25 May 2010 | Davor_Blazevic_1959
Arguably, the best samurai film ever made
Though its biblical connotation is not the happiest one ("Seven Deadly Sins") number seven, omnipresent in our (7 days a) weekly cycles, seems to have been a lucky number in the world of cinema. Several very solid and some great movies have this number in their title, starting with gag-wise incredibly inventive Seven Chances (1925) from genius of silent era Buster Keaton, Frank Borzage's silent version of classic melodrama 7th Heaven (1927), Walt Disney's first feature-length animated movie, Snowhite and Seven Dwarfs (1940), recognized as an instant classic and remained so ever after, Stanley Donen's ear-pleasing, eye-riveting musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), staged in western milieu, with the breathtaking barn-raising dance sequence, Ingmar Bergman's literally Death-defying, answers-to-reasons-for-human-misfortune-seeking masterpiece, Det sjunde inseglet ("The Seventh Seal") (1957), Billy Wilder's Seven Year Itch (1957), a clever and amusing first collaboration with incomparable Marilyn Monroe (a worm-up for their second, bigger if not decisive step in taboos-of-the-motion-picture-production-code-breaking, brilliant comedy Some Like It Hot (1959)), up to newer examples like David Fincher's disturbing drama Se7en (1995), one of the finest Hollywood movies of the 90's, as well as Tsui Hark's Chat Gim ("Seven Swords") (2005), a stunner in the department of action sequences from the often under-appreciated genre Wuxia, originating from Chinese literature.
However, even among such illustrious examples of movie-making par excellence, one movie holds a special place, Shichinin no samurai ("Seven Samurai") (1954) from the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. This movie doesn't seem to lack anything that an avid movie consumer, in particular samurai genre admirer, might be wishing for.
It is not easy to say anything new about the one of the most analyzed and scrutinized movies of the film history. Nevertheless, and despite being eventually only repeated, it shall be mentioned that movie has a simple but very engaging story - a group of peasants, representing a village, periodically stormed by gang of bandits, looting their crops and other possessions, hires several wandering ronins (masterless samurai) to help them protect the village - not without lucid observations on the possibility of social interaction between members of different classes during the almost seven centuries long feudal history (1185-1868) of Japan.
Characterization is excellent, and though having clear stand-outs in samurai's true leader, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), a wise tactician of the exceptional valor, as well as in the exuberantly uncontrollable Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), messy in its appearance and blustering in its manner, yet, a peasant descendant himself, making for a perfect link between the samurai and their employers, all other samurai are memorable, as well, sporting wide variety of personality traits. In joining the village protection campaign, hired for nothing more than a regular meal for as long as providing a service, thus primarily hoping to finally fill their starving stomachs, each one of them was driven by different additional motives, whether they were challenged to test their bravery, fighting skills and tactics, seeking for excitement and recognition, trying to regain pride and glory of the past days, just reaching out for that human touch (cross-class communication, even mere courtship promising relationship) they have been deprived of, or simply interested in its noble cause.
Together with true highlights in realistically choreographed battle scenes, showing all the pain and misery of excessive violence on the reverse of heroism, that even defenders cannot avoid resorting to, sadly announcing inevitable decline of the samurai and their ways exposed to new artless technology, unbecomingly dying ambushed by distant shots from the muskets, while ingloriously stuck in the village muds... it all makes for a compelling narrative.
Though triumphant in their common task to protect the village, unlikely alliance between samurai and peasants is ultimately doomed to fail. In the short run, it gives expected results, but in the long run, does not stand the chance. That is so loudly, although in fact silently, expressed at the end, when peasants don't even care to join the surviving samurai in their mourning over the fallen ones, not even giving the last well deserved respect to those who have helped them withstand fierce attacks, prevail and ultimately defeat bandits, and, in doing so, most of them given their lives. Peasants simply continue with their daily chores, while surviving samurai have to leave the village, like they have never existed, sadly symbolizing their ultimate destiny: slowly but surely stepping off the future pages of the history books.
Seven Samurai, the movie, is rightfully considered as the one that has redefined samurai film in its contemporary perception, and dawned almost two decades long string of successes, instantly becoming the brightest example of thus revived, uniquely provocative and entertaining sub-genre, unknown as such in the country of its origin, classified there within a broader genre, jidaigeki (a period drama, often describing events from pre-modern era of the Edo period, marking the governance of Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868), relatively peaceful times for Japan's long history of civil wars, as opposed to gendaigeki, films treating contemporary matters), and by IMDb standards, as an action drama, occasionally historical, when based on real events.
Originating in the Edo-era Far East, it has inspired equally successful, star-studded (Y. Brynner, S. McQueen, C. Bronson, J. Coburn, E. Wallach, R. Vaughn, H. Buchholz, B. Dexter) Hollywood remake, The Magnificent Seven (1960), conveniently situated in the U.S. West of 19th century, as well as three lesser sequels, Return of... (1966), Guns of... (1969), and ...Ride! (1972).