Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

SUMMER 2017 CRITERION CHALLENGE: FILM #11

"Whoever heard of farmers hiring samurai?"

Few films in history have ever managed to garner universal praise from practically its entire audience. Think Citizen Kane. Think The Godfather, and its sequel. Think Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. A less obvious example, perhaps, but one that's just as much a rarity as the Hollywood masterpiece.

If you take a look at the ratings distribution for Seven Samurai on Letterboxd, you'll notice that an incredible 52% of users gave the film a perfect five-star rating. Yes, that would indicate that more than half of the people who watch this film deem it to be perfect -- or, at least, as close as cinema can get to it. Perhaps more impressively, 90% of users give the film four stars or more, and 99% rate it with three stars or more.

This is a cherished, universally beloved film if one ever existed. A top-ranking film on IMDb, Metacritic, and a plethora of "best of all-time" lists. But it's not only massively recognized and embraced for its quality, but for its influence. Seven Samurai changed Hollywood more than any other non-American film, and that almost cannot be disputed. It changed film as a whole, and shaped the action genre as we know it today. Even the best films of the genre today continue to pay homage to Kurosawa's magnum opus (*cough* Fury Road *cough*).

For any first time viewer of this daunting task of a film, there's a whole lot of hype to live up to. But as far as I'm concerned, everything that has been said, is being said, and will be said about Seven Samurai is absolutely warranted. For myself, as a reviewer, it's hard to talk about this film in ways that it hasn't been talked about before. In fact, it's generally difficult to critique. As the most epic of all historical epics, Seven Samurai is more an experience that each film lover must go on for him or herself and judge, rather than just another film that we can read objective criticism on and then consider watching in the future.

It's been over sixty years. There's practically no more space to judge and laud Seven Samurai for its craft, and its milestone status. What it all boils down to, instead, is what affects and impacts each individual viewer.

For me, it was the always alive, varied, character and situation-specific, epic musical score.

It was the awe-inspiring shot composition; whether it be the ferocious images of the gang of bandits aggressively charging over a hill via horseback, or the raw emotional power of a samurai burial, or the dynamic of a village shaken by a surprising event, or what have you. It was each and every intricate, gorgeous, visceral frame.

It was that feeling of not knowing how close you've grown to each and every character until they are suddenly taken away from you.

It was the laughs I got out of and energy I was invigorated with from watching Toshirô Mifune's magnificently animalistic performance as Kikuchiyo.

It was, more importantly, the impact of Kikuchiyo's characterization and development: once a lunatic and a fraud, then a sympathetic victim, then a hero. It was Kambei's inspiring leadership. It was Katsushiro's ambition, and his easy-to-relate-to misguidedness. It was Kyuzo's badass-ery.

It was the moments of levity.

It was the moments of devastation, and emotional shock.

It was the moving power of Kurosawa's tribute to the samurai: their honor, their fraternity, their sacrifice, their selflessness. We feel everything that Kurosawa himself felt about these people. It was the reason for his thorough -- and I mean thorough -- research in and development on this film and the history it touches on. In the end, the message could not have been conveyed any better.

It is one of the best films of all-time.

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