Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

I do believe this is the first Akira Kurosawa film I've ever watched (it's at least the first one I've seen while consciously aware of who he is), though it's not the first Japanese film I've seen. I think this would've been a great introduction to Kurosawa either way, but it also would've worked as an introduction to Japanese cinema at large. This is, on its surface, a very simple story, largely free of the labyrinthian plotting that can occasionally make subtitled films impossible to follow. It's also a story that will no doubt be familiar to most Americans, as it has been adapted time and time again for Western audiences, most famously as The Magnificent Seven (and much, much, much, much less famously, as the remake to The Magnificent Seven).

This is a tough one, mostly due to the precedent the movie carries. The name Akira Kurosawa is one that echoes throughout cinema, one whose influences can be felt strongly even to this day. Most famously to us, George Lucas took heavy inspiration from The Hidden Fortress while developing and filming Star Wars. Sergio Leone also used Yojimbo as the basis for A Fistful of Dollars. Much as Jaws redefined the summer blockbuster, or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly redefined the Western, Seven Samurai has come to influence every samurai action movie to come since.

Everything about this screams, "IMPORTANT MOVIE". It's black-and-white, subtitled, and it's well over three hours long. That's pretty damn daunting even under the best of circumstances, but even now, I think it works. Not every moment holds up perfectly, but every moment is vital in its own way. I was never unaware that I was watching pure cinematic history unfold before my eyes.

But what surprised me after watching it was how "little" some of it was. For the most part this was a soft, joyous, genuinely delightful film with some characters you really come to enjoy spending time with. Yes, the portent of doom hangs over the proceedings at all times (the bandits are coming), and yes, not everyone makes it home. But Kurosawa manages to keep the movie going at an entertaining clip, never letting it drown itself in seriousness.

This never felt like a task to watch. Much has been said about Kurosawa's framing and shot composition, but what soon becomes readily apparent with this film is that he is an editor at heart. He is responsible for the flow of the film, the way sound occasionally keeps going past a scene, or cuts out at just the right moment to maintain atmosphere. And dammit, I'm still surprised at how much the action scenes show up.

Takashi Shimura is the heart of the film, as the kindly leader who is determined to save everyone, But for my money, the legendary Toshiro Mifune has the best character in Kikuchiyo. He's the one with the most life, and the most clearly defined character arc. His sense of physicality is stunning. But they're all great, and each of their characters gets a great introduction (MONK DISGUISE!)

If you don't like this film, there is nothing wrong with you. Obviously. This IS old, and it IS long, and there IS a cultural separation going on. But myself? I loved it, as a movie and a look into the beginning of something big.

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