Simone’s review published on Letterboxd:
My Kurosawa cherry has been popped :)
Let me start out by saying I totally understand why this film and Kurosawa as a director are both so popular. The genre of the epic film has earlier roots than I thought, and it really does feel grand in scale and should suck you in. If I had seen this when it first came out, I would've been floored. It's aged quite a bit, but the elements of excellent storytelling, artistry, characterization, cinematography, and pacing are all there. I also see how subsequent films, especially large-scale epics, have borrowed (let's be real: STOLE) Kurosawa's techniques, and with good reason.
The way this underdog story is told is absolutely brilliant. I love the set up of the town coming together to try and solve their dilemma, how they ask the "old man" for advice, and then the selection of the six outside samurai. Actually, the selection process was probably my favorite part of the entire film. It had humor and it moved along quite well. Kurosawa made this film incredibly human and natural, both in terms of the atmosphere and the story. It felt grounded in reality at all times, so much so that I found myself sucked out of the film occasionally because I was thinking about how perfectly real it all felt. (If that doesn't make sense to you, I don't blame you. It's the best way I could describe it.)
It's weird how I felt the film was too long before, during, and after I saw it, but that I also felt that every single scene, shot, and line of dialogue was absolutely essential. I watched the 3.5 hour version, but I've heard there are shorter versions. The cinematography is so stunning and every shot is so carefully planned and executed, I kept wanting to rewind and look at them again. I didn't, though, because it's 3.5 hours and I wanted to move on with the marathon! If I watch it again, I will be careful to drink in every shot, because it really does look stunning.
The characters in this film won't be particularly memorable for me, but I did enjoy them while I was watching it. The set up is so long that I got to know them all quite well. However, I didn't care about them much and I didn't really buy some of the relationships formed during the action of the film. The way women are portrayed and characterized bothered me quite a bit, but since it's an antiquated film, I guess I can give the antiquated gender roles a pass. It's only fair.
As a classic/essential film I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't say it's one of my personal favorites. I am nonetheless glad I saw it, and I'm excited to continue with the marathon! Next up is Rashomon.