Classic Bit Review: Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai (1954), which is one of Kurosawa’s most recognisable films, and was a success in Japan and the West too as Seven Samurai made more money than any other film that year and won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Kurosawa could finally make jidaigeki films with no barriers, and he began to have more freedom to make a variety of genre films that he couldn’t during the War and during the Occupation. The film follows seven rōnin as they defend a poor village from a group of bandits. His post-Occupation films no longer had direct American influence, as he went back to samurai films that reflected Japanese’s past whilst still making a critical statement about the present. Ironically, his films that he made during this time which reflect a modern, and a past version of Japan, were remade in America. The most noticeable examples were The Magnificent Seven (1960) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964), which were a remake of Seven Samurai and Yojimbo (1961) respectively. The relationship between Japan and the US were strained post-Occupation, as the relationship between the US and Japan during the Occupation seemed to be equal but comments made after the events highlighted how accurate this was. Kurosawa’s films, after the Occupation and until 1965, were Japanese based and chronicled problems in Japanese society and social inequality.

The film of course stars two of Kurosawa’s favourite actors, both Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura as part of the group of rōnin samurais. Ironically, the group of samurai were originally six, but Kurosawa found that the group were boring and needed a wildcard. Therefore, Mifune was recast as Kikuchiyo and was given the freedom to improvise his lines. The raw emotion of the villagers and the pure talent of the cast is admirable. The cast are a brilliant ensemble, but Mifune outshines everyone per usual with both his enigmatic and boyish ways. The film became Japan’s third highest-grossing film of 1954, and the film had stiff competition with films such as Godzilla being released during this time. The charm of the characters, and the brilliance of Kurosawa made the film an event and a landmark in cinema telling the story of a rambunctious group of men who band together to save a village despite the lack of reward.

The Seven Samurai was one of the first films to use the narrative of recruiting a group of heroes to defeat a common goal. Character traits featured in the film were modern, as they featured the reluctant hero in the form of Mifune and the romance between the young local girl and the youngest hero. The score is of course perfect. The lone beat of a drum during tense and decisive moments, such as deciding on what to do about the bandits, and the lone chord of the shamisen emphasises the anxiousness and tense moments. Composed by Fumio Hayasaka, a friend of Kurosawa who passed away during his film I Live in Fear (1955), and the score adds to this work of art. The hopeful music when the villagers are looking for their samurais, and the triumphant encouraging music of brass when the samurai are making their journey.

The sets are a force themselves. Kurosawa refused to shoot at the Toho Studios for most of the exterior scenes, and had a set constructed despite protests. He did this to make the film seem more authentic, and greatly so. The costumes, the acting and the set come together to make it credible and convincing. Kurosawa is the master of editing, he did the editing himself and sometimes even late at night during shooting. What else can I say about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said. I unfortunately haven’t had the pleasure to see this film in the cinema or on any screen bigger than forty inches, but even with those limitations I am certain it is one of the greatest films ever made. Sure, The Seven Samurai isn’t my favourite film, or favourite Kurosawa film, but I know a masterpiece when I see one and it is a must see for humans in general. If you have never seen the film, you definitely need to educate yourself and sit down to watch this absolute classic.

 

 

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