Dan Clark’s review published on Letterboxd:
There are many reasons why you should watch a film. Perhaps it will provide you with some mindless enjoyment. Perhaps it challenges your imagination, or perhaps a film is so great and influential failure to see it will leave you without experiencing one of the greatest films ever made. It’s very rare for me to call a film one of the greatest of all time. That statement may come off a little snobbish, but I just feel if you say it too often it completely loses its meaning. When watching Seven Samurai it quickly become clear what I was watching was a masterpiece in every sense of the word. One that deserved to be called one of the greatest of all time. It didn’t come to me as a surprise based upon the fact that it is an Akira Kurosawa film, and has received heaps of praise since its release.
The plotline of Seven Samurai is basic and genius. One reason it has been remade endless times in endless ways. (Most notably the American western The Magnificent Seven or Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) Even the best remakes or retellings cannot hold a candle to the glory of Seven Samurai. The story revolves around poor village that is attempting to hire a group of Samurai to protect themselves from incoming bandits. The famers of the village are barely surviving as it is so without the assistances of the Samurai they will surely starve. The struggle for these farmers to find help provides some of the most heart wrenching moments of the film. The hopelessness matched with the necessity to succeed ignites an endless desire in you to see them achieve their goal. It provides a small look into the importance honor plays in this society. You begin to understand how it drives the characters and motivates them to give up their lives. As a whole the films establishes some terrific characters. Especially when it comes to the Samurai. You may not remember or know their names but you know exactly who they are. Each has a personality unique to themselves, and it’s not done in the obvious way. You can’t pigeonhole the characters into one type of overblown charaicther. Each emphasizes the magnitude of what it means to truly be a Samurai. It is not a simple fighting style, but a way of life. A way of life that is treated with the upmost respect. There is no pure good or evil here. Each side has its faults. War is often simplified for us in order to make easier to comprehend. We need a hero and a villain. Otherwise who will we route for. In reality life is full of heroes and villains, but more often than not they are the same people. It just depends on where your viewpoint is coming from. You see that reflected here. While you are no doubt routing for the success of the Samurai you do it because of their faults, and not in spite of them. They are not perfect people but are willing to make the perfect choice. You identify with the actions of each character the farmers, the Samurai, and even the bandits. In a way it is a representation of life and how humanity attempts to survive. On the surface each group seems vastly different, but as the story unfolds those differences begin to extinguish.
As the events of the plot unfold you see how it challenges each character. Once you think you have the story figured out, something happens to movie it in a different direction. Luckily these plot points are not surprises for surprise sake. They all serve a purpose, even if that purpose isn’t completely understood at first. Kurosawa knows how to tell a story. He realizes great story telling in film is not done solely through dialogue and action set pieces, but also through the artistic elements the medium of film provides you. The camera isn’t there just to capture events but to engulf you in this foreign world of beauty and horror. You can sense the fear of the famers as they yearn to survive. The wondrous landscape immerses you in a way you would think is impossible for a black and white film from 1954. His wiliness to hold his shots allows this realization to slowly creep in as you witness actions of the characters. Moments that would have easily been missed are carved into your memory with force and dignity. Especially the last shot of the film. It will stay without well after the credits role. You may be thinking that a film called Seven Samurai would have amazing nonstop action. In no way is that the case. The action is mostly reserved for the end of the film to make it service an actual purpose. Having a large climatic battle is not uncommon of course. What is uncommon is how well it holds up. It is brutal and raw. While you won’t see blood and gore you will feel like you did. Both sides are fighting for their lives and it is depicted as such. These are battles of not only physical strength but mental capability. Each side trying outthink and out maneuver the other. A life and death chess game that has you trying to guess the next move. While it may end up at the destination you expected your travel along the way will be so overwhelming you won’t want it to end.
They say if you don’t know your history you are doomed to repeat. If you don’t watch some historically great films you are doomed to miss out on some great cinema. Seven Samurai is no doubt one of the greatest films of all time. Its influence was seen from the moment it was released and continues today. The story, characters, and film design completely changed the way movies have been made. Its wiliness to explore the ideals of humanity with such a brash respect for realism emotes a since of pride in its viewers. You gain a respect for the challenges that are attempting to accomplish not only as characters but as artist. Watching the film provides you glimpse into the mind of its maker and you come to an understanding of how this time and its struggles relate so well to today. Though this film was made over fifty years ago the message and themes are timeless. Do yourself a favor and watch this film and experience these moments for yourself.