saladofthedead’s review published on Letterboxd:
This was the first film of his that I saw and it kickstarted my love for samurai media/history. Never watched this with the roundtable commentary before but so glad I finally have. Such a great concept to have a group of great Japanese scholars discuss the greatest team-up movie ever made. I love the way Kuroswa handles movement and sound on-screen, how he makes sudden shifts from relatively still sequences followed by bursts of energy in the following sequence.
I never realized that Kurosawa wrote the textbook for modern movie violence in the scene where Kambei defeats the thief, intercutting slow-motion and normal speed action in ways that influenced filmmakers forever afterward. The slow-motion inserts when the thief falls down after getting slashed are especially effective because they derive their energy from the surrounding normal speed footage, making the whole assembly extraordinarily tense because of the different time frames that you see.
I love Kurosawa's frequent use of the axial cut, a technique that doesn't seem to be favored by many directors, although it's one of my favorites for how it very efficiently directs a viewer's focus on something with increasing emphasis. It's actually something I notice more in modern anime, like when Hideaki Anno or Akiyuki Shinbo use it in their work, so it's so cool that Kurosawa was making great use of that all the way back since the 40s/50s. Even though this is the film in which Kurosawa's work began to heavily feature the use of the telephoto lens, there are still a ton of instances in which he displays his mastery of wide-angle composition with multiple actors blocked at various distances.
At 3 hours and 27 minutes it never feels longer than it needs to be because Kurosawa makes great use of the runtime in various ways: it allows Kambei's hair to fully grow back, the uneasy bond between the villagers and the samurai (as well as the villagers' martial confidence) to grow believably, the entirety of the agricultural year to be reflected and thereby reinforcing the endurance of the peasants' and how the victory belongs to them, and it allows for each of the many characters to be fully developed as we come to understand and sympathize with their backstories, their philosophies, and their reasons for being there, making the eventual battle feel all the more critical as we know that not all of them will survive. A masterpiece through and through.