Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kikuchiyo: An Unlikely Hero (Seven Samurai)

七人の侍 (Seven Samurai) is possibly Akira Kurosawa's most famous work (although he has many). It is often regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, and also one of the most influential. Having watched it today for the second time, I'd like to make a short reflection on a very interesting character: 菊千代 (Kikuchiyo), played by Toshiro Mifune. WARNING: This post will contain spoilers.

When we first see Kikuchiyo, he's a bit of an overenthusiastic bystander at Kambei's defeat of the thief. After this, he follows Kambei often, although he never has the nerve to ask him anything. One night, after getting drunk, he finally gets the nerve to go to Kambei and his colleagues (five samurai) and ask to be admitted to their group, using a family tree that in no way belongs to him. After failing the simple stick test at the door, he uses a mix of drunken, childish logic and drunken (and thus ineffective) violence to get the samurai to let him join them. When they don't let 十三歳 (Thirteen, their nickname for him based on his fake family tree) join in their mission, he ends up following them all the way back to the village, until they finally let him help out.

At the village, we see his true personality: a rash, childish young man. He could be seen as the comic relief of the film often (although he helps with dramatic moments as well). Kikuchiyo uses a more informal and brash language than all the other samurai; his personality is especially well contrasted with Kyuzo's.

In most of the film, he seems incapable of real heroic moments. Most of his time is spent cracking jokes or antagonizing people (whether deliberately or not). His boisterousness alerts the scouts to their presence; his hubris makes him risk his life to get the honor of recovering one of the muskets. This second example seems like it might be heroic: after all, he is risking his life, and Kyuzo did the same thing. The real difference is the intention, though: Kyuzo did it to minimize the risk and protect the samurai and villagers. Kikuchiyo did it to get fame and honor. Kambei's rebuke when he returns makes this very obvious.

There are countless other examples I could give, but overall, the picture one receives of Kikuchiyo is this: an immature, boisterous, rash, prideful, childish young man who attempts to be a samurai. There are some hidden parts to him, though: we learn he was the son of a farmer, and his village was attacked by bandits, just like in this village. It seems like the samurai he met there were not the noble samurai he's teamed with now: when he tries to wear the armor of defeated samurai and is rebuked for it, he goes on a tirade about the evils of samurai. There is definitely some deep-seated hurt and resentment underneath his childish exterior.

During the climactic final battle in the rain, though, he truly breaks through his immaturity and his inner resentment against samurai. Even during the battles against the bandits, Kikuchiyo still seems like a childish guy, almost looking like he's having fun slaying bandits with his many prepared swords. But when Kyuzo is killed by the remaining musketeer, who is hiding in a house, Kikuchiyo goes for justice (or is it revenge?). He charges the house and is shot in the process; even after being shot, though, he pushes onward and slays the last musketeer before he collapses.

This final action could be debated: charging at a concealed, armed man is a bit of a reckless thing to do. But there's no indication that Kikuchiyo did this out of pride or want of honor. As far as the viewer can tell, he charged the final bandit in order to avenge his fallen comrade and save the other people in the village. Is it possible that he really was being his normal childish self? Yes, but it's not probable, based on the film's portrayal.

So, in the final estimate, I believe this is how to view it: Kikuchiyo was able to mature out of his selfish, childish, immature form and sacrifice himself for others (even samurai, whose profession he resents to a point) in a heroic moment. He is honored for this with a true hero's burial.

I think this story of Kikuchiyo can teach us a good lesson: no one is beyond change. Even the most stubbornly childish people can freely give themselves for others. Even the people with the deepest hurt and resentment can forgo their prejudices. Anyone, even the most unlikely person, can be a hero. And that hero will be remembered.

Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.

Nota Bene: The first, second, and fourth images are from Google Image Search. The third image is a screenshot taken by me from the Criterion Collection DVD.

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