Sunday, August 16, 2009

Seven Samurai (1954)

My first post on a foreign language film is also a post on one of the great movies of all-time. Yays for you, readers.

Seven Samurai is Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece about a village of poor farmers who are threatened by bandits. In an effort to protect themselves, they hire 7 samurai to protect them and help prepare the town for the upcoming bandit raid. The samurai and the farmers have an uneasy alliance, as samurai are morally ambiguous characters of the time, capable of either helping you or killing you, but they must work together for their own survival, which is decided in a climactic battle in the rain.

The film is long (with some versions bordering on 3 hours), but that's to the strength of the film, as the story is sharply divided into three acts, the finding of the samurai, the fortifying of the town, and the final battle with the bandits. The long runtime also allows for the individual characters of the samurai to develop, with actually makes us invested in the outcome of the battle.

The samurai themselves are rich and fully developed. With most of the attention devoted to Kambei (Takashi Shimura), the "leader" of the samurai, he is a battled hardened man who has tired of war and fighting, KatsushirĊ (Isao Kimura), a young untested samurai who finds himself in awe of the other, more skilled warriors, and finally Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), a wannabe samurai who identifies the most with the villagers, he is a show off and dramatic.

It's actually Toshiro Mifune who delivers the strongest performance in the whole film, but this partly due to his character being the most developed, he's really a farmer wanting to be a samurai, and to make up for his lack of nobility, he makes up for it with attitude and showmanship. It's no surprise that the sword he wields is larger than the other samurai's.

It's easy to have issues with the acting of some of the lesser character, given the massive difference in acting styles between American and Japanese film, but that's really only a minor nitpick, because the characters that really do matter are all enjoyable to watch.

The film also has a very organic feel to it, Kurosawa showcases the village and landscape itself as much as he does the characters, and it makes everything seem very natural, where you don't really even feel like you're watching a movie.

The film also has a lot to say with its message, which comments on war and bloodshed, as well as the treatment of Samurai in Japanese history, and it does so without becoming preachy or obvious, instead allowing the viewer to glean from the film as opposed to the film spoonfeeding you.

The film has earned its place in film history, establishing many film conventions we now take for granted, such as the gathering of individuals to accomplish a certain goal, the reluctant hero, as well as the idea of introducing a character in the middle of accomplishing a mission.

Even without this historical pedigree, the film is one of the most finely crafted stories you will most likely see in your life, and I hope that anyone who may have an aversion to subtitles and overcome it to witness Kurosawa's finely told tale.

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