Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Running Time: 207 mins
Seven Samurai is a Japanese film about a peasant village that is constantly raided by bandits. In order to defend themselves, the villagers hire a team of samurai to fight off the bandits.
From legendary director Akira Kurosawa, the reputation of Seven Samurai as a true classic of cinema is as strong as any other film. With more groundbreaking technical achievements, coupled with an engaging story and strong performances, this is a good watch, but at nearly three and a half hours long, I have to say that it is a lot of work to get through.
The best part of Seven Samurai is easily Kurosawa’s directing. Despite being a Japanese film from the 1950s, there are so many moments in this film that look like they belong in a modern blockbuster. Kurosawa uses a wide variety of shots and techniques over the course of the movie that give it a greater energy than most of the Hollywood westerns (a comparable genre) at the time ever had, and that makes for some really compelling watching throughout.
However, as this is set in the 16th Century, Kurosawa also manages to make it feel very old. For one, there’s not much of a score here, particularly in the first two acts before the final action sequence. That gives it a rugged, simplistic vibe akin to that of the lives of the people in the towns ravaged by the bandits at the time, and therefore pulls you in even further to this world.
The most impressive part of all of the film is the final act, where Kurosawa goes for an all-out action-packed run to the finish as the samurai, allied with the townspeople, work to defeat an offensive from the bandits. It lasts around an hour, and although it’s not as pulsating or thrilling as you’d like, it manages to gradually build into a very gritty and chaotic battle sequence, and, by the end, introduces an emotionally powerful note too.
Away from Kurosawa now, and the performances here are great too. Everyone is fantastic in their roles, but the stand-out is Toshiro Mifune, as the zany, lively oddball samurai who makes his way to the village, and, despite at first coming across as a bit of a madman, proves that he has a heart of gold, and is one of the most courageous warriors, which makes him both fun to watch, as well as hugely easy to support.
Now, Seven Samurai is a classic, and there’s no way to take away how brilliant an achievement it is, but I can’t help but feel that it is just a little too exhaustive. It’s Kurosawa’s longest film by far, and it really does feel like it’s taking its time. Although the three and a half hours as a whole don’t feel as long as you’d fear, there are many moments here where the plot just doesn’t feel like it’s advancing at all, which unfortunately left me bored at times.
Fortunately, however, the majority of this film is good, so despite the exhaustive length, Kurosawa’s brilliant directing, the strong acting and impressive characterisation make this a good watch in the end, and that’s why it gets a 7.7 from me.