Score : 100/100
Watchable Minutes: 207 / 207 – This is a LONG film, but don’t let that turn you off. There’s an intermission half way through so you can get up and stretch your legs and do some eye relaxation exercises. If you start it, stick with it. If you need some convincing to get started, read on.
Trailer Comparison : There really isn’t a good trailer for Seven Samurai. It’s not the type of film you need to watch a trailer for anyway. You’re either going to be interested in it or not for a myriad of reasons so a trailer isn’t going to help you here.
Movie or Film : Seven Samurai is the very definition of a film. Every scene is shot with so much attention to detail and care that to call this anything but a film is an insult. It is my new gold standard for films.
- Run time : 3 hours 26 minutes
- Studio : Toho
- Director : Akira Kurosawa
- Where to Watch : HBO Max
A poor Japanese village high in the mountains is continuously raided by ruthless bandits and lack the skills to defend themselves. Seeking respite, the villagers consult their village elder who suggests hiring samurai to defend them. The villagers are dispatched to a local city to search for samurai who will be willing to fight for them. After assembling a team of seven samurai, the villagers return and begin to prepare for the fight of their lives.
Seven Samurai is the grandfather of adventure films and brings too much to the table in terms of influence to be ignored when talking about the greatest films of all time. Reviewing a film like this wasn’t easy. I’ve been so intimidated at the thought of writing about it that almost a month has passed between watching it and and finally getting to it. How many different ways can I say that this is the perfect film without actually saying it’s perfect? Where does one begin when talking about the greatest film of all time? Well, let’s start with the story, the main draw to the film, especially if you aren’t a big film buff.
The story of Seven Samurai is one of the greatest contributions to the film industry. To expand upon the summary above, a desperate and poor village needs help to deal with some ruthless bandits who continuously raid their homes. They turn to their village elder, who suggests hiring samurai to defend the village. This is no small feat as samurai are not cheap. When hiring samurai, you get what you pay for and if you insult a samurai by serving up a dissatisfactory offer, you might just lose your head. Expressing their concerns about how the village only has their crops and no money, the elder suggests that they better find hungry samurai. Several villagers are sent to a local city in hopes of finding cheap samurai. After multiple failures, the villagers witness a miracle – An elderly rōnin named Kambei rescues a small child held hostage by a thief. After reluctantly agreeing to defend the village, Kambei begins to recruit some old friends to put together a suitable defense for the village. The group travels back to the village to make preparations for the upcoming raid that will happen after the harvest season begins. The villagers are trained and inspired to defend themselves, and with the help of their samurai, the bandits are repelled and defeated, but not without drawing their own casualties. This is a massive over-simplification of the story and there are so many moments in between these broad strokes that can’t really be written about. The audience needs to see and experience these moments to really understand what is so wonderful about Seven Samurai.
If the story’s beat sounds familiar, you might have seen a movie or tv show that lifted this framework directly and applied their own features. There are many examples that famously borrow, both with and without credit, from Kurosawa. The most well known is the western called The Magnificent Seven, which is a nearly identical in scope and story to Seven Samurai. Another well known property that draws influence from Kurosawa is the Star Wars franchise, which is ripe with homages, specifically including Rogue One, an episode of the Clone Wars (S02E17), and an episode of The Mandalorian (S01E04).
The cinematography and direction of Seven Samurai is worth noting as well. I found a fascinating video by Every Frame a Painting on YouTube that explains the camera work that Kurosawa employs in his films. The video, which I highly recommend you check out, talks about how each shot has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It seems like a no brainer at first, but as the video goes on you start to see how modern movies don’t employ the same concepts that made Seven Samurai great. There’s also the fact that there is always something moving in the background of a Kurosawa shot. Once you look at modern movies and see how motionless they really are, you start to see why so few things can compare to Seven Samurai. Pairing the amazing camerawork with the set design, you can really sense the scale of this film. The transition from a grand sweeping landscape to a small village is so smooth that I almost forgot anything outside the current scene ever existed at all.
The music and scoring is a little on the rubbery side, but I can excuse that because of how old it is. When watching the movie, I opted to use some good headphones and it really made a huge difference. The soundtrack is totally fitting for a samurai movie and evokes feelings of honor and hope followed by success and loss. It’s really quite beautiful to listen to.
When it comes to the acting, there aren’t many movies that feature such large casts with equally important characters and gives them enough space to breathe and exist alone. Each and every one of them brings a unique and necessary flavor to the team. Let’s start with my favorite : Toshirô Mifune who plays Kikuchiyo. Mifune brings an almost manic personality to his samurai character and displays plenty of emotion to make it easy to identify with his character. His drunken tirade in particular is humorous and endearing. The ultimate reveal when he shares his secret is powerful, because his passion for saving the village shines through. It’s almost simplistic by todays standards, but it works so well in the scope of the film. Moving on, Takashi Shimura plays the wise rōnin Kambei Shimada. I think the gravitas and wisdom that Shimura brought to the role was perfect (and highly inspirational – I think a certain Ben Kenobi owes Shimura a certain amount of gratitude). On the opposite end of the spectrum is Isao Kimura who played Katsushiro, the young apprentice samurai. His inexperience and eagerness to learn from an accomplished master is highly relatable and helps round out the seven samurai team. The rest of the samurai are portrayed by Daisuke Katō, Minoru Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, and Yoshio Inaba and each one of them brings humor and care to their characters. The entire cast works together to create a brotherly atmosphere of respect and admiration for each other.
Seven Samurai is amazing. The message that saving others might just save yourself is profound and impactful, and just as culturally relevant today. It’s something that everybody needs to experience, especially if you’re an aspiring film buff. The next time you’re in a film mood, consider putting Nolan and Scorsese on the back burner for a bit and watch a true master at work for about 3 hours instead.
If you like this, check out :
- Throne of Blood
- The Hidden Fortress
- Rogue One