The most important samurai movie is Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 feature, Seven Samurai, which not only impacted the way the genre was viewed, but elevated its status. 16th century Japanese villagers seek to thwart local bandits by hiring the services of seven out-of-work samurai warriors. The samurai, led by Takashi Shimura but with Toshiro Mifune serving as their clown prince, meticulously plan out the village’s defenses, stage a preemptive raid on the bandits’ lair and then pull the villagers together for the climactic battle that leads to the film’s bittersweet close.
For me this is Akira Kurasawa’s best work, nominated for 2 Oscars this movie helped introduce Asian film to a Western audience. This is a long movie but if your a fan of Kurasawa or foriegn film its a must. However, like I stated above, the ending is bittersweet. Seven Samurai offers us flawed protagonists, some of whom are not skilled fighters, and one of whom is often drunk, belligerent, and decidedly non-heroic in his approach. The odds are impressive, yet, in large part due to the melancholy tone adopted by Kurosawa during the closing scene, the victory is hollow, and almost feels like a defeat.
I’ve never seen a movie with more detailed tactical information about the critical battle. You’re walked through every step of defending the village and really know all the weak points. I could draw a map of the village. The sequence where Kambei plans the defenses and simultaneously shows you each part of the village is really genius: it gets an incredible amount of information across but every scene in that sequence advances the plot; it’s not exposition. The suspense, to me, was what made this movie great, and it is accomplished by breaking the battle down into parts, letting us know how many bandits have been killed, etc. By having this information, it’s much more gut-wrenching to wait for the next assault.
In fact, the bulk of the movie’s second half is comprised of battle scenes, which are choreographed to perfection. Kurosawa, a meticulous craftsman, does not rely on editing sleight-of-hand to present fights. I really wish the new Batman movies would take note of this *sigh*. In many ways, Seven Samurai is defined by its style. Kurosawa doesn’t just set marks and coach actors; he composes scenes. Despite its drawbacks, he frequently uses the “deep focus” camera technique to keep everyone in focus, regardless of their distance from the lens. He rarely resorts to close-ups, and, when he does, there’s a specific reason. His battle scenes are realistic, but not confusing. If you are a film student, this would be the movie I recommend for you to study. I could go on and on about how great this movie is, and hollywood has had no shame recycling this material over the years, but I won’t dwell to much on it. Just go steal, borrow, copy, watch, or order this movie. And for the anime enthusiast, check out Samurai 7, the series that is based off of this movie. I don’t review series, but it too is very good in its own right. Alas, Seven Samurai comes at the Highest Recommendation.
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