Tell me honestly, when I said in my The Sword of Doom review that I would review three revolutionary Japanese films, did you wonder, “Is one of them Seven Samurai?” Of course! Every film school will have you study Seven Samurai at some point or another. India may make more movies than any other country and America may own the market when it comes to film, but Japan has always been one of the most innovative countries in the industry. Considered the best Japanese director-and one of the best directors-of all time, Akira Kurosawa led the helm of Japanese filmmaking in the last half of the 1900’s, producing movies such as: Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Throne of Blood (1957), and Ran (1958). His arguable masterpiece was 1954’s Seven Samurai, which has influenced cinema and filmmaking unlike any other movie.
Seven Samurai is directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni. Stars-Toshirô Mifune (pretty much the Japanese equivalent to America’s John Wayne), Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, and Bokuzen Hidari. Premise-A village of farmers hire traveling samurai to protect them from bandits.
Yes, that premise is incredibly simple. What’s amazing about Seven Samurai are the characters, action sequences, and score. The story is fast-paced, so I didn’t find myself bored that much (despite the over three hour running time). The characters are very memorable. Each of them get an epic introduction scene, and save for 2 or 3 of the samurai, they all have ample screen time and development. We have an Obi-Wan Kenobi type of samurai, a slightly overweight/jaunty samurai, and an ill-tempered samurai with a broken past (played by Mifune). We get quite a lot of jokes from these characters, some of them being very cartoony in nature. Speaking of which, this movie does have really cartoony moments here and there. I have not seen enough Japanese films to state as fact that those moments of over-the-top humor are prominent in Japanese productions (similar to how the British often use irony for comedic effect). However, I found these moments to be funny rather than distracting, and I have always believed the notion that a joke or two evenly placed in a dramatic story will benefit the overall narrative.
I can tell that Kurosawa has his own style judging by some of the things he does with Seven Samurai. For one, this movie has some of the best use of slo-mo ever! It isn’t overused (like in 300 or any of 300’s poor imitators), rather they utilize it for dramatic effect instead of showing off some F/X or just to get a cool shot. The cinematography is also excellent, and when you notice how well someone framed a shot in a black-and-white film, you know they did their job right! The music accompanies each scene well, although it also can get distractingly goofy from time to time. This movie was nominated for 2 Oscars (Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design, Black and White), but what’s really impressive is that the set design and costumes are so convincing; you’d swear that they shot it at an actual village (I think they might have)!
What stood out to me was primarily the acting. It may be because all of these actors are Japanese and I have little experience on how to judge their acting, but each of the performers looked like they gave it their all for this movie, especially Toshirô Mifune. At first glance, it appears that his character will not contribute much to the story or get any development, but no character gets as much focus as his. There is one scene where he goes on a rage-induced rant about farmers. The only scene I can accurately compare this rant to is Juror #10’s racist rant from 12 Angry Men. They are nearly identical when it comes to the quality of the acting, camerawork, and reactions. The only thing that rivals this scene are the action scenes. As we’ve established with The Sword of Doom, Asian directors know how to choreograph sword battles like no one else. While watching the intense action scenes throughout Seven Samurai, I noticed how strategically planned out each battle was. You don’t typically see action sequences this incredibly detailed unless they are in epics like Braveheart or The Lord of the Rings, so I must credit Kurosawa for his visionary directing.
I have to admit, I may be a bit biased in my final grade of Seven Samurai. This is because I watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) The Magnificent Seven (which is pretty much America’s western version of Seven Samurai) before Seven Samurai. Therefore, I knew most of what was going to happen and that took some of the enjoyment out of it. That said, I still found this movie to be incredibly well directed, filmed, acted, and executed. I honestly recommend this film to anyone looking for entertainment, a laugh, or some intense drama because Seven Samurai has it all. If you can get past the black-and-white aspect and subtitles (and I know my high-minded audience should have no problem with that), you’ll see for yourself why Seven Samurai is one of the very first, and best, cinematic classics of all time. Seven Samurai gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.