Unrated. Directed By: Akira Kurosawa. In Theaters: Apr 26, 1954.
This may be a first for me and Japanese cinema. I never had a moment in the movie where stuff happened and I couldn’t figure out why people were reacting the way they did. I realize the cause of these confusing moments is cultural in nature, but it’s always off-putting and I don’t like it when it happens. Seven Samurai is about as straight forward as a movie gets, and probably one of the better action movies I’ve ever seen.
This is what an epic was supposed to be, what epics are still supposed to be, although I admit that the run time of the movie is more than a little daunting. It has a story that everyone can get behind, even though some of the details are mired in the 16th Century existence of Japan, it’s clear that the reach of Seven Samurai was vast. Most recently, I’ve seen a similar story line dredged up in an episode of Firefly, although the crew of one of my favorite spaceships numbers eight, the intent was clear enough. It’s also clear that The Magnificent Seven borrowed more than a little bit from this movie.
This is also the first movie where shadow and light didn’t seem to hold a meaning in addition to serving as point and counterpoint of visual acuity. I noticed again that the images are sharply delineating in terms of light and shadow, and that the movie had a stunning clarity for its age; there was little of the haziness that I tend to associate with older movies.
Probably my favorite aspect of this movie was Toshiro Mifune, who played the clownish Kikuchiyo, serving as counterpoint to the six other samurai, who were… stolid, for lack of a better term. He brought a wonderful punch of levity to what might have otherwise been a stark and slightly bleak story, especially considering the sort of Reservoir Dogs like ending. I also thought the story had an interesting slant to it, a subtle accusation that the peasants had come of the challenge the only winners, and had taken advantage of the noble samurai. I’m not sure I believe that, although it is a possible description of the outcome.
Basically, there’s a reason that Seven Samurai has made so many ‘best ever’ movie lists. It is an amazing adventure movie, particularly since it doesn’t benefit from CGI or real special effects. It has detail characters, a bit of swashbuckling, the nobility of the samurai, and the slightest hint that the heroes in this tale are ill used. The movie packs a wallop of a punch, even more than you might expect with the lengthy run time.