno, who played both Numata, a drinking buddy of the elderly protagonist, in Tokyo Story, and the desperate kidnapper whom Kambei confronts in Seven Samurai.
The three writers, Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, wrote the final script over 45 days taking no phone calls or visitors, with few exceptions. The constant writing took a toll on their bodies and sickness was rampant in post-war Japan; at one time Kurosawa wound up in the hospital with roundworms.
One of the samurai who is seen walking through the town. This uncredited bit part is the second known film appearance by Akira Kurosawa's regular, Nakadai, who would quickly become one of Japan's most accomplished actors. His active career continues more than 50 years after Seven Samurai (1954).
Kikuchiyo is a girl's name made up of two parts, like Betty Sue in America. That's why the samurai laugh so hard at the name. Obviously Toshirô Mifune's character is illiterate, and it's a very subtle thing that the other samurai choose to tease him about the age and not choosing a girl's name! Kiku translates to Chrysanthemum and Chiyo to one thousand generations. This is in fact one of several occasions in which Mifune's character in a Kurosawa film has a name composed of a plant and a number of years.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The only three samurai survivors, Shichiroji, Katsushiro and Kambei, were the first three title character actors to die in real life: Daisuke Katô; (Shichiroji) died in 1975, Isao Kimura (Katsushiro) died in 1981 and Takashi Shimura (Kambei) died in 1982. Whereas Minoru Chiaki, who played Heihachi, the first Samurai killed, was the last of the title character actors to die in real life (in 1999).
None of the seven samurai are bested in sword-fights, archery or spear-fighting by the bandits. All of the four samurai who are killed in the film are shot by a musket. The only one of the seven who fires a musket in return is Kikuchiyo, who is not technically a samurai and doesn't kill anyone with the shot.
After Shichiroji agrees to join the samurai, Kambei, in a camera close-up, says to him "Maybe we die this time." The picture than shifts to show Shichiroji, with Katsushiro standing behind him. Kambei, Shichiroji, and Katsushiro are the only three samurai to survive.