Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece, "Shichinin no Samurai" needs no introduction. It is, as every serious film buff would agree, one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.
Words aren't enough to describe this timeless classic, which has been a source of inspiration for countless films that followed..many of them action films, Spaghetti Westerns, etc.
In sixteenth century Japan, a village is under the threat of an attack by bandits who plan to rob them of their crops after the harvest. The villagers go the village elder to seek advice. He suggests hiring Samurai to defend the village. Now, the Samurai are a feared lot. Knowing that they are infamous for their lust for young women and are also known to be expensive, they villagers initially show reluctance. The wise elderly man then advises to "find hungry Samurai" and hire them.
And so it begins, the first act, which mostly involves the herculean task of finding Samurai who would come to their village, participate in a life-threatening battle against the bandits, only in return for shelter and daily meals. The task is not an easy one, but the first Samurai they manage to convince is himself a wise, experienced and a man possessing leadership qualities. He feels deeply for the villagers who are trying their best to rope him in by eating millet themselves and saving all the rice they have for the Samurai.
He promptly takes up the task of finding himself some more Samurai.
It is in these scenes that the magic of this film begins to show with some of the most cleverly executed sequences that include "testing" of the Samurai to find out if they are indeed fit for the job. Club that with the "reluctant heroes", who aren't initially willing to take up the job, but eventually do. Here we are introduced to the prime characters in the film, the Seven Samurai:
Kanbei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) - The leader of the group, the wisest of them all, who is the first one recruited.
Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao Kimura) - A young ambitious warrior who wishes to be Kanbe's disciple.
Gorobei Katayama (Yoshio Inaba) - A skilled archer.
Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato) - An old acquaintance of Kanbei, meets him by chance in the town and instantly becomes part of the group.
Heihachi Hayashida (Minoru Chiaki) - Known for his sense of humour, the group relies on him to maintain a sense of cheer in the face of adversity.
Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) - The reluctant hero, an excellent swordsman, who initially declines, but later accepts the offer. Kambei thinks very highly of him, as he sees him perform.
Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) - The last addition to the group. He isn't really a Samurai but later proves to be as worthy.
All of them march towards the village with the happy villagers and so begins the second act, which mostly involves building of the master plan to defend the village, training the villagers to form an army and prepare for defense. The third act is the battle itself.
Amidst all this, we are shown the internal conflicts amongst the Samurai and the villagers, the blooming, secret romance between the youngest Samurai and a particular village belle and several other themes.
Apart from the Samurai there is a whole bunch of wonderful characters including Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari), the timid old man, Manzo (Kamatari Fujiwara), Manzo's daughter Shino (Keiko Tsushima), Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) among many others.
Acting is great from almost all of the cast, notably Kurosawa regulars, Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune but it would be unjust to single out particular performances. All of the actors display utmost sincerity in portraying their respective characters and turn in memorable performances.
The ace camerawork combined with some brilliant direction from Akira Kurosawa make this film an unforgettable experience. In spite of the film being made in the 50s the battle sequences are simply breathtaking and far superior in quality compared to films in the later decades.
"Seven Samurai" is one of those rare films, which while watching, you simply forget that it is a foreign language film. You quickly become comfortable with reading the subtitles as the picture itself is so engrossing, and you instantly relate to the characters. You really don't care that you don't understand the language.
At the end of those 200 odd minutes of the film, you know that you have just seen something magnificent and larger than life!