Seven Samurai

Film Criticism, Movies

I had seen Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai before but it was years ago. I remembered little other than the general impression that I really liked it. I’m happy to report, I still really like it.

The plot of Seven Samurai is fairly simple. Farmers from a small village find out that bandits plan to raid when their harvest is ready. The set out to hire samurai to help defend their village but since they are poor farmers, they cannot afford to pay anything but food. They do manage to recruit seven who agree to do so out of a sense of duty, kindness and/or the desire for adventure. Their first recruit is the older Kambei (Takashi Shimura) who assumes leadership. Toshirô Mifune, who starred with Shimura in Kurosawa’s Rashomon, portrays the undisciplined Kikuchiyo. All of the samurai have distinct personalities, from the novice Katsushiro (Isao Kimura) to the expert swordsman Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi). Likewise, many of the farmers are fully developed characters, most notably Kamatari Fujiwara’s Manzo and his daughter, Shino (Keiko Tsushima) who Manzo forces to dress like a man out of fear of what the samurai might do to her. Katsushiro discovers the truth and the young couple soon fall in love.

The film consists of two parts. The first is about the recruitment of the samurai. The second concerns the defense of the village. At nearly 3 1/2 hours, Seven Samurai is the longest film I’ve seen so far on the Greatest Films of All Time project and it is worth the time investment. Seven Samurai is very much a character driven film and Kurosawa takes great care in introducing and developing the various samurai and farmers. The long build up generates substantial anticipation for the climactic battle, which holds up quite well nearly 60 years later.

The second Kurosawa film on the BFI 50 Greatest Films of All Time list, Seven Samurai is a brilliant and influential film. The somewhat simplistic and straightforward plot is greatly enhanced by the complexity of the characters. There’s an uneasy relationship between the farmers and the samurai. Many of the farmers are suspicious and distrustful of the samurai. Tensions escalate when the forbidden lovers are discovered.

Seven Samurai doesn’t quite have the philosophical heft of many of the films on the list but it is an exciting, engaging and expertly crafted film that was a nice break from some of the heavier films of the period.

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Rashomon (1950)
  5. Tokyo Story (1953)
  6. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  7. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  8. City Lights (1931)
  9. Seven Samurai (1954)
  10. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  11. Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
  12. The General (1926)
  13. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  14. Late Spring (1949)
  15. L’Atalante (1934)
  16. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  17. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next up: Journey to Italy (1954). I haven’t seen Journey to Italy but am familiar with some of Rossellini’s other films.