The Magnificent Seven

About a month ago, after a meeting in Tucson, I saw the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. magnificent_seven_2016 Because I was in Tucson for work, I was on my own, but I was pleasantly surprised when David B. Riley, an editor I’ve had the pleasure of working with on several projects walked in behind me. So, we got to enjoy watching the new version together.

In this version of the movie, a mine has opened near the town of Rose Creek. The mine owner, played by Peter Sarsgaard, wants to drive away the townspeople so he can have the entire valley for his mine. A woman played by Haley Bennett seeks out gunmen who will drive out the mine owner. It’s an interesting variation on the premise of a village terrorized by bandits.

The movie is, of course, the latest remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The premise of the 2016 version is a bit different from the others I’ve seen. Overall, the revised premise works. I only had one quibble and that was the mine owner’s implicit statement about America being founded on capitalism. In the 1870s where the film is set, venture capitalism was still a relatively newfangled approach to business. Most businessmen of the day would have been entrepreneurs relying on their own money and not the investments of others.

As for the other remakes, I’ve spoken a bit about the steampunk-flavored, futuristic anime remake, Samurai 7 in an earlier blog post. I was recently reminded of Roger Corman’s low budget science fiction remake called Battle Beyond the Stars, which is interesting because it stars Robert Vaughn, who played in the 1960 Magnificent Seven and featured one of the first soundtracks by James Horner. Sadly the new Magnificent Seven was Horner’s last soundtrack composition before he died in a plane accident.

One of the things that makes Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven compelling is the idea of seven very different people coming together to battle insurmountable odds for little or no reward. I especially liked the very diverse group in the latest movie which included an African-American, a Latino, a Native American, and an Asian. As pointed out by director Antoine Fuqua, this not only represents a cross section of America today, but America as it was in the 1800s.

Clockwork-Legion

In thinking about The Magnificent Seven, I’ve come to realize how much it and versions of Seven Samurai have influenced my Clockwork Legion series. In retrospect, it’s especially cool that I watched the movie with David Riley, who published the first of my stories featuring Ramon and Fatemeh in his anthology Trails: Intriguing Stories of the Weird West. In the Clockwork Legion series, I bring together seven heroes, more or less: Sheriff Ramon Morales, Healer Fatemeh Karimi, Captain Onofre Cisneros, Professor M.K. Maravilla, Bounty Hunter Larissa Crimson, Rancher Billy McCarty, and Samurai-turned-farmer Masuda Hoshi. They fight against the insurmountable odds of the Russian Empire aided by an intelligence from the stars. In The Brazen Shark, I even include a few direct homages to the original Seven Samurai. It opens when a village is attacked by samurai bandits and several minor characters in the novel are named after the original seven samurai.

Despite a few similarities, I see Seven Samurai and its successors as just one of many inspirations for my series. I hope you’ll saddle up and come along for the ride. You might just discover a few inspirations I didn’t even see!

7 Samurai 7

Last week, I had the pleasure of announcing the release of my novel Lightning Wolves. One of the characters in the novel is a former samurai named Masuda Hoshi. I didn’t just introduce this character because I thought the idea of a samurai in the wild west seemed cool. He provides a bridge to the next novel in the series, The Brazen Shark, which is set in disputed territory between Russia and Japan.

Samurai_7_DVD_Cover

A couple months ago, I learned about an anime series that retold Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai in a steampunk setting called Samurai 7. Yeah, the titles can mess with you, especially if you try discussing both at the same time, hence the title of the post! All in all, it was a nicely done series. For those who may not be familiar with the source material, Seven Samurai tells the story of a small village plagued by bandits who steal their crops. The villages go to the city and hire samurai to protect them. The only catch is that villagers can only pay the samurai in meals. As a result the group they recruit is a mix of tired war veterans and young men, anxious to prove their worth. It’s a wonderful tale inspired by Kurosawa’s love of American Western films. I find it fitting that Seven Samurai was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Eli Wallach.

Samurai 7 expanded the story of Kurosawa’s original movie considerably, providing more background about each of the characters and adding a new story arc about merchants using the bandits as puppets to rule the land. The steampunk elements were largely incidental, but added some nice visual styling to story. The animation was generally good, although there were three episodes where it looked like a less talented company did some fill-in work. I also had something of a suspension of disbelief issue in that the samurai were so easily able to defeat mecha and advanced guns with swords, but if you can let that slide, it’s fun to watch.

Seven_Samurai

As to which I liked better, the anime or the 1954 film, I’m going to go with a somewhat heretical choice and say that overall I enjoyed the anime more. The reason was simply that there was more time to develop the characters. There’s no question that Seven Samurai is a masterpiece of film making, but it is limited by its, admittedly lengthy, three-hour run time and the period that produced it. Although I liked the samurai Kambei and Kyuzo better in the movie, I liked the arc they went through in the series. What’s more, Seven Samurai has almost no meaningful women characters. The only ones are the farmer’s daughter Shino, who serves as a love interest for the young samurai Katsushiro, and a grandmother who wants vengeance on the bandits for killing her son. Samurai 7 introduced Kirara, a strong-willed water priestess who recruited the samurai. Also, a farmer’s wife captured by the bandits who has no lines in the Kurosawa classic is given a real part including exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome in Samurai 7.

One element I found interesting in comparing the two versions of Seven Samurai was that many of the things that made the anime compelling seemed based on ideas introduced in The Magnificent Seven. The water ceremony of Samurai 7 evokes the fiesta where the gunmen are welcomed in The Magnificent Seven. The western adaptation also introduced the idea that one of the heroes betrayed others in his past. In Seven Samurai the bandits are essentially anonymous, but in the other two adaptations, we get to see them as individuals with problems of their own.

It’s hard to say how all this will influence my new novel, if at all. At the very least, it inspires my creativity. If you want to meet my samurai character, Masuda Hoshi, pick up a copy of Lightning Wolves. It’s on sale for 50% off all this month as Smashwords. Just use the code SSW50 at checkout. If you prefer print copies, they’re available at Amazon.com.