Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

Desamber, anyone?

This is one of the best rewatches I've ever had. The same thing happened with On the Waterfront where it's always been a movie I *liked* but an open-minded, fresh revisit reveals just how special it is. With a reputation as gargantuan as Seven Samurai's, it's understandable to approach it with a lot of appreciation rather than genuine affection for the movie. While it definitely deserves this appreciation, watching it again filled me with something other than impersonal appreciation: it struck me with pure elation. The conflict, per Kurosawa fashion, is established with no time wasted (yes, this lengthy movie actually wastes no time*), and the pacing got me constantly enthralled, reveling in each second while still anticipating the next. I simultaneously couldn't stop watching but didn't want it to end, which is what every movie should accomplish as an experience, even if the same can't be said for its efforts exclusively as a work of film. I remembered how much I loved these characters instantly and wanted to spend every second this film offers with them. The whole thing is just so captivating and powerful.

But enough of how great this movie makes me feel: you'd probably (or at least hopefully) want to hear instead what makes the movie itself great. There's of course plenty of that.

The aforementioned characters are all so human and the different lessons they have to learn and have learned (looking at you, Kambei Shimada) are conveyed so naturally and add more layers to the conflict of the movie. It's no longer "Will the samurai save the village?" but "Will this character in whom I've gotten so invested learn the valuable virtues needed to rise to this occasion?" The tension of protecting the village is always present, only put to the periphery when dealing with moral dilemmas and personal conflicts that truly matter... with some intermittent comic relief.

For such an epically scaled film, there are so many little moments to enjoy on a small level: the "hazings," the duel, Yohei's face when Kikuchiyo compliments the workers (actually, Yohei's facial expressions in general), the scenes with the Old Man... Everything is so unified but diversified. This is the film's best quality, probably. Everything feels very purposeful but very rarely is there the same "kind" of scene. The pacing across the runtime is fluid, and that of each scene is more so. I absolutely love the way Kurosawa curates each frame with delicate grit and/or energetic simplicity. The way he "crowds" so many characters into a frame without really *crowding* them at all is unmatched: every view made available to us feels like the only precise, but natural way for the scene to be viewed, not like it was directed at all. I kept forgetting that such skillful direction isn't guaranteed. It just feels... right. The tracking shots do not lose this composition or organic quality, and this is so key in such a dramatically energetic film. Nothing's forced, just out in the open and captured in the way best relayed to the viewer. This mastery is what every movie should strive to accomplish as a work of film, even if the same can't be said about its efforts exclusively as an experience.

The way the samurai obtain wisdom is absolutely phenomenal. They initiate their protection of the village for a number of reasons, and though the goodness of some of their hearts is a big one—Kambei's kindness even builds enough ethos for the cause so that some help just because he's a nice guy—they all have a long way to go. Each arc as they learn selflessness, sacrifice, patience, self-control, and compassion is extremely rewarding. The most fascinating one might just be Kikuchiyo's, aided in no small part by one of Mifune's best performances and undoubtedly one of the greatest performances of all time.

Every attempted draft of a list of my favorite films has omitted Seven Samurai, and after this simple rewatch, I can't imagine my top 10 excluding it. Just looking at it with fresh eyes was enough to realize its magnificence, and it feels weird to think I ever believed it to be good but not great, or great but not amazing, or worse... too long. This is not some imposition of my opinion on anyone, because come on—to each his/her own. What I am trying to say is that familiarizing oneself with these oft-claimed masterpieces so that they're no longer untouchably mammoth films is totally worth it, and can even create a genuine affinity for something great.

4.5 -> 5

*Not to be that guy, but if the romance subplot seems quite superfluous then you were maybe not paying the most attention...

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