Not long after the release of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in 1954—during which it sold more tickets than any other Toho-produced film that year and ranked at #3 on Kinema Junpo’s annual “Best Ten” list1—Toho began searching for an international market for this extraordinary film about poor farmers hiring samurai to defend their village.
Questioning whether a 207-minute subtitled film would sell in the Occident, the studio opted to cut the picture down to 155 minutes before submitting it to the Venice International Film Festival in September 1954. There it won the Silver Lion Prize but nonetheless went home without a distributor. Kurosawa wasn’t shocked, as he recalled the studio edits had done catastrophic damage to the movie’s first half, resulting in a confused narrative that didn’t pick up until the more action-heavy second half, which had only been slightly trimmed.2 The film eventually opened at New York’s Guild Theater in late 1956, after having been re-edited again (this time to 160 minutes), and was exhibited under a new title, The Magnificent Seven. And this was the title United Artists/The Mirsch Company decided to use when they remade the Japanese film as a two-hour western in 1960.
Directed by John Sturges, colorful and entertaining, with one of the most memorable film scores in cinema history, The Magnificent Seven has rightly earned its place as a minor classic, spawning three sequels, a television series, and a remake of its own in 2016. Many of those involved in the 1960 film worked with sheer veneration for Kurosawa’s original. Supporting actor James Coburn recalled seeing Seven Samurai twelve times in twelve days, taking everyone he knew to see it in the process. Leading man Yul Brynner, who’d been one of many parties racing to get remake rights of Kurosawa’s film, stated: “I felt it was one of the great westerns of all time, only it was made by the Japanese in the Japanese idiom.”3 And director Sturges, while fully aware that he was copying another filmmaker’s story, at no point pretended he could surpass the majesty of the original. The immense popularity of both movies has only flourished in the years since, overshadowing the legal trouble that arose in their wake.
The writers of Seven Samurai (1954)
Left to right: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni.
In 1973, Kurosawa and his co-screenwriters on Seven Samurai—Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni—filed a lawsuit against Toho, arguing that the American remake (and its sequels) had been improperly authorized. Their complaint was based on the fact that they’d written the screenplay of Seven Samurai independent of Toho, and that the studio had merely produced the 1954 film; therefore the script was the writers’ intellectual property and Toho was not in a position to approve any third-party remakes without their consent. The Tokyo District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, determining in 1978 that Toho had signed a “one-picture license” with no remake/sequel rights included.4 For this, Kurosawa, Hashimoto, and Oguni were granted a sizable portion of the money Toho acquired through their deal with United Artists.
This would not be the end of the legal scuffles. In 1991, a few years before moving ahead with the television series version of The Magnificent Seven, MGM (having taken over copyright ownership from United Artists) brought a lawsuit of their own against Toho and Kurosawa’s production company, arguing they still had the rights to produce remakes and sequels to Sturges’ 1960 film. Kurosawa countersued, and the dispute was eventually settled out of court in 1993. Toho ended up paying $50,000 to MGM, and new rules were set regarding ownership. Per the new agreement, Kurosawa and his fellow screenwriters retained ownership of their script; Toho retained ownership of Seven Samurai the 1954 movie; MGM retained ownership of The Magnificent Seven and its franchise; and the American studio also retained the right to continue producing remakes/sequels “but only in the Western genre.”5
Any other Seven Samurai remakes would have to be cleared through Kurosawa and his screenwriters (and apparently nowadays through the heirs of Kurosawa Production, who’d authorized another remake to be produced by The Weinstein Company, with a director and a writer attached by 2011;6 that project, it would seem, has faded into oblivion).
As for the Japanese screenwriters and their views on the 1960 The Magnificent Seven. Kurosawa called it “entertaining”7 and was by all accounts very amiable with John Sturges when they met;8 however, he disputed that Sturges’ western was a true version of his film. In 1980, speaking about all the times Occidental filmmakers remade his period films as westerns, he remarked, “Gunslingers are not samurai.”9 Shinobu Hashimoto claimed never to have watched The Magnificent Seven. And Hideo Oguni recalled only the time he met Yul Brynner on a return flight from Paris, during which Brynner gave him a bottle of Napoleon brandy as a souvenir.10
General // June 27, 2020
- Galbraith, Stuart, IV. The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. New York: Faber & Faber, 2002, p. 190. The magazine’s #1 and #2 spots were respectively occupied by The Twenty-Four Eyes and The Garden of Women, both directed by Keisuke Kinoshita.
- Kurosawa Akira. Translated by Donald Richie. Seven Samurai and Other Screenplays. New York: Faber & Faber, 1992, p. 67
- Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven. October Films, 2000.
- Cox, Dan. “MGM, Kurosawa Settle ‘Seven.’” Variety, 12 January 1994.
- Galbraith, p. 196
- “Helmer Rolls a Seven.” Variety, 4 May 2011.
- Cardullo, Bert (ed.) Akira Kurosawa Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008, p. 42
- A popular story goes that Kurosawa gave Sturges a samurai sword as a gift after seeing The Magnificent Seven. Sturges biographer Glenn Lovell repeats this story in his book, additionally claiming the American director’s present also included a kabuki doll. Source: Lovell, Glenn. Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Kindle edition.
- Waggoner, Dianna. “In Homage to the Master, George Lucas and Francis Coppola Unleash Their Clout for Kurosawa.” People, 27 October 1980.
- Galbraith, p. 195
One of the main attractions of collecting old movies is to find forgotten gems where your favorite actors or directors worked on. In the case of Toho, I am especially a fan of the works of directors Kihachi Okamoto, Ishiro Honda and Senkichi Taniguchi, to cite a few. One actor who worked for all three was Toshiro Mifune, whose acting career spanned 48 years, from Snow Trail (1947) to Deep River (1995). (more…)General // April 28, 2020
Spanning a legacy of over 60 years, Godzilla has seen just as many changes to his design as he has seen movie appearances. From the most subtle details on the suits to the Japanese names and meanings behind them, Godzilla: Through the Ages will take an in-depth look at the many iterations of the famous monster. (more…)General // April 12, 2020
There was once a time when I would begin planning the annual April Fools’ joke weeks in advance. Sometimes the concept would be locked in as early as January. Those days are gone, at least from me. If I end up being in charge of the festivities, it’s gonna be a scramble, and April Fools’ day 2020 fit that description. Basically about 72 hours before the day of, there was no plan. Me and Chris mulled over possibilities, but came to no conclusion. I was waiting for inspiration to hit, and it did in an unlikely place… (more…)BY: Anthony RomeroGeneral // April 1, 2020
In April 1952, Akira Kurosawa’s directorial debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943), was re-released to Japanese theaters with a rather heart-wrenching disclaimer: “This film has been modified from its original version […] without consulting the director or the production staff. 1,845 feet of footage was cut in 1944, to comply with the government’s wartime entertainment policies. As much as we’d like to show the original version, we were not able to locate the cut footage.” Kurosawa’s original ran an hour and thirty-seven minutes in length, but the version that returned to theaters clocked in at only 79. To compensate for the missing scenes, Toho’s editors spliced in big, wordy intertitles describing their content; and it is this shorter version—disclaimer and intertitles intact—which remains most accessible today. (more…)General // March 12, 2020
Not long ago, I was chatting with some fellow cinema fans, one of whom confessed he had never seen a film by Yasujiro Ozu and would be rectifying that in the near future. Since the group of us had met through our mutual affinity for kaiju eiga, the joke inevitably came up that he best not look for any giant monsters in whatever film he chose to watch, because none ever turn up in an Ozu film. (Though King Kong does get a mention in 1935’s An Inn in Tokyo, in which the great ape’s declared to be tougher than lions and tigers!) The joke had no sooner played out when I thought of a similar cyberweb gag which had made its way through the fandom back in 2016, when the hype for Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla was current and strong. (more…)General // March 3, 2020
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Over the years, there have been many, many Godzilla costumes created, and while the Godzilla costumes from the actual Toho movies have received a great deal of attention, the Godzilla costumes from other sources, such as movie cameo appearances and commercials, really need more special attention, as their designs and histories are also quite fascinating. For this article I’m joined by Marcus Gwin as we start looking deeper at overlooked Godzilla costumes.General // February 16, 2020
The staff of Toho Kingdom sound off their top Toho film picks. For these lists, each staff member is selecting their top six Toho movies. Why six? Because five is too short and ten feels way too long. In terms of criteria, this is strictly based on which films the staff member would consider their favorite. It doesn’t necessarily tie into the merits of the production itself, so for example don’t be surprised to see more Godzilla movies than Akira Kurosawa films here. (more…)General // February 13, 2020
It’s been months since updates have stopped for Godzilla: Defense Force. That said, the game is still quite available. So for those still playing the game, or those just starting, here is a Godzilla: Defense Force card tier list. This should help players decide what cards to focus on or what cards to play. (more…)BY: Anthony RomeroGeneral // February 2, 2020