DIRECTOR: Akira Kurosawa
BFI 1991 Print (190 minutes: NOT the 2002, 203 minute or the original complete 207 minute cut)
“We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our our lot in life” No, that was Star Wars though I’m sure I’ve heard something very similar only in Japanese…
So many scenes from this undoubted masterpiece could easily be lifted and put into any film made today. The film’s influence is unrestrained and clearly timeless. The obvious recipients of Seven Samurai’s influences are Star Wars, with lines quoted by Lucas in his clear homage to the classic, The Magnificent Seven which was a direct U.S. remake, and film and TV series for decades, including Star Trek and the less obvious A Bug’s Life.
Everything from the modern action film was present and correct, from the reaction shots, editing, characterisation, and build up, to name but just a few. This is the inspiration behind so many film makers working today, with Steven Spielberg, clearly drawing from Kurosawa in so may ways. The plot of this film may be simple, with a group of Samurai being hired by a desperate village to fight off a large band of raiders who have been stealing their crops.
But what could have been handled in a shallow manner, as some many of this film’s subsequent rip-off’s or homages have, this was deep through and through. The characters are ALL fleshed out, real with motivations, character traits, such as Kikuchiyo, (Toshirō Mifune) with relentless scratching, and are instantly recognisable not for how they look, but for how they are embodied, the mark of a brilliant director and cast working to together. The film entertains from the opening frame, but at three hours and ten minutes, this is a marathon film, taking a subject which is normally wrapped up with and two-hour time slot.
This is my ONLY gripe that I have with this film. The pacing is good, taking its time as it takes us by the hand through the narrative; The villager’s plight, their seemingly impossible search for Samurai to help, the building of the group, and the final assault upon the enemy. Every detail is laid out for us and with such characters and blend of comedy, and genuine comedy it was, it’s hard to fault but in the end I just felt that the pacing slowed do just a little too much at times and it effected the overall feel of the film.
I respect this work so much, but the flare was dulled ever so slightly by this pacing issue and for me, this softened impact, lowered my score from what I would have liked to be a 10 on paper, to a 9 in my gut. Has this film opened me up to watching more of Kurosawa’s or other Japanese work? absolutely, just a Gojira did last year.
Akira Kurosawa was clearly a visionary director, who could have made any Hollywood film today and still not looked dated. A sharp wit, beautiful cinematography and depth of character which transcended the characters themselves, with everything from the locations to the weather playing a part, this was a truly a benchmark in cinema and its impact is still being felt today.
Love it or hate it; There’s no doubt in my mind that I have just seen one of the MOST important films ever made. And it wasn’t American.