Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★½

#madlad Mifune

Warning: you're about to read a less soft-spoken review than you're probably used to from me. The thing is, I'm angry. Sorry for the crudeness.

Well, I'm rarely blunt but here I have no inclination to color the truth: Seven Samurai was underwhelming. There seems to be a trend both in literature and film whereby a work of art that is the first or novel in some aspect is thought automatically to be the best. Umm, no. Seven Samurai might be the first traditional samurai film that gave the whole genre its maxims and archetypal framework but it is by far not the best either in the genre or in Kurosawa's filmography.

It pains me to admit that my disappointment reaches beyond mere subjective taste. It is undeniable that I either lean towards Kurosawa the philosopher (Rashomon, Red Beard) or Kurosawa the crime stylist (The Bad Sleep Well, Drunken Angel, Stray Dog coming up tomorrow) than towards Kurosawa the samurai guy. Don't get me wrong: I had a blast with Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Throne of Blood, but when I know what depths Kurosawa is able to reach (again thinking of Red Beard with weepy eyes), the two former categories remain my preferred ones.

The tragedy lies in the fact that Seven Samurai is a bland representative of the samurai genre beyond the subjective and on the objective scale as well. If we regard it in the vacuum of Kurosawa's own filmography, I'd argue it is one of his weakest objectively. It seems to employ scraps of all his other movies but the way it patches them together yields at best a tattered samurai robe. It fails to find its own tone: it plays between the macabre severity of Rashomon and the light-hearted caper of Sanjuro. It is unsuccessful at balancing out the two, a test Throne of Blood passes with flying colors (and arrows). To drop the refined language: it is dull.

The story itself is formulaic and predictable, which in itself shouldn't be a problem. Throne of Blood is based on Macbeth whose jam everyone knows. But while ToB poured atmosphere and intensity into every scene, Seven Samurai feels at least 1.5 hours long (yes, almost half the runtime).

I am obviously exaggerating because let down expectations are rarely not irritating, and writing it out helps dissipate my anger. Seven Samurai is not a bad movie and has some positive aspects: the romance subplot, the mill burning scene, the last fight in the rain, Mifune... but even the lil' daredevil's laugh and stomping around couldn't put a smile on my face. This is one of those instances where I feel my time was robbed. And that I do not take easily.

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