Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) Reviews
Running at almost three and a half hours, many normal cinema goers will be put off buying or renting a DVD for this story, when they could just see it in half the time in 'The Magnificent Seven'. But that would be a terrible mistake. Scarred in the US by cuts by American editors to the build up, the film require the first two hours to make the last hour long battle actually matter to any member of the audience.
During those first two hours each character gets their turn to shine, and all of them do. There isn't a single performance or moment from any of the samurai or supporting cast which lets down the film, as each personality and background of the characters is explored in great detail. This detail is what forms the real basis of Kurosawa's story, a study of the relations between the samurai class and the real people, represented by the farmers. The relations between the class and classless, between the high ranked and the low. The themes of honour, sacrifice and most importantly friendship are all thrown in for good measure, beautifully depicted through the purest form of cinematic storytelling I have seen for a long time.
Lest us forget the action sequences. Perhaps the best in the world? That is a difficult question to answer and I would say not. But the action and battle sequences in 'Seven Samurai' have influenced and affected so many other action films, in every year subsequent, that set ups which we see as normal average components of action fight scenes, first appeared in this masterpiece. Much of the action was a homage to Westerns of the period, but the final sword and arrow battle in the mud and rain will outdo any cowboy shootout.
Awarding the title 'masterpiece', as well as 'classic' to any film, is a tricky and often dangerous one. But this film deserves them in the fullest sense and honour of the words. The acting is exceptional, the action is fantastic, the cinematography and mise-en-scene wonderful. Kurosawa combines the excitement of an action film, with the calm study of people, in a racing powerful and breathtaking piece of real cinema. This is cinema glorified to its most powerful.
First, virtually all of the characters are round. Oftentimes action movies fill the protagonist army with one or two characters who serve merely as brawn, window dressing, or cannon fodder. But here each samurai who meets his end is its own tragedy. And while Kurosawa doesn't waste too much time on back-story, the fore-grounding drama is always compelling, always interesting, and always more complex than what typical films allow.
Second, the opening title cards tell us quite plainly that the bandits are the "bad guys." In another film, they would be given red light sabers. But when we finally get to see the bandits' camp, we're struck by the similarity between the bandits' lives and the villagers'. One of the bandit houses is set on fire, and to validate the bandits' "badness," a woman notices the blaze but neglects to warn anybody. This is the closest Kurosawa comes to demonizing the enemy. Additionally, whereas the samurai are willing the spare the life of a prisoner, the village elder permits his execution by a blood-thirsty crowd and a woman avenging her son. Thus, Kurosawa does what few action films even attempt: he problematizes reductive conceptions of "good" and "evil." Throughout The Seven Samurai, we always know who we're going to root for, but in Kurosawa's hands, we can't be uncritical of our heroes.
For modern audiences used to sharp, stylized action sequences, this film might seem a bit dated. For me, I didn't really care because such sequences rarely adequately compel me. I did have issues with the performances, which I thought were often over-the-top with screaming and yelling where subtlety might have worked better.
Overall, this is an important film, the progenitor of a genre, and almost all of it stands the test of time.
The premise: in chaotic 16th century Japan, as marauders threaten raid villages, one village hires samurai to defend it from a group of bandits. Yet Kurosawa developed these characters in a way unheard of for what might pass as an epic action film. To its astonishing credit, through all of its 207 minutes running time, Seven Samurai never falters or bores. And if the script is a marvel in itself, the acting and production design than derive from it are nothing short of superlative. It is said that Kurosawa forced the villagers to live together as a community during production and be their characters, each and every one of which he had drawn out specifically. This unusual technique gave Seven Samurai a feel of authenticity unparalleled in film history.
The samurai themselves are so richly given life to in the screenplay that little more would have been needed to make them memorable characters, yet the main cast pay off at every turn, and though every one of the seven main actors give in perfect performances, two immortal roles have a particularly resounding effect: Takashi Shimura, who plays the leader of the ragged band of samurai, gives his sage and venerable warrior a god-like intensity that makes the magnetic charisma of his character unquestionable. One of the easiest leaders to root for in all the history of film-making. Stealing the show however, albeit by a very thin margin, is longtime Kurosawa favorite coworker Toshiro Mifune as the rogue seventh, the black sheep of the herd, giving the bravura ultimate performance of a lifetime paved throughout with great roles.
The story follows them and the villagers, equally nuanced and developed, through their encounter, training, eventual bonding and the big inevitable fight for survival. Unlike subsequent very successful remakes, seven Samurai transcended excellency by having many layers and thus being very real and human. Even without the menace, its interpersonal dynamics would have made it perfect human drama, subtle, balancing comedy, intensity, realism, drama and a deep philosophy with astonishing ease, yet the menace does materialize and thus Seven Samurai unleashes its violence in a series of action scenes crafted with such vision and ingenuity as has ever reached an action film.
In the end, what made this into solid gold was, at the core, Akira Kurosawa, who would, despite directing many further masterpieces (Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, Red Beard, Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, Ran), would never top this one. Throughout his life, Kurosawa kept confirming his status as perhaps the greatest director ever. If so, Seven Samurai is the ultimate proof of that truth.
Keiko's Score 100%
Personally I love the recruitment of the samurai and the many different characters you see, the training of the villagers and sparring between the samurai is also brilliantly done. There is never any blood or gore and hardly any rousing musical scores, mainly just simple Japanese style tunes which make it so much better, but the look is one of the best aspects of the film despite being leagues away from modern films. Everything looks so perfect from the village to the landscapes but I like the outfits the best, each samurai looks so authentic and tells a story for each man in the detail and that includes the bandits who also look great, especially the bandit leader, I love the visuals here.
I'm not gonna speak of the plot as I'm sure everyone knows about it and the many many films that have taken the plot over the years 'cough' Sergio 'cough' Leone 'cough' ;)
Its a slow burning story but probably one of the best developed and explored stories committed to film.