Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

Watched on Blu-Ray

There are countless films that have not even necessarily grown out of the primordial soup of cinematography and yet belong to the must-see programme of every film lover, as they provide a fundamental understanding of what cinema can be capable of. "Citizen Kane" is one such example, as is "Vertigo", "Persona" and, last but not least, "Seven Samurai" by Akira Kurosawa. The discovery of "Seven Samurai", which lasts over 200 minutes, should be of no less interest to today's viewers, as Kurosawa has already established everything on which modern blockbuster cinema is based in terms of structure, visual language and dramaturgy. No wonder that this Japanese classic is one of the most cited films ever.

Set in feudal Japan in the 16th century, Akira Kurosawa traces his homeland under the parameters of a vouched-for historicity: In his time, Japan was a country that became increasingly fractured due to constantly changing rulers. Civil wars were the order of the day, peasants fought a daily battle for survival because robbing gangs took all their crops, and the samurai, honourable swordsmen who based their existence on a strict moral code, the way of the warrior, show themselves to be the masterless remnants of an era that is increasingly fading. In "Seven Samurai", Kurosawa takes us into this gloomy mood - and he tells precisely this story. Of peasants who not only want to survive, but to live. Of samurai who seek their place in a world in which they actually no longer have a place.

In still highly impressive compositions of sound and image, Akira Kurosawa knows how to open up his indestructible epic from the depths of cinematic space. No shot in this film is one-dimensional, no camera pan an empty promise, no cut window dressing. If ever a filmmaker managed to line the vastness of an (audio-)visual tableau with creative force down to the last corner, it was Akira Kurosawa ("Lawrence of Arabia" director David Lean was soon to succeed the Japanese shining light). The very fact that he manages to use impressions of nature and weather, the flower meadows, the ears of grain, the thickening forest, the pattering rain, as an allegorical landscape of the soul to describe not only the state of mind of individual characters, but simultaneously their connection to nature itself, impresses with its delicate pictorial storytelling.

As soon as the peasants have managed to mobilise a group of seven samurai to protect the village from the marauders, an increasingly incisive examination of the value of moral courage peels to the surface from within the narrative. "Seven Samurai" describes a world where everyone fights for themselves or reasons have been forgotten as to why one should go into battle in the first place. The humanitarian action that emanates from the samurai here resembles an interpersonal utopia, precisely because they raise their swords for a just cause that ultimately is none of their business. They act unselfishly, appeal to common sense, to a sense of community, to solidarity, and thus break down the narrow-meshed horizon of thought within contemporary caste society in Japan.

It is not the dividing apart of the respective social positions that explains a healthy society. It is the abolition of those boundaries and the cooperation of people who exist in different realities, but in the unprejudiced collectivisation prove that the social system is intact. Now, as I said, this seems immensely utopian and romantic, but it also "only" hits the tonality of "Seven Samurai" at its intellectual core. Kurosawa believes in man, believes in alliance, believes in mutual trust. The fact that "Seven Samurai" nevertheless remains a depressing work is mainly due to the fact that Kurosawa shows with haunting clarity that people cannot always be saved, even if one stands up for them. The samurai seem relics, outmoded, anachronistic. When they look to the future, they see the graves of their kind. But at least the last battle was significant.

And Kurosawa sets the standard with this decisive battle (or battle sequences in general). Kurosawa was far ahead of his time with the use of several cameras, which allow a sophisticated interplay of different perspectives and thus create an unmediated dynamic. In any case, "Seven Samurai" should be understood first and foremost as a visionary masterpiece: The film anticipated the structure of the contemporary action film, while simultaneously earning its merits as an expressive social critique, and in the next step deals with the samurai warrior status in an appreciative but never glorifying manner. At the end, Kurosawa makes it clear that the moral code of the samurai is not of a supra-temporal nature. Perhaps one should take the chance to once again stand up for something meaningful, because soon one will have to let myths be myths.

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