Next screening on January 7 at 7:30 PM
Seven Samurai (1954), 3 hr. 27 min
The following description is adapted from an essay by film critic David Ehrenstein:
Breathtaking, fast moving, and overflowing with a delightfully self-mocking sense of humor, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is one of the most popular and influential films ever made.
This rip-snorting action-adventure epic about a sixteenth-century farm community led by a band of samurai warriors defending itself against a marauding army, sparked not only an American remake, The Magnificent Seven, but went on to influence a score of other westerns.
Instead of the slow, ritualistic, and highly theatrical style of the typical sixteenth-century Japanese saga, Seven Samurai moved with the sure swiftness of a Hollywood action epic, like Gunga Din or Stagecoach. The characters may inhabit historical settings, but their manner and bearing were, often as not, strikingly contemporary - particularly in the case of the buffoonish Kikuchiyo, the high-spirited would-be samurai played with great gusto by Toshiro Mifune.
Most important of all was the visual style of the film which, thanks to Kurosawa's use of multiple cameras, lent itself to many unusual editing techniques. In the atmospheric opening scene, the camera cuts closer and closer to a group of cowering villagers, dramatically underscoring their situation with deft simplicity. An audacious use of slow motion in the sword fight scenes give them a highly sophisticated dramatic charge. And that's not to mention the climactic battle scenes' brilliant staging and heart-stopping pace.
But over and above this brilliance stands Kurosawa's storytelling style. The film may be over three hours in length, but the pace never flags because the director at the helm has an uncanny sense of assurance in varying the action's flow. We're never retracing old dramatic ground, rather, we're always moving forward.
Kurosawa wastes little time in setting up his premise. It's essentially there in the film's opening shot - an ominous vista of horses galloping against the horizon at daybreak. Once the villagers state their plight and decide the course of action they have to take, the film is off and running, as they go looking for the samurai warriors they'll need to help them.
This situation quickly devolves into a series of vivid dramatic turns, as we meet each of the chosen samurai and their leader (the great Takashi Shimura) sets about planning the strategy the villagers will need to fight the army.
It is at this juncture that Kurosawa adds a special flavor to the proceedings that sets them apart from any action film ever made. For the story of Seven Samurai isn't one of simple Good versus Evil, as we learn when we're told that these villagers have, in the past, preyed on the very class of samurai they're now asking for help.
And why are these samurai helping them, for virtually no pay, and with only a few handfuls of rice for food? Why, for the adventure of it all. These men have seen many battles, but only in this one will they be truly able to test themselves. There's no reward, and the odds against their winning are a good one hundred to one - and that's exactly why they want to stay and fight.
Watching this raggle-taggle band of fighters defend the village makes for a climax as stirring as ever seen on a motion picture screen.