The Campbellian and Musashian Samurai

Sean Heuberger

Topics in Literature

Dr. Ruth Benander


The Campbellian and Musashian Samurai

The Musashi hero archetype is defined by one’s own mastery of weaponry, battle tactics, calm thought and extensive practice. A hero according to Campbellian standards is not defined by the skills they possess but rather their personal change and development of their character both at the start and end of their journey. While Musashi emphasizes readiness in the face of all scenarios, and extensive practice and study that works toward preventing defeat in such scenarios, Campbell appreciates that the hero is never fully prepared for his trials, and those trials will inevitably change the hero into what he must be as well as teach him invaluable lessons. According to these guidelines, Kambei is the quintessential Musashi hero in his calm strategizing and battle tested wisdom, and Kikuchiyo best embodies the Campbell archetype in his transformation from the erratically emotional jokester to the hardened samurai.

Throughout the story of The Seven Samurai, Kambei is always equipped with a plan in times of crisis and adapts well to all the situations he encounters. He benefitted heavily from his years of warring prior to the story, as he was never caught without an answer to a given problem. This is made apparent in the way that he disguised himself as a monk in order to guarantee a child’s safety in a hostage situation as opposed to simply charging in and dispatching the thief with no regard for the innocent lives. Kambei further displays Musashi qualities in his strategizing the defenses for the village against bandit attack. He stations troops of villagers accompanied by experienced samurai to several choke points throughout the village that are all equipped to prevent horse riders from storming inside, and he stipulates only allowing small increments inside so that the combined forces can easily and slowly dispatch the bandits. Kambei even thoughtfully keeps a parchment with forty circles, and he crosses them out according to how many bandits they had killed that day in order to assess what was still remaining for them to combat. Even when his plan is beginning to fall apart, he addresses the issues without panicking and returns to his post unshaken by doubts or fear that he might have made an error. This battle hardened veteran of a character lead the samurai and villagers to victory based on his past experiences, what he had learned from them, and how best to apply those lessons to a dire situation, making him an ideal hero in the philosophy of the Musashi archetype.

Kikuchiyo resides on the opposite end of the spectrum as a well-structured Campbell hero. His initial demeanor is that of the trickster feigning the role of a samurai, having neither formal training nor legitimate claim to be a samurai in the truest sense of the societal class. To his companions he is simply a humorous peasant with great dreams and a comically greater sword. One of his first trials was mournfully looking on as a mother dies leaving a child orphaned, which apparently is similar to his own upbringing in the way that he responds, and the thoughts that he could have perhaps prevented such a tragedy. A second significant trial resides in his vainglorious attempt to recover a musket leaving a gap in the villages defenses that results in the death of Gorobei, a fellow samurai, and Yohei, the villager Kikuchiyo left in charge of his troop. Both events harden him as he feels that his failure to be the samurai he needed to be resulted in a loss of life easily prevented, and he dwells on these hardships extensively. On the final day of the bandit assault, Kikuchiyo undergoes his last transformation, ironically enough becoming the archetypal Musashi samurai he needed to be at the beginning of his journey. The final musket wielding bandit infiltrates the village and holds the women hostage as he guns down Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo from the hut. Despite being shot, Kikuchiyo does not emotionally respond and accept defeat, but rather calmly rises and sets upon the musketeer, disregarding his own imminent death. Kikuchiyo’s last stand marks his ultimate change into the samurai he desperately wished to be, as he had no concern for his mortality and was set on killing the panicking musketeer so that he could prevent any further deaths. In this way he is not only the Cambellian hero that underwent great personal change, but he also died a hero’s death that Campbell also acknowledges as a possible part of the hero’s journey.

The modern American viewer would find Kikuchiyo to be the most compelling hero for a variety of reasons. Initially they will enjoy him because he is the hero that jokes and is made a fool of frequently, a common hero archetype that the majority of the American audience is accustomed to. He is the pseudo-samurai that more often acts like a typical American hero in his brash actions and flamboyant emotional responses. Perhaps more importantly the American viewer can put themselves in Kikuchiyo’s shoes effortlessly as they could easily see themselves being that character in the story, in that they have aspirations of being a calm and collected samurai but would more than likely make light of the situation and embarrass themselves. His conviction in his dying moments is easily the aspect Kikuchiyo would be most admired for by an American audience, as this seemingly polar opposite of a samurai finally achieves his goals and uses his new-found identity to selflessly end the danger and sacrifice himself for the sake of his brethren and the innocent villagers.

The archetypes of Musashi and Campbell highlight significant differences in a hero’s identity that make them separate but equal in many ways. One may strive for physical, mental and strategic perfection, while the other may already believe they are perfect yet become humbled and changed by the hardships of their journey. It becomes apparent through the study of a culture and its historical heroes that such archetypes are defined by the region, and a particular hero can wildly differ from another hero just a short distance away. Though it remains clear, at least in regards to an American audience, that the lovable, emotional hero who faces turmoil and strife is the hero Americans will continue to hold most dear to their heart.


One Response to The Campbellian and Musashian Samurai

  1. benander says:

    This is my favorite sentence of the essay: “To his companions he is simply a humorous peasant with great dreams and a comically greater sword.” You do a marvelous job explicating Kikuchiyo’s journey. I agree that he does evolve into the Musashi hero in his last act: one cut, victory is more important than death. You make a great point about how American audiences can better identify with this character because of his emotional change and sacrifice. The Kambei character might be too abstract for them to get, although no less admirable.

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