Category Archives: Seven Samurai

Fight the Strong, Protect the Weak (Seven Samurai Review)

Seven Samurai (1954), a film by legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, is widely regarded as one of the most influential and powerful films of its time—and perhaps there this some truth in this view. This film was made earlier on in Kurosawa’s career and helped him, along with a few of his actors, on their rise to international recognition. Driving this film in particular is its cinematography, showing themes through subtle detail, such as focus.

What kind of film is Seven Samurai? To call it merely an action movie would not do it justice, since though the plot of the film revolves around the impending action, the majority of the movie is not contained in the relatively short action sequences. The movie plays out much more like a drama, centering itself around the three main characters: Katsushiro (Isao Kimura), a young, aspiring samurai, Kambei (Takeshi Shimura), an old and wizened samurai, and Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune), a samurai of questionable legitimacy.  The actors in this film help to carry it through, with particularly strong performances from Mifune and Shimura, both of whom are known for their work in collaboration with earlier Kurosawa films, such as Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), and Scandal (1950). The synergy between Mifune and Shimura helps to keeps the two characters dynamic and engaging throughout the three-and-a-half-hour film. Kurosawa makes no mistake in keeping them in-focus, both literally and metaphorically.  Though not every scene focuses on them, and in fact, characters like Katsushiro receive a fairly large amount of screen time, Kurosawa shows their well-developed and influential characters through his camerawork whenever they are around, giving the actors the chance to show what they are capable of.

Of course, there is only so much to be said for characters in a vacuum. The film’s basic plot involves a small village, which discovers that bandits plan to attack them in a few short months. Instead of fighting by themselves or surrendering their crops to the bandits (which would mean starvation), they come up with the plan to hire some samurai to help them defend their village. They go to a nearby village and manage to convince an older samurai, Kambei, to help them, even though the villagers cannot pay more than to feed the samurai during their stay. Kambei manages to pull together a rag-tag group of samurai to ward off the bandits.

As I previously mentioned, the film doesn’t concentrate on the bandit attack that acts as a catalyst for the villagers and samurai, but rather on the characters themselves. Kurosawa weaves philosophy seamlessly into the film, making it feel natural while still holding the powerful and thought-provoking effect it is capable of. Though the bandit attack certainly moves the plot along, it ends up being more a device to tell a tale of these samurai, the farmers, and how we act under pressure, rather than being a tale about a bandit attack. The film deals with themes spanning from duty and obligation to identity and classism.

The film is very long, running 207 minutes, but nothing feels out of place or unnecessary. Every scene is needed in its own way, with many shots telling a story beyond the dialogue or action in them. As Kurosawa is known for, his use of focus helps tell the story, which we can see throughout the film. In simple conversations, such as between the samurai and the village elder, the use of focus highlights who has power and who is important to the conversation. Whereas most directors keep only one part of the shot in-focus, Kurosawa will keep several different things in the shot, perhaps actors, perhaps props, in-focus, which also highlights the fact that much of the shot isn’t in-focus. Kurosawa’s mechanical ability in filmmaking contributes to this film’s critical acclaim and international success.

Kurosawa’s samurai film strays away from the genre of action movie, and moves more towards the genre of drama. Through his masterful cinematography and storytelling methods, he weaves a complex tale with very simple origins: how we should and do react under duress. Kurosawa’s philosophy is told here in a powerful way, and every element of the film contributes to it, especially the cinematography. Anyone can understand what happens on the surface, but to truly grasp the film requires a more careful look.

 

Works Cited:

Seven Samurai. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima. Toho Company. 1954. Film.

“Seven Samurai” Internet Movie Database, 2014. 7 Mar 2014.

Film Review of Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a film filled with action, love, sadness, and joy.  Scenes of the beautiful, lush countryside scenes of Japan are intermingled with shots of sword fighting and battlefields in a three-hour long epic that exhibits the idea that if someone has the power to protect something from harm, they have the responsibility to do so.

The movie opens with a village that is constantly being harassed by bandits, and is barely surviving.  When they finally see no other course of action, the villagers send some of their own to a nearby town to enlist the aid of a samurai.  Along their journey they meet an honorable samurai (played by Takashi Shimura) who helps them gather six more warriors before returning with them to the village.  While in the village, the samurai help the farmers defend themselves and ultimately join them in a confrontation with the bandits.

Released in 1954, Seven Samurai achieved worldwide fame by winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  By this time, however, Kurosawa had already received acclaim for his 1950 film Rashomon.  Today, Kurosawa is considered to be a famous Japanese auteur, a director who imparts a unique mark on his or her films.  He is considered to be an influence on many other directors and films, ranging from Star Wars to The Magnificent Seven to many more.  The techniques and genius of Kurosawa can be seen by anyone who knows how to look for them, such as using the scenery of the area being filmed or occasionally breaking the rules of filming for an added effect.  Seven Samurai is a brilliant example of not just Kurosawa’s directing prowess, but also of his ability to tell a riveting story and convey a deeper meaning to the viewers of the film.

Much of this film’s charm comes from the characters, particularly the samurai, and how they interact and change with the world around them.  Characters such as Kikuchiyo, an enigmatic samurai whose past is a mystery (played by the famous Toshiro Mifune), add a comedic aspect to an otherwise serious film while characters such as Kyuzo, a silent but skilled warrior (played by Seiji Miyaguchi), add an element of action that many people would expect from a movie about samurai.  Even many of the villagers have unique personalities and clear motivations that affect the outcome of the film.  The varied array of characters in Seven Samurai keeps the film fresh and makes it easy for the viewer to find a favorite character, augmenting the experience of watching the movie.

Another aspect of the film that showcases its quality is the mise en scene.  The costumes of the characters differentiate them and subtly describe them.  The villagers are dressed in rags and are occasionally seen dirty from work.  The samurai, however, are dressed in traditional outfits that clearly show that they are of a higher class.  This dichotomy is important as one of the major themes of the film is the dynamics between classes.

The scenes involving the samurai not only display their outfits, but often include multiple samurai at once.  In one scene, a shot of three of the samurai is seen and then in the next shot, three of the other samurai are seen in another part of the room.  This type of shot in which the samurai are grouped together can be seen many times throughout the film and conveys their unity and combined strength.

Seven Samurai has many good qualities and often gets placed in lists of best movies of all time.  While some people may think that the film is only for people who are interested in Japanese culture and history or in “action-packed” films, there is much more to this film than that.  Its themes of helping people who cannot help themselves and of the interactions between high and low class people are worldwide themes and can be understood by anybody.

References:

Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. US: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Seven Samurai. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Columbia, 1954. Film.

“Seven Samurai.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

Seven Samurai Review

Few films have had the impact and lasting appeal that have surrounded Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai for the last sixty years. It has inspired countless remakes that transcend genre and decade (ranging from John Sturges’ westen Magnificent Seven to Pixar’s animated film A Bug’s Life), but the film’s appeal doesn’t merely lie in its legacy and popularity; Seven Samurai shows a masterful understanding of both cinematic and storytelling technique and has certainly earned its place among countless ‘top ten’ lists and among some of the greatest films of all time.

Perhaps the most impressive quality of Seven Samurai is its ability to transcend culture and language, its unbridled popularity in whatever culture that it appeared in. Kurosawa had achieved worldwide fame and popularity with Rashoman, a film that did extremely well at international film festivals and put Japanese cinema, and Kurosawa, into the world’s view. While samurai films were nothing new, Seven Samurai seemed to hit something that struck the chords of audiences around the world; the viewer didn’t have to be well-versed in Japanese culture and history to understand the film’s themes of duty, danger, and love.

The film’s wide cast of characters all feel genuine and unique; with a main cast of seven samurai among an entire village of farmers, they all feel well-developed and understandable. Kanbei (Takashi Shimura) is the leader of the group, stern and wise, but not completely stoic and inhuman. Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) is the farmer-samurai whodoesn’t really fit into either camp of characters. Katsushiro (Isao Kimura) is the one apprentice, the unknowing figure with whom the audience can most easily relate, and the lover-boy of the film. Even without one main protagonist toe follow, the action is tense and powerful because we are meant to identify with the whole cast of characters, not just one central figure.

seven-samurai-toshiro-mifune
One example of Kurosawa’s mastery of the frame, this frame’s many different planes and layers are meticulously detailed and kept in focus.
moonboog.com

Just like the characters and actors, each frame that Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai construct are extremely complex and interesting. Many frames have multiple layers in space and take advantage of every inch of space within the bounds of the camera’s vision. During the scene where the samurai first meet the village elder in the mill, the positions of the characters represent their power within the situation; the elder dominates the middle of the frame with the samurai in the middle, while the villagers cower in the background away from the action.

Seven Samurai is a film that has gone down in history as one of the best films ever made and has gone on to influence countless other films in the sixty odd years since its original release. Even if you have a very small interest in Japanese film, you should definitely see this film at some point in your life just because of how much influence it’s had over the industry.