Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai ★★★★★

There are too many ways to review a great movie like this. So I'm going to start at the stop and end at this flick's beginning. Does that sound okay?

To be honest, Seven Samurai's ending speaks more thematically than the rest of the film. Every important plot event happens prior to Kambei, Shichiroji, and the pupil Katsushiro staring at the distant harvest before them—but this solemn finale takes the formal precedents established in earlier parts of the movie and uses them to maximum effect. I recall how the very first shot of the village, as seen from the bandits' perspective atop a hill, puts a high-angle look at the settlement in contrast with a flat foreground. And that same shot appears here: it's that closing image of the graves, demarcating the sacrifices needed to preserve growth and forward momentum in Japanese society. Everyone's lost something. Katsushiro's left a part of him, emotionally and physically, in this village where Shino lives; Shichiroji, neither hurt nor praised, speaks little and communicates mainly through battle cries and his pronounced physicality; ultimately, Kambei realizes how unlucky he is to survive the thickest of odds, given how he copes with humor and tries to shove his old age aside.

And, finally, there's the dead defenders themselves, a quantity I need not clarify yet are the most missed of all the characters in the movie. The seven samurai of different ideals ultimately cannot last forever. Just as this ending calls it quits, an end to the movie's previous acceleration and prodigious pace, so too does Seven Samurai herald the second Showa era of growth in '50s Japan as it says goodbye to more traditional values. Taking the story as both relevant to its period and to the period it was released in, I'm certain Kurosawa knew exactly what he was doing when he directed this film. It's an active, well-rounded, Shakespearean reconstruction of the Sengoku civil wars at the smallest, most profund plane of its existence. The tragedies held herein rack up in philosophical significance, as if the director wished into the world a perpetual parable of a desperate struggle for life against the unknown. In an episode of rural rancor, where destruction seems dissimilar from itself each time it rules in rage, only people's expectations of what's yet to come can steel them for war. That is, I think, the most profound message of this reconstruction of the Aeneid for a modern audience.

This little example is just three/four minutes out of a 207-minute movie. And the density of social commentary, character development, and storytelling complexity stays consistent all throughout Seven Samurai. Here's a movie that ranges from a young samurai realizing his resonance with a simpler lifestyle to an older farmer simply wishing to avenge his unfortunate survival on the same breed of bandits who set him upon the path of becoming a samurai. Kurosawa never lets up: he uses multiple-camera footage, tele-lens technology, and an impeccable sense of visual continuity that, combined with the movie's two-act structure, lets him take earlier motifs and transform them into sprawling new interpretations of Japanese life. Case in point: just as the farmers experience social disarray in the provincial town they're visting, so too does the galloping of invading horses and belligerents recall that same horizontal confusion. Here's a story that's never afraid to leave the details to its audience, in the hopes that they'll interpret an incredibly strong premise on a multitude of literary levels. Perhaps there are some flaws to be had too; I don't need Kikuchiyo to bluntly state the analogy between him and the couple's son, an otherwise harrowing comparison. But no great movie is perfect, except in relative terms.

I could easily analyze Seven Samurai in-depth, but Letterboxd is more fit for reviews than anything else. If there's any reason to watch a "great movie" to see if it truly deserves that moniker, then mastery of the cinematic medium would be it. And, as far as samurai movies go, this is considered the master example for multiple reasons! Right from the start, the villagers' huddle is neither hermetic nor heavenly. It exudes an atmosphere not solely of desperation, but also of the necessary drive towards cooperation and, in the process, giving up loftier standards of living to last much longer. Every musical cue, sonorous either in Gregorian moans or in traditional textures, sinks right into viewers as if the film-makers knew exactly how to convey the severity of the farmers' struggle. Every main character understands that sacrifices are necessary, yet they never have time to consider the consequences before the invaders return. Only once Kambei has pushed himself to the limit does he step back and take in the awe of everything that's happened. I did the same at the end of this movie, which condenses several weeks' worth of events into almost three hours and a half. And I will gladly do it again. Seven Samurai is one of the most relevant, enthralling, and enterprising epics yet created.

Joe Bob sez check it out!