#14: Seven Samurai (1954)

At first, I thought co-writer/director Akira Kurosawa played this very well, starting in the middle of the story, taking much of the plot as given and plunging right into to main excitement. As it turns out, I’d just put the wrong flipping DVD in first. I bought this particular DVD in China and being unable to read the cover copy, stuck in the lefthand disc, assuming the other was just features as these are always on the righthand side. So yes, I watched the entire final half first, and only discovered my error when I read the wikipedia plot outline. I did conscientiously return and watch the first half, to get the whole story. However, this leaves me in a rather disadvantaged position to analyse the development of the plot/tone/themes/characters. Sorry.

But even with this frustrating confusion, I immensely enjoyed Seven Samurai. Many of the characters, including each samurai and many of the villagers, are portrayed individually with due care and skill, with Toshiro Mifune (who you might recognise from Kurosawa’s earlier Rashomon) perhaps stealing the show with his energetic performance (which has left me shouting “HAI” every time I exert myself physically. I’ve been gardening today. The neighbours are no doubt perturbed). 
There is romance, action, excitement, and even a sense of educational value (for us modern Brits, at least). Set in 16th-century Japan, Seven Samurai tells the story of a poor, beleaguered farming village, who expect an attack from marauding bandits after their next harvest. As a last hope of salvation, they hire seven masterless samurai to protect and defend their homes and families. For us westerners, the aesthetic is a little hard to get used to. But 207 minutes of screen time for those kimonos and half-shaved heads gives you time to get past the cultural oddities, and focus instead on some great moral messages. This is a harsh, cruel world, but there are many moments of compassion and courage that bring light to what could otherwise be a dark and despairing film. 

While Rashomon would probably require at least a BA in Film to understand properly (because I certainly don’t), Seven Samurai is accessible, often fun, and for me, captivating. I would hesitate to describe this film as charming; there are certainly “winsome” elements, but to say this without qualification would sound belittling, or patronising. This is a great achievement for Kurosawa, and makes me want to know much more about Japanese cinema generally. 


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