Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

Oh Seven Samurai, my love for thee is nigh immeasurable, how I could sing thy praises. This is it man, this is the film that changed film for me. Anyone who follows me and sees how much I review Japanese films can trace that love and interest back to here. Seven Samurai is where my love for film as a serious art form began, it’s where my love of foreign films, classic cinema, samurai movies and Kurosawa all started, this movie changed my life in a lot of ways and gave me this great love of cinema I have today.

Seven Samurai, at 204 minutes, is breathless. It’s an airtight ride from beginning to end. There’s no meandering about, no wasted moments, every scene exists with the select purpose of moving the film forward or paying off something from before. Plenty of films are needlessly long but Seven Samurai justifies every spent second by never bothering with frivolous or slow scenes. Pacing is something I often harp on movies about and it’s because I’ve seen Seven Samurai and I know what masterful pacing looks like, I know that a seemingly bloated 3.5 hours can feel brisk and immediate and with that in mind no 90 minute film has any excuse to be poorly paced.

Akira Kurosawa had such a way with cinematography and set pieces that his films almost always seem to feel mystically timeless. Aside from the obvious technical aspects like color, audio fidelity and aspect ratio, this film doesn’t feel like a 1954 production. Shots are framed beautifully, the cuts are fast and precise, the camera is often alive with motion and offers up close and visceral views of what’s onscreen. It feels so vital and fresh, even 65 years on. 

The violence is also as hard-hitting as something from that era could’ve possibly been. The violence isn’t gory or graphic, but it’s brutal in its energy and intensity. The fight scenes feel weighty and harsh and the death and destruction never feels hollow or soft, even when the actual content of the violence is still at a PG-13 level. Kurosawa knew that, even if you’re not directly seeing the violence, even if you’re not up close seeing steel cut flesh, you need to feel it and you need to feel the impact of that violence. There’s nothing clean cut or sanitized about Seven Samurai, it’s grimy, messy and grounded, it feels as real as it can be.

Human drama is at the center of this film though. Unsurprisingly, at over three hours, this film finds plenty of opportunities to develop its characters and to give them lengthy and satisfying arcs. Kurosawa’s golden boys Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura enjoy the bulk of the character focus and they’re predictably excellent, particularly Mifune who manages to shoulder most of both the film’s most emotional and comedic beats. Mifune is absolutely scene-stealingly wonderful here, he’s captivating from the very moment he appears onscreen all the way to the end and while he was a well established performer by this point, this is where I think Mifune really became the actor he’s remembered as. 

I feel like I can’t really do full justice to the absolute perfection that is Seven Samurai. I adore this film, I love everything about it. It’s dark and brutal and harsh while also having a lot to say about human decency and altruism. It’s expertly paced, beautifully filmed, masterfully acted, exciting, engaging, emotional, it just hits everything exactly as I’d want it too, hell it’s even a little funny sometimes. Seven Samurai is my very favorite film for good reason and everyone should see it. This is as essential viewing as any film can be.

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