MOVIE REVIEW: “Seven Samurai” stars Takashi Shimura (Ikiru, Stray Dog), Toshirô Mifune (Yojimbo, High and Low), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah), Daisuke Katô (Vendetta of a Samurai, Scattered Clouds), Minoru Chiaki (Throne of Blood, Song of Love), Seiji Miyaguchi (The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers, The Challenge), Yoshio Inaba (Harakiri, Matagi), Isao Kimura (Black Lizard, Affair in the Snow), Bokuzen Hidari (The Lower Depths, Red Lion), Kamatari Fujiwara (The Hidden Fortress, The Sword of Doom), Keiko Tsushima (Shiosai, Kyatsu o nigasuna), and Kokuten Kôdô (Godzilla , The Big Boss). It is directed by Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Ran), who wrote the screenplay with Shinobu Hashimoto (Harakiri, Stakeout) and Hideo Oguni (High and Low, Ikiru).
A poor village of farmers in old Japan enlist the help of seven samurai to defend them against a group of bandits who seek to pillage their crops and take their women.
For those of you who have followed my review site, you are well aware that I hardly touch the surface of foreign filmmaking. It’s an area that I have lacked in on this website for a good, long while (almost ten years). Though my site is ultimately coming to a close at the end of the year and the amount of reviews left in the tank are extremely limited, I made it a top priority to see at least one iconic, influential foreign flick on my way out. The one I chose? Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.”
If you are a film snob, you know as well as I do that Kurosawa is one of the greatest Asian filmmakers to have ever lived. His influence by Western culture is deeply rooted in the wide array of features he crafted, and “Seven Samurai” is arguably his most well-known/cherished. It’s an epic that heavily impacted American filmmakers, to the point where imitators of the story emerged (“Magnificent Seven,” “Ridiculous Six,” etc.). While I could’ve chosen a more unknown, auteur piece of foreign cinema to dissect, I chose this one because of its iconic nature. Being a guy who hasn’t seen much Asian cinema, I thought it’d be essential to see one that was of high regard; and at the end of the day, I’m glad I chose this one, because “Seven Samurai” is an epic to behold.
Clocking in at almost three and a half hours, this tale is about samurai protecting a village of farmers is a slow burn. The first hour alone is spent finding the seven samurai, with the final half hour being the climactic battle we all waited for. Kurosawa and his team weaved a long story not out of artistic pride, but for the purpose of growing close to these characters. With there being seven samurai, it’s tough to get to connect with them in a short runtime window. Expanding the time to almost four hours gave us room to watch the characters breathe and come into their own. Some were developed far more than others (as there were specific characters whose personalities were more strange or standoff-ish), but by the time we approach the final stand-off, we are so connected with them that we fear for their lives. The stakes are higher, and the deaths land a more crushing blow (if you think all of them will come out unscathed, you’re wrong). It’s such a difficult task to get the audience invested in such a long movie, or at least myself. My interest can wane and there are certainly scenes that could come off as unnecessary or filler; Kurosawa his his team managed to keep my attention, and granted me interesting characters to engage with.
The talent of this epic are quite fantastic. From the little that I have seen of Japanese cinema, acting is grand and broad; it’s performance built for the stage. However, “Seven Samurai” offers a wide array of personalities, with some loud characters (like Kikuchiyo [Mifune] and Farmer Manzo [Fujiwara]) and some quite characters (like Kyuzo [Miyaguchi] and Kambei [Shimura]). The stye of performance took a bit of getting used to, but I grew to love it by the time our league of samurai assembled. Mifune’s Kikuchiyo was my absolute favorite. A complete oddball at the start, he became such an awesome figure by the end of the picture. His strong passion for the villagers and unhinged anger was like watching a lion let loose on the screen; he was memorable. As were the rest of them, honestly. Though I don’t recall all of their names (as it is difficult to keep them all straight), their faces have stuck with me. Espeically that of Farmer Yohei (Hidari), whose constant open frown had me laughing non-stop.
Visually, this movie is gorgeous. Shot in black-and-white, the battle ground comes to life in such a vibrant way. Kurosawa’s composition is so amazing, with images that stick with you once the picture goes to black. I particularly loved the gravesite shots and moments where the samurai were sitting with each other under the same roof. Kurosawa’s awareness of space is downright professional (as it should be). It lent to such emotional gravity whenever the story got heavy. And boy does it get sad. My favorite moment of the entire film occurs into the third act, where the samurai believe they won the battle, but mistakenly didn’t realize that there were two bandits still alive… and I will leave it at that (in case you haven’t seen this and want to). It’s an adventure full of fun and sadness, summed up at the very end with a closing line that is truly heartbreaking.
“Seven Samurai” was a solid feature around my initial viewing. As the days have passed and I reflected on many scenes, it has grown on me to be something incredibly special. Do I expect myself to watch it repetitively? Not really. It is an incredibly long film deserving of committment. But what you endure with these samurai is worth the watch. Kurosawa and his team deliver a masterpiece with wonderful performances, beautiful cinematography, and heartbreaking moments. I recommend it. FINAL SCORE: 97%= Juicy Popcorn
This movie has been inducted into The Juicy Hall of Fame.
Here is the trailer: