Thursday, 18 August 2016

Seven Samurai (1954)

Some people are never going to watch Seven Samurai because it is:
  • in black and white
  • in Japanese
  • over three hours long
If you aren't one of the people for whom that's an instant deal breaker though, then the film has a lot to offer.  It's the first and longest of Akira Kurosawa's samurai films, and probably the most famous.  It's also attracted at least one re-make in The Magnificent Seven, and which itself has a re-make coming out this year.  Of course, that still puts it well behind Yojimbo in the re-makes stakes.

For those of you who somehow don't know either this film or its western re-make, the film's basic premise is simple enough: a farming village finds itself the target of a group of bandits.  The farmers can't defend themselves from the heavily-armed raiders, but a local elder has a plan: hire samurai to aid them.  Of course, finding samurai willing to work for nothing more than food and board - which is all they can offer - sounds almost as impossible as fighting the bandits does.

Of course though, it's not actually impossible, or the film would have to be called "Zero Samurai".  And would presumably be quite a bit shorter.  The villagers do manage to recruit a group of seven defenders.  But whether that will be enough against a force of forty well-armed bandits is still far from a sure thing ...

Overall, I like Seven Samurai better than the Hollywood remix (though I have to say, the trailer for the new version of Magnificent Seven looks like a lot of fun).  For one thing, the western version invents a plot-twist at around the 90 minute mark that I really didn't like.  For a second, the Japanese original makes the villagers much more significant and involved in their own defence.  And for a third, I like the staging of the action scenes here a lot better.  Modern audiences might find them to seem clumsy compared to the smooth choreography of today's action movies, but I think the rough chaos they involve feels very visceral and real.

The one thing I would say is a weakness is the pacing of the film.  It does feel a little long at times.  Overall however, it's easy to see why the movie is so highly regarded.

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