Great Movie Scenes for Story: Part 1 Kikuchiyo’s Monologue / Seven Samurai
We all have our favorite scenes, from the subtle exchange of lines and glances in the basement bar scene from Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, to the trench dog fight from Lucas’ Star Wars. There are certain moments within movies that we love and remember perhaps even more than the whole movie itself.
But do you know why you love them so much? Why do they stick out to you? I also have my favorites and I want to share with you one now and try to uncover why they are so dear to me.
First: Toshiro Mufine’s “kill the farmers” scene from Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa, 1954.
Seven Samurai is probably the most famous and heralded Japanese film in history. Often imitated and used for the basis of the band adventure, it stands above as also one the best films ever made. But one scene in particular stands out even in this masterpiece.
(Spoiler Alert) I strongly recommend you watch the film or at least this scene before I discuss it further. I cannot do it any justice.
Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) has just returned from gathering weapons and armor from fallen Samurai near the village the seven samurai were hired to protect. When the samurai realize that this loot comes from samurai that the very village they are protecting is responsible for killing the dead samurai, the mood darkens.
The scene unfolds:
Shichiroji (Kato Daisuke) grabs his spear and tosses at the two farmers holding the weapons draped over a bamboo pole to scare them. Kikuchiyo sits in front of the rest of the samurai in silence. Then Kyuzo (Miyaguchi Seiji) says “I want to kill all of these farmers.” Suddenly Kikuchiyo erupts, launching into one of the most famous monologues in film history.
He explains that farmers are every bit as treacherous and villainous as the samurai think. “But who made them that way”, he asks?
Who invades their lands, forced them into hard labor, steals their food, rape their women, and kill them if they resist. So what are they supposed to do?
What can they do?
Kikuchiyo then breaks down and cries. Kambei (Shimura Takashi), the leader of the group looks up, also with tears in his eyes, and says, “you were a farmer weren’t you?” Kikuchiyo, realizing he’s exposed himself, runs out of the house. He’s diminished himself in their eyes, but he’s just saved the mission without realizing it.
The power and emotion in Toshiro’s performance smacks you right in the face and it’s hard to deny empathy for him. In that way you are in the position of the other samurai, perhaps not as angry but still feeling what Kikuchiyo is saying. His fury represents the world they are all in, hunters on one end, hunted at the other. Cogs in a wheel none of them built and none can stop. In the end, Kikuchiyo exposes the village for what they truly are, humans doing anything to survive, even if it means killing samurai. But his monologue also forces the samurai to realize that they all play a part in the world they live in and while no one is innocent, no one is particularly guilty either.
One of the key ingredients that makes this scene so great is the tension.
Chuck Jones said:
“Tension is the handmaiden of creativity.”
Have you ever pulled back a tree branch, set a mousetrap, or stretched a rubber band to its limit?
There is literally a tension there but also a kind of excitement building in anticipation of what happens when we release than tension. It could be a disaster of pain or something visually stunning. When Kyuzo says out loud what the other samurai are thinking, in that moment the samurai could decide that the farmers are not worth protecting or worse they could decide to attack them but in that moment, Kikuchiyo changes their mind, in a way that only his character could. This was a plausible resolution to a moment where everything could have fallen apart but didn’t and we accepted it, as impossible as it seemed, just like the samurai.
In my next post I will cover another key film moment from an iconic film in our pop culture. Let me know what you think about my article in the comments below. Until next time, keep working hard on your stories.
Story never ends!