“Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” is not only a great film in its own right, but the source of a genre that would flow through the rest of the century. ”
There is probably no point appreciating and lauding Seven Samurai after 61 years of its release, when it has already received universal love from the critics and masses and is often cited as the most influential film in the history of cinema. It has frequently made it to the top 10 films of all time in almost all the magazines and critics’ list. Damn, here is a little more appreciation and love from one of the ardent fans of Kurosawa and in particular, Seven Samurai. Legends never die, the great art of work always echoes in the universe till eternity. Late Akira Kurosawa, take a bow for your contribution to World Cinema and one of the greatest inspirations to many directors including Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, Michael Mann, Sergio Leone & George Lucas. If Seven Samurai would not have been made, I guess Magnificent Seven, Sholay, Samurai 7, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, The Guns of Navarone, China Gate would not have existed. Seven Samurai film has inspired many films, but with the advance technology and abundance of available technical resources, still no one has come closer to this undisputed epic masterpiece.
Finally, I got a chance to see Seven Samurai Criterion collection in Blu-Ray and what an amaze-ball experience it was, speechless. Seven Samurai might not come across as groundbreaking in its plot. It is very typical samurai film where bunch of samurais, even those who are inexperienced, come together to fight against evil (Bandits here). But it was the first film where a team was assembled to fight against evil, as per the critic Michael Jeck. And more than the plot, it was the characters, profound display of human psyche and symbiotic relationship of farmers and Samurais that made this film epic in every sense, besides its superior technicality. Kurosawa was so much invested in making this film that he wrote a complete dossier for each character with a speaking role. In it were details about what they wore, their favorite foods, their past history, their speaking habits and every other detail he could think of about them. Kurosawa even designed a registry of all 101 residents of the village, creating a family tree to help his extras build their characters and relationships to each other.
Seven Samurai is set in the 15th century in Japan that tells the tale of farmers, their long suffering and how they are reduced to scared creatures who can’t see beyond their own suffering. One of the villagers overhears the Bandits planning to rob the barley crops once the farmers harvest it. This news sends the villagers in a deep shocking state, while one of the lady sobbingly expresses her desire to die as she says, “Land tax. Forced labor. War. Drought. And now Bandits. God must want us farmers to starve.” There suffering is so profound that they find the solution of committing suicide more appealing than getting tortured at the hands of Bandits. An Elderly woman makes it clear in one of her dialogues, “I want to die soon and leave this suffering behind.” Finally, villagers moves in a herd to seek advice from the eldest man in the village. The old bald man decides to find hungry Samurais and make a team of them to defend the village from bandits. Many Samurai rejects their offer, few mock them and make fun of their food habits and living style, until they meet Kambei Shimada who agrees to help them. He is approached by untested Katsushiro who voluntarily wants to become Samurai disowning his family and their property as he requests Kambei to make him his disciple. Kambei makes the team of six more Samurai who have either nothing good to do or they join on request of Kambei as they are master less samurai. To the shock of everyone, Samurais are not welcomed with proper hospitality in the village which is explained very correctly by elder man that farmers fear every change, be it a change in the whether or wind or Samurai coming to village for their help.
The second act of the film focuses completely on the three important subplots that are rebellious in its taste against the social tradition, yet it essentially symbolizes many aspects of modern life too. Unfortunately, they have to do with caste-ism and discrimination held in the the name of caste. Character of Toshiro Mifune, boisterous Kikuchiyo who wants to hog glory alone, has to jump the barrier of caste to become a samurai. The verboten blooming romance between Katsushiro (Isao Kimura) and village girl, which is unacceptable among villagers due to social barrier. Isn’t this still prevalent in our society ? And lastly, how reluctant villagers are to try not to socialize with Samurais with the fear of rigid traditions been corrupted. But soon villagers realized that the threat of Bandits is more dreadful than merely restricting themselves to symbiotic relationship with Samurais.
The third act, the battle scenes have been done with such panache and particularization, that you almost feel as if they are documented from real life. You almost feel the intensity, thanks to terrific mastery of staging and editing & the way multiple cameras have been deployed to capture the violence. It is almost real. I am highly amateur to even talk about this thing but one thing which is very applaudable of Kurosawa is that he relied on long shots and doesn’t incorporate cuts ‘frequently’. This helped a lot in evoking the sense of emotions that feel more real, especially in case of battle scenes. Like the scene that strengthens the character of Kikuchiyo, when he finds out the cache of weapons and armor buried in the village. Mifune handles the dialogue expertly and vomits out all the anger & frustration he had inside it, giving a bleak look at his tortured past life & eventually he breaks down in tears. The scene has no background score and it has only one cut, when Kikuchiyo throw a handful of arrows against the wall. The entire emotional scene has been so beautifully shot and edited that it gives more profound depth to the character of Mifune. Now coming to Kurosawa’s use of inter-cut footage, he has mastered & laid the foundation for inter-cut scenes as well. In one of the most striking scenes that has been done so beautifully is when Kambei kills a thief who has kidnapped a child; this can be called as “the textbook for modern movie violence.”
Seven Samurai has varied spectrum of emotions that includes fear of not only bandits but Samurai too, samurai’s love for farmer’s daughter, revenge, anger, desperation of food, survival, ego, self finding, inspirational figure. Kambei leads the villagers from the front end in a very brave manner and tactfully fights like a warrior and to my surprise, comes out to be very calm and composed character. Kikuchiyo is one hell of an actor, who has so much of anger in him and looks very violent, but at same time he is too funny and dumb and sensitive in some corner of his heart. His character provides comic relief with his antique dumb behavior but he makes it up for his silliness in final battle scene where his emotional quotient goes to very next level. Kyuzo is one hell of sword fighter who keeps himself very relaxed and wittily attacks to finish the opponent (His character reminds me of Brad Pitt’s character in Troy where in his first scene, he kills physically strong opponent in one sword’s smash). Technically we are so ahead today, that you may not appreciate this film but what this movie captures is something that many film-makers are miss out today in their films; sense of fear, sense of loss, sense of thrill, sense of planning going haywire and the sense of adventure. This film captures all these things so beautifully and pitches perfectly that I can bet, nothing can come closer to this achievement even today. Many film-makers are in debt of Kurosawa. George Lucas has acknowledged his debt to Akira Kurosawa, and several homages and allusions can be found throughout the Star Wars series.