Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

An unparalleled cinematic watershed, Seven Samurai is, to many, the absolute pinnacle of Akira Kurosawa’s stunningly magnificent career. A true masterwork of cinema, Seven Samurai is defined not just by it’s memorable characters, equally memorable plot, and innovative filmmaking techniques, but for it’s near incalculable contribution to the language of cinema, as the action film—nor world cinema as a whole—would never be the same again.

Kurosawa’s first venture into the Chanbara genre (“chanbara” literally means “sword fighting”), which was and remains the Japanese parallel to the American Western, Kurosawa redefined it in this mammoth, three and a half hour epic. The plot is now classic, having been homaged, parodied, referenced, remade dozens of times over, as we see a group of desperate villagers recruit the titular seven samurai to help them fend off invading bandits, and how the samurai help the villagers band together to defend their livelihoods. Kurosawa’s direction is perfection embodied, as he makes the film’s daunting running time fly by in a method so efficient, that you want to dive in all over again just as soon as you’ve finished it, while his everlasting focus on the humans at the center of the story remains beautifully mastered. His execution of action, on the largest scale up to this point, shows an innate understanding of cinematic language and grammar, as he takes all sorts of motifs and techniques he’d gleened from dozens of other films, and combines them in a way that even a half century later remains startlingly new and alive, be it the usage of slow motion for dramatic emphasis, the quicksilver editing, or the final climactic, wild battle in the pouring rain, it all sings with an epicness of scope yet intimacy of emotion that few films of any genre have ever equaled.

Our ensemble cast is absolutely stellar, with Takashi Shimura playing the noble, stalwart leader of the samurai, the honorable Kambei, a man who stands for justice and truth, and remains a steadfast leader throughout the entire film, without becoming a cold, aloof cardboard cut out. Instead, Shimura, a mastery of shifting to fit practically any role he played—he played the anxious lead scientist in Godzilla that same year—once more shows why he remained an absolutely vital pillar of Kurosawa’s stock company, and one of the greats of his generation. We also have Yoshio Inaba as Kambei’s second-in-command, the skilled archer and planner Gorōbei, who helps plan the defense of the village. Daisuke Katō plays Kambei’s old friend, Shichirōji, who remains an ever-calm and empathetic friend to all, while Seiji Miyaguchi plays the unflappable Kyūzō, a swordsman of near supernatural skill who takes everything with a cool sense of poise. Minoru Chiaki plays the amiable, if less skilled, Heihachi, who maintains high spirits regardless of the odds, while Isao Kimura plays the young, wide eyed Katsushirō, son of a wealthy landowner samurai who is yet to face battle, and becomes Kambei’s unintentional squire, becoming a true man over the course of the film. Of course, belonging in a catagory near purely to himself is the singular Toshirō Mifune, as the tempermental, mercurial yet humorous wild eyed rogue who goes by the name Kikuchiyo, who under his wild, devil may care selfish persona, proves to be a truly noble and stalwart ally, and Mifune’s wild passion brings the character to life in a way few other actors could ever do.

The villagers meanwhile, are played by an array of recongizable character actors, such as Yoshio Tsuchiya as the hotheaded Rikichi, who’s wife (Yukiko Shimazaki) is held captive by the bandits, Bokuzen Hidari as the timid Yohei, Kamatari Fujiwara as the fretful, paranoid Manzō, who demands his beloved daughter, Shino (Keiko Tsushima) disguise herself as a boy to remain “safe” from the samurai, only for her to fall for Katsushirō’s kindness and honesty. Kokuten Kōdō plays the waining village elder Gisaku (kindly referred to as “Granddad” by the villagers), while Yoshio Kosugi plays Mosuke, another one of the farmers who go to town looking for samurai.

Cinematographer Asakazu Nakai once more provides cinematography, continuing his fruitful collaboration with Kurosawa, as he captures the landscape of the mountains surrounding the village, the looming forests, the earthy textures of peasant life, and in the film’s brilliant final battle, the torrential power of rain, as he infuses the film with the full scope of nature, matching Kurosawa’s infatuation with how people interact with it, and making the action sequences sing with an unparalleled energy. Fumio Hayasaka, in what would tragically prove to be his final collaboration with Kurosawa before his sudden death of cancer the following year, provides one of the best film scores ever written, steeped deeply in the tradition of Japanese traditional music, while blending in modern musical instruments and composing styles as well, to produce a score that remains a benchmark for the action genre. If you’re gonna go, go out like this.

A film of tremendous scope and influence, Seven Samurai’s cinematic value as both unabashed entertainment and flawlessly executed artistry remains impactful to this day, not only spawning an iconic American remake (the rightly beloved 1960 film, The Magificent Seven), but rewriting the book on how to make an action film, paving the way for everything from Westerns to Superhero films, all with a flashing, epic grace that remains wonderous to behold.

5 out of 5 stars.

Block or Report

Ben liked this review