Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★

100 Films by 18 Directors: Akira Kurosawa

If there were a definitive shortlist of films that could be considered the best one ever made, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai would most likely be on that list. The story of seven samurai being hired by a village to defend it from bandits is an action adventure film for the ages that has been cited as one of the most influential films of all-time. With its general plotting being used by a variety of westerns after its release and its battle scenes influencing action movies to this day and setting the bar for both, it is easy to see how this influence has been demonstrated over time. Yet, what is unmistakable is how much this film is influenced by the very genre it later influenced. Set in Japan during a civil war in which peasants and farmers are going hungry, the film's general layout is one that had been well-trodden by the American western by the time Seven Samurai came out in 1954. With a cowboy vs the Indians type of setup in its back pocket, Kurosawa's film plays out more like a western than it does a samurai movie, as would later be the case in other Kurosawa films such as Kagemusha and Ran. Though the film references honor and the Samurai code, these men are not absolutely samurai. Instead, they function akin to gunslingers with swords and feels akin to an epic western more than it does a samurai film.

With exquisitely choreographed fight scenes between sword-wielding townsfolk and samurai against the invading bandits, the film's epic ambitions are simply found in these attacks. The film is not so much solely about the action, but it is certainly a key reason as to why it is so excellent. As samurai leader Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) checks off the number of dead bandits and plans for how they will defend the ensuing attack, the film becomes a chess match between the minds of the samurai and the minds of the bandits. Though, in the end, the samurai win by tricking the bandits each time, it is compelling to watch the two do battle in the name of this village. When the two sides meet, the arrows flying, the guns shooting, and the swords slicing are beautifully orchestrated and practically like visual poetry.

That said, it is in these action scenes that lies my biggest complaint. Vowing to take the village and burn it down, the bandits do not expect to find the samurai. Yet, even though their numbers dwindle significantly, they keep attacking. While it would be shameful to admit defeat, their only purpose is to take the village and hurt the peasants. There is no greater war they are a part of and they know that there is nothing of value in the village. Yet, they keep attacking in wave-after-wave. It was tough to figure out why exactly they were so insistent on attacking even when it became rather evident that they were severely outmatched by the samurai.

However, in saying that, it is hard to find fault with much of the film. Its writing is excellent, its theme of people of opposite causes who hate one another (farmers and samurai) coming together for a common cause is excellent, and its acting is always impeccable. While Kurosawa being able to play with colors is always a treat, watching in black-and-white is still a sight to behold. Not only is the action beautifully put together, but every shot bears a gorgeous poetic nature to it as he soaks in the beauty of the village and the surrounding area. In more contained and close quarter shots, the film is equally as beautiful with the film seemingly never missing a beat visually. In every front, Seven Samurai is an absolutely excellent film in which its ambitions absolutely are met in roaring fashion. However, to nitpick further, it did feel far too long. As previously mentioned, the fact that the bandits just kept coming certainly plays into this as the samurai have to kill 40 bandits for the film to end. Had the bandits rightfully backed off, the film's length would have been far more digestible. As it stands, many of the battle scenes are rather repetitive and just rehashes of the one prior with slightly different strategies at play. Again, a nitpick, but an issue nonetheless.

An epic and greatly influential film, Seven Samurai lives up to its billing as one of the best films ever made, even if I had some rather small complaints that hold it back in my eyes. Its beauty is unmistakable, however, with its lyrical nature becoming quite intoxicating and its human relations being raw, powerful, and a perfect encapsulation of the one thing that unites us all: death.

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