Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★

Seven Samurai has a mythic, monolithic reputation. A group of marauding bandits finds a small village, and they decide to return and raid it later, after their harvest. The clock has been set, the villager’s doom has been tentatively etched into the fog of future. A farmer overhears this plan, and so he scrambles back to inform the others. Something must be done; they’ll need to defend themselves. And for that, they will have to find samurai. But turning to the samurai comes with its own challenges, for they do so with not without their own prior conceptions about those supposedly honorific warriors. Likewise, it is impossible to approach Seven Samurai itself without some preconceived notions, or latent expectations— especially since it is so often cited as one of, if not the best, of all films.

I find my own expectations at war with how to approach this cornerstone of cinema. I feel like a small village myself, in need of defence, uncertain against the cultural force stampeding against it. That defence and wise training comes from the myriad of incredible reviews, essays, and the historical influence, all of which reflects and explores the film’s quality. Kurosawa’s control of technique is deployed here in full force— patient, potent, and powerful. There’s an impressive way that he uses the simplicity of the story, always managing multiple people in the frame, and bringing to life the macro narrative through every little composition of movement. 

Despite this, not everything works for me. There’s a romance side-plot that feels too tangential and underdeveloped, and some of the characters lack in complexity for its three-and-a-half-hour runtime. But speaking of the lengthy runtime, although I feel there are some spots that go on for too long, I also feel that, as a whole, the length accomplishes something powerful. It gives the time necessary to expand a strong triangle of class-dynamic— between farmer, samurai, and bandit— all three of which are thrust into a cycle of violence, born from their own making. This comes together for a bittersweet conclusion, one that lives deep in the conflicted throes of ambiguity: neither happy or sad, neither victory or defeat. And in the end, the length of the film speaks to the passage of time; time given and time taken. In the grand stream of things, this war of the little village is but a passing fleck, but for each of its participants, it is immense, immense as anything will ever be. And then it fades, as the cycle of time turns onward. Things are lost, things are gained, time moves ever-forward.

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