Seven Samurai (1954)

“Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa is the granddad of the action genre. It’s believed to be the first movie where a team is assembled on screen for a mission. We can safely say that “Ocean’s Eleven” would not exist if Kurosawa never made “Seven Samurai”.

The movie runs for three hours with an intermission. It tells a story of a group of farmers, whose village has been raided by a group of forty bandits. Desperate, the farmers follow the advice of their granddad to hire four samurai from the town to combat the bandits. They recruit Kanbe Shimada (Takashi Shimura), not only a great samurai in sword combat, but also a great strategist. Shimada decides that four samurai cannot fight off forty bandits. He recruits six more, including the hilarious Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune), a son of a farmer who passes himself off as a samurai. The farmers bring back seven samurai to the village. The rest is the purest cinematic experience of the action genre.

The samurai here are poor and hungry. They are desperate to get a well-paid freelance job. The farmers are poor and can only afford to pay them three meals (rice balls) a day. They jump aboard only because of the charism of Kanbe Shimada the lead samurai. Their self-esteem upholds the hardship of life. Notice how the samurai are killed never by a sword on screen, but by guns fired by the coward bandits. Notice all bandits killed by the samurai die under their swords, never a gunshot.

Roger Ebert writes in his great review that “Seven Samurai” also tells a story of the Japanese social class, of men who are obliged to play their social roles even though the ends look grim. That’s a great observation. However, I enjoy the movie more on the pure cinematic level. The story telling is so clear, we follow easily each strategic step taken by the master samurai. The acting is highly stylish, for example the clown samurai played by Toshiro, which could be distracting at first but it helps to distinguish each character, and there are many vivid characters.

Seven Samurai” is directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura. Buy it at The Criterion Collection.

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