Seven Samurai

Reviewed by: Andrew Leung

October 24, 2009

Rating: five

Seven Samurai is directed by Akira Kurosawa and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. It is usually ranked within the Top Ten Movies of All-Time from various polls which include directors, critics and movie fans alike. Kurosawa was personally influenced by kendo and the spiritual Bushido code (as well as the paintings of Van Gogh) when he created this masterpiece. You can definitely see their influences when you watch this movie. The basic premise of the film is that farmers in a village are constantly being raided by bandits. So they go out to town to hire a group of samurai to help defend their village. Seven samurai are chosen and recruited to this noble cause (hence the title of the film).

I think the strongest points of Seven Samurai are the dynamic characters and the beautiful camera work. One critic described the film's visual techniques as "pictorialism". Every scene and every shot of the film is masterfully done. Kurosawa uses something called a "deep focus" technique to keep everybody in focus, whether they are in the foreground or background. What this does is it creates a canvas that surrounds the whole scene and everybody within the scene (whether they are moving or not) ends up being part of the visual texture of the canvas. It literally feels like you are watching a painting in motion. Every single scene in this film is highly engaging because of this great visual perspective.

Another strong point of the film are its engaging characters. Since the film is approximately 3.5 hours long, we get more character development compared to most other films. The three most-developed characters amongst the seven samurai are Kambei Shimada, Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro Okamoto. Kambei Shimada (played by Takashi Shimura) is the leader of the group. He is a gentle, honorable and wise samurai and is a mentor to the young samurai Katsushiro. He is the most cultivated samurai of the group and represents the perfect ideals of Bushido and Zen. Kikuchiyo is a hybrid farmer-samurai and the comic relief of the film. His character is played by the famous actor Toshiro Mifune who brings lot of energy into his role. The scenes are never boring with him around. The last "main character" is Katsushiro played by Isao Kimura. He is a young samurai still innocent in the ways of the world. He has no battle experience but is hungry to become a first-class samurai like Kambei.

Although the film has engaging characters (who the viewers can relate to), I wouldn't say that it has deep character development. The film emphasizes on the dynamic relationships between the characters rather than psychological development within. As I mentioned before, the film is like a painting in motion. All the events are constantly flowing forward and all the characters flow along with it. So this visual (and structural) style lends itself well to dynamic relationships rather than introspection. It is this aspect that gives Seven Samurai its unique (and artistic) flavour.

The Criterion DVD release of the film is quite possibly my favorite movie DVD set. The visual transfer of this old 1954 film is absolutely stunning. I would say that the transfer actually lives up to the visual style of the film. Even if you're generally put off by old black and white movie, the DVD visuals of this Criterion release will change your opinion. The set also comes with a 50+ page booklet filled with professional essays about Seven Samurai and various pictures from the film. There is also tons of extras in this set. You get a two hour video conversation with the director Akira Kurosawa, a 50-minute making of documentary, and a "Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences" documentary that talks about Samurai culture and its influences on the film. The Criterion release is definitely one of the best DVD releases of all time. It's the only release that lives up to the reputation of the film itself.

There is also a great anime adaptation of this film called Samurai 7. Its a high profile anime TV show with 26 episodes. The anime is a complete re-telling of the events in Seven Samurai. It takes place in a futuristic sci-fi setting (instead of ancient feudal Japan) filled with giant mecha's and flying warships. It actually reminds me a lot of Star Wars with its mix of samurai action and futuristic technology. I find this quite ironic since Star Wars itself was influenced and inspired by Kurosawa's samurai films including Seven Samurai.

So is Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai the greatest movie ever? Does it live up to its reputation? As a huge samurai fan, I have to say it's definitely one of the greatest films (and quite possibly the greatest samurai film ever). If I had one complaint though, it would be the soundtrack. I wished they used a more traditional Japanese soundtrack since this film is a historical piece after all. The music in this film sounds too Hollywood-ish for my tastes. Besides this minor complaint, Seven Samurai is a perfect film in every respect. It's quite possibly the most important movie in the samurai genre.

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