Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

The main reason why I think this is revered by critics and audiences in equal measure - a rare feat for a black-and-white foreign film - is because it's very obviously the result of a great director consciously trying to make something easy and accessible. Not that there's very much about Kurosawa's work that we might call difficult, of course, but even a film like Ikiru doesn't lean so far into all-stops-out crowdpleaser territory as Seven Samurai does. That might sound like faint praise, but as I said, we're talking about a great director here - one of the greatest. Don't quote me, but I think I'd call this the best-shot film of the 1950s. Kurosawa's compositional eye was second to none: while it's often said that Bergman was the best at shooting faces, it's equally the case that Kurosawa was the best at shooting bodies, and more specifically groups of bodies. Seven Samurai can be thought of as being, in its essence, a series of permutations on the group or crowd shot, each one different and all of them equally arresting to the eye. I'm not sure this has any relevance to what the film is actually trying to do, but it sure as hell makes it stunning to behold. Then you add in what Kurosawa does with camera movement, which is not only relevant to what the film is doing, but essential - without its propulsive energy, it's impossible to imagine the film being anywhere near as beloved for its merits as an action film. And as for the editing... Plus, it's also a magnificently told story, full of affection for its characters and admiration for their ideals. Kurosawa and his co-writers use the considerable length to immerse us in those characters and an array of subplots that, because they're always held in perfect balance to the main plot, never once threaten to drag down the pace. Impeccable performances all round, and a score by Fumio Hayasaka that ranks among the best ever written.

Insane that this is only, like, his third-best film.

Ranking Akira Kurosawa

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