Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

It's impossible to imagine making a film as perfect and influential as Seven Samurai. Akira Kurosawa was arguably the greatest cinematic craftsman of them all. Every edit, every frame, every movement, Seven Samurai is so smooth and technically impressive. It is a film of the elements, usually rain and wind, always used perfectly to elicit a mood. This is the shortest three hour movie ever made. It is engaging and compelling from beginning to end. It is broad entertainment, filled with heroics, sacrifice, comedy, love, and pain. It may be old and long, but this is no pompous art movie. It is a glorious landmark in popular cinema, and virtually never bettered within those parameters.

Two of the samurai, Kambei and Kikuyicho, are among the best characters ever created. Kambei is the wise and just leader, who remains an icon of intelligence and generosity. Kikuyicho is simply the comic relief at first, but he becomes the heart of the movie. His arc, from the fake samurai with an oversized sword to the man honoured with a samurai burial for his sacrifice, is spectacularly profound and rich. Kikuyicho also gets the finest moment of the film, a passionate and emotional speech in defence of farmers. This is partially a film of feudal class, and the tension between the peasants and the honourable. Kikuyicho is the bridge between them, and his rise to the status of samurai hero is moving.

No film so perfectly defines the concept of hero. Seven Samurai is about those who are brave and kind. Heroism requires both. The samurai work for nothing, they are kindness personified. In the end they even weep at victory, because the farmers are saved at the expense of the samurai. However they die with honour and do not regret. They embody the strength of the collective over the individual, something Kurosawa would return to in Ran, but unlike Ran this is a film of heroes rather than villains, so we see unity rather than disarray. People can do extraordinary things when working together, and heroism requires heart rather than skill. Seven Samurai is an ode to heroism and kindness, and remains an entertaining epic masterpiece to this day.

Akira Kurosawa Ranked

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