Seven Samurai, The (1954)

The Seven Samurai (1954), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Farming villagers hire masterless samurai to defend them against a gang of marauding bandits.

I won't go on and on about how this is a masterpiece of world cinema, or it's influence and innovations, or the director's skills in storytelling, composition and editing. You can find that on the net and the two commentary tracks on the Blu-ray are a good start. Kurosawa's debt to John Ford's westerns is well known, as is the impact this film had on later American and world action pictures.

My fear is that people who haven't see it will presume, because of all the critical acclaim, that it is a foreign Art Film meant for scholarly analysis rather than enjoyment by the common viewer. Not true! It is an action/adventure story for any popcorn-eating audience. The structures and techniques are there to reward repeat viewers.

Stealing from a earlier review: "There is something exciting about a siege, probably due to childhood nightmares: they're out there, trying to break in and get us." This is more than a simple siege: master Kambei will entrap the enemy one by one and destroy their force piecemeal.

It's also a Japanese variant on the Tough Guy film: see my review of The Professionals (1966) for notes on the genre. The difference this time is the mix of both individual and communitarian elements: the samurai strive to be perfect knights, partly by refinement of their craft, partly by spiritual quest. But they know that good soldiering is disciplined teamwork and they pound on the villagers to make them understand that survival requires the needs of the many to outweigh those of the few.

I first saw a shorter cut of this in a theater. I no longer remember the edits, but now find myself restless during the early scenes where the peasants are miserable at the inn in town. But it soon picks up. I get the most curious sensation of being inside a storybook when watching this: probably due to the black and white imagery suggesting old wood cuts or engravings. Or maybe the mythical settings: big forest trees, mill wheel, bandits hideout.


Criterion Blu-ray. It will never win an eye-candy award but is an upgrade over their previous DVD editions, some scenes more than others. Some print damage and fluctuating black levels.