Thursday, February 1, 2024

Thoughts on Seven Samurai

I had Seven Samurai on my DVR from when it aired last on TCM as part of TCM Imports if memory serves. YouTube's cloud DVR only saves stuff for nine months, so it was about to expire from my DVR and I wanted to make certain to watch it and do a post on it before the expiration.

This is going to be a bit different from my normal posts, though, because I think most people more or less know the story of Seven Samurai, largely because Hollywood decided to remake it and set it in old Mexico as a western, calling it The Magnificent Seven. Indeed, director Akira Kurosawa wanted to make a movie reminiscent of the Hollywood western.

For me, part of the reason this post is not quite like my other movie reviews is that I'm not well-enough versed on Japanese cinema to recognize how famous the cast members are apart from Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchuyo, the crazy member of the samurai group that defend the peasant villagers from the bandits. Not knowing much of the cast means not having preconceived views about any of them, although I'll admit I probably have preconceived views about what to expect from director Kurosawa.

The movie is mostly good, but I have to admit that as with Raging Bull I don't know that I would put it in the "one of the greatest of all time" that a lot of critical lists put it in. Part of that is the fact that the movie is a shade over 200 minutes, and a pretty darn slow pace at that. The head of the samurai, the first one to be contacted by the villagers, goes out and assembles the rest of the group, which seems to take way too long, and then there's more infighting before the bandits finally attack. There's also a lot of subplots among the villagers. I think the movie could have easily been scripted so as to run at least a good hour less.

Kurosawa unsurprisingly gets a very good performance out of Mifune, and also unsurprisingly has quite nice black-and-white cinematography. Not that I'd want to live in 16th century Japan, but there's something about the presentation of the simple peasant life here that's appealing, even though these are desperately poor people being attacked by bandits.

If I wanted to recommend Kurosawa to people, I'd probably pick some of his other movies before Seven Samurai. But I can also see why some people really love it.

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