For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Black & White Movies, here’s a review of Seven Samurai (1954) by SG of Rhyme and Reason
Thanks again to Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film. for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Sherise of The Girl That Loved to Review. We will be reviewing our favorite movies from the 1970’s. Please get me your submissions by the 25th of September by sending them to email@example.com Try to think out of the box! Great choice Sherise!
Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:
How are farmers to get by?
They will expire unless they hire
Not one, not two, not three will do,
And four could not hope to defend.
While five or six might win with tricks,
It’s seven, experts recommend.
The seven swords their need affords
Will surely set the threatened free,
But if the fight is won for right,
To whom belongs the victory?
Rating: Not Rated (should be PG, though there’s profanity in the subtitles)
I haven’t seen a great number of foreign films, especially old foreign films, but when one is as influential as Seven Samurai, it’s practically required viewing. Directed by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, this tale of seven warriors persuaded to protect a poor village has become widely familiar, thanks to American remakes like The Magnificent Seven and Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. There were several reasons for me to potentially not enjoy Seven Samurai: it’s old, black and white, extremely long (3 hours and 27 minutes), and in Japanese with much yelling and weeping throughout. Yet, I recognized early on that this was a great film, not one to watch casually, but one to admire and appreciate as a landmark of world cinema.
A village of poor farmers in 16th-century Japan is threatened by marauding bandits, so a hesitant group depart in search of samurai to defend them. After much desperate searching, they witness the honorable Kambei in action and beg him for assistance. While the seventh samurai, played by Toshiro Mifune, is meant to be the most memorable of the group, this first master stuck out to me as a great character, one who views the farmers’ pitiful situation as a reason for kindness rather than disdain. Without him, there would be no assistance for them, and it is only by his firm hand and expert strategy that they fight the enemy so effectively.
As The Hobbit films proved, it is not easy to distinguish an ensemble of easily interchangeable actors, but for the most part, all of the warriors are well-drawn and distinguishable characters, with some getting more development than others. To avoid the confusion of writing this as a paragraph, I thought I’d describe them as a list:
Kambei (Takashi Shimura) – the leader and most experienced of the warriors
Gorōbei (Yoshio Inaba) – an archer attracted to the charitable enterprise by Kambei’s admirable example
Shichirōji (Daisuke Katō) – an old friend of Kambei’s (that’s about all we know)
Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) – the cheerful, flower-printed novice with a good sense of humor, who knows that the best way to chop wood is with a cool samurai “Hyaaah!”
Kyūzō (Seiji Miyaguchi) – the stoic master swordsman who remains humble while proving his invaluable skill; his swordsmanship is probably more realistic than the waving swords of other warriors, focusing on stance and tactics rather than brute force
Katsushirō (Isao Kimura) – the youngest, who idolizes the professionals; a sucker for a pretty face
Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) – the crazy, impetuous wild man of the bunch; an arrogant poser and comic relief whose deep flaws nevertheless belie an empathetic heroism
The characters are a bit of a balancing act, with Gorōbei and Shichirōji getting easily lost in the mix, but once they are introduced one by one, most of them get a moment to shine (or several). With all the warriors and many villagers upon which to build, we never get to know the opponents as anything more than generic bad guys, but even the good characters turn out to be more complicated in their pasts and intentions than they seem at first glance.
This review is turning out to mirror the film in focusing on characters and setup before the action that really sets it apart from others of its era. Once the bandits arrive and the fighting begins, Kambei’s strategy takes the stage, and the bloodless battle scenes actually become quite thrilling. Seven Samurai also was a forerunner of team missions like The Dirty Dozen, and while losses are anticipated, they still pack an unexpected emotional punch, strengthened by the lingering final scene.
Considering everything I might have disliked, I found Seven Samurai quite entertaining, a character-focused epic with star-crossed lovers, principled heroes, pitiful tragedies, and dramatic battles. While its miniseries length requires more time than your typical movie, I can see why this could be considered the Ben-Hur or Gone with the Wind of Japanese cinema. Even for those who hate old movies or subtitles, Seven Samurai is a monumental film worthy of legend.
Best line: (Kambei) “This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves.”
© 2015 S. G. Liput