Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★

Seven Samurai (七人の侍, 1954) is Kurosawa's first true epic, and, discounting his adaptation of Rashomon, his first period piece since 1945's The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail. For an auteur that spent most of his early career outside the period genre, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai really is remarkably well-formed.

I don't have much to add that hasn't already been said in countless reviews and analyses written about this film. Rather than get into the technical aspects of the film, of which I don't have the knowledge or vocabulary to really talk about (though it certainly seems like an impressive work of filmmaking for 1954), I want to talk mainly about the storytelling and characters.

Despite being an extremely long film at 3.5 hours, Seven Samurai is surprisingly engaging start to finish. Would it have benefited from some trimming to bring down the runtime? Probably. I split my viewing over two days, which may have affected my perception here; but overall I really didn't mind spending time with these characters for this long. I appreciated the slow-cooked bond the samurai developed with the villagers over the course the first two hours of the film, which gave much more heft to the final act. And I've watched much shorter films from Kurosawa's early career that have felt much longer than this one.

The characters are mostly well-realized. I particularly liked Takashi Shimura's Kambei, the wise leader of the pack; Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo, the wild and conflicted pseudo-samurai that Mifune was born to play; Seiji Miyaguchi's Kyūzō, the OG badass stoic swordsman; and Isao Kimura's Katsushirō, the youthful samurai-in-training who pursues a forbidden romance.

As many others have noted, Mifune's performance is particularly memorable and gripping. The guy is the textbook definition of wild-but-insecure masculinity. I do wish the other three samurai were more distinctive and developed, though—they were a bit of a blur to me. And while the narrative focus is strictly relegated to the samurai and the villagers, I wonder if giving the bandits more screentime would have made them a more interesting enemy, or if they work better strictly as the anonymous existential threat they are in the film. Still thinking that one over.

In summary: I enjoyed it. I can see why it was very influential. And while I'm generally not interested in samurai dramas (yes, yes—I know have many more to look forward to in Kurosawa's filmography!), this one mostly won me over. Glad to have finally seen it.

Trevor liked this review