Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★

I have slightly mixed feelings about Seven Samurai. On the one hand, you'd have to be a fool not to appreciate the sublime craft of Kurosawa's direction and the impeccable, groundbreaking cinematography, each scene's meticulous attention to detail and the deft handling of action sequences - but on the other hand, I found the film too slow-paced at times.

The story is actually very simple: in 16th Century Japan, bandits are rife and regularly raid villages to steal their produce. One village resolves to take a stand against the bandits and hits on the idea of recruiting samurai to protect it. The first half of the film, which deals with the assembling of the seven samurai - the prelude to battle - is absorbing, but excruciatingly slow-paced. The second half, which is more focused on the actual conflict between samurai and bandits is, for me, the more engaging. Throughout the film though, the various relationships between key characters (high/low caste, master/apprentice, wise man/fool) are intriguingly developed. Despite being quite a big ensemble piece, there are some memorable performances - in particular, Takashi Shimura, charismatic leader and master samurai to Katsuhiro's raw apprentice, and Toshiro Mifune, who hams it up as the irascible clown of the group.

The film touches on a lot of big themes - the class divide (encompassing both illicit love and the injustice of the peasant's lot within the feudal system), rebellion, war, honour, duplicity. But like the role of Mifune's character, Kikuchiyo, a lot of the themes in Seven Samurai seem like signposts to forgotten places. It's a film, I think, that will always enthuse movie lovers based on the brilliance of its execution rather than its enduring relevance.

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