Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

A masterpiece. It's hard to explain why Seven Samurai is so magnificent, but it most certainly is. Its daunting 3 and a half hour running time passes by in the blink of an eye, and you're left there with a feeling of pure contentment and awe at what you've just beheld.

A farmer overhears some bandits planning to attack his village once their crops have matured. The villagers rally and decide to hire Samurai (seven of them, believe it or not) in order to organize the defense of their home. What follows is a brilliant, leisurely paced (but never slow) adventure where we get to know the Samurai, as well as a few choice villagers, as they plan the villages' defense and navigate relationships between both each other and the villagers.

What makes Seven Samurai great is ultimately how well it knows exactly what it's trying to do. Deep at heart, even if only about a half hour of its running time is dedicated to action, Seven Samurai is a film about action. It's here to let us know these people, get us to believe in them, and then have them and the bad guys wave sharp objects at each other for a bit. Reflecting back on it, every single aspect of Seven Samurai is designed with this purpose: get us firmly ingrained in this world and then have it be threatened.

The action in Seven Samurai is, comparative to the action blockbusters of today, pretty small scale and downbeat. There's no apocalyptic event our heroes have to stop, and the battle the film leads up to basically just consists of a few dozen people trying to poke each other with sharp sticks. Even comparing it to the smaller action films of yesteryear, it's a lot more grounded: there's no lone hero badass cutting his way through hordes of enemies, nor are there any real explosions. What Seven Samurai does have is believability and investment. It strays away from making us care through scale or character development, and it lets us care because this village feels like it exists, and is being lived in by real people.

Of course, this all shouldn't seem like it's "doing it in a weird way". After all, this is a time before we really had an established way to do action films as we understand them today, and in a completely different culture at that. I'm just putting this through my own, modern, lens to try to explain why I love Seven Samurai so much.

Ultimately, Seven Samurai is a masterpiece of atmosphere. It has to make you believe in the atmosphere of the place to make the big action setpiece at the end worthwhile. It's absolutely laser-focused in this purpose, and the few things that don't work towards it (like the awkward, shoed in, love story that one of the Samurai gets involved in) stick out like a sore thumb. The world-building and character development we get before the big end are worthwhile in and of themselves, full of comedy and drama in spades, but it ends up serving to make the finale all the more potent. It's a riveting action scene: it's fun to watch, and, most importantly, we care. We really really care. Because we think of the village as a real place, with real people, and even if we don't like some of them we'd have to be pretty shitty to not want them to be OK.

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