Saturday, June 30, 2007

Review: Seven Samurai

From left to right: Gorobei, Kikuchiyo, Shichiroji, Heihachi,
Katsushiro (crouching), Kambei and Kyuzo.

If someone were to ask me what my favorite film was, I'd quickly respond, "The Star Wars movies."

If that person were to reply, "Well, aside from Star Wars, what's your favorite?"

Without skipping a beat, I would say, "Seven Samurai."

Yesterday, I was able to catch a screening of the film with an audience in an honest-to-goodness movie theatre in Salt Lake City and it was one of the most moving film experiences of my life. I've seen this movie dozens of times. Because of it's length though, it's hard for me to watch the film all at once. (It clocks in at about 3 and a half hours.) So, I find myself watching one half here and another half there, a piece here, a piece there, etc. I don't think I've watched it all the way through in one sitting in five years.

So, this is the first time I was able to really sink my teeth into the piece as a whole for a long time.

And it was magical.

The audience helps the experience considerably. I'd never seen the film with an audience that was as into the film as I was. They were gasping and laughing and shocked in all the right places and the excitement for the film was almost tangible.

And seeing the film larger than life caught me off guard. There were no less than four moments that caught me teary-eyed or crying, such is the power of the film, even after all these years.

There were three or four things that just completely re-blew my mind upon this viewing, though:

1) The cinematography. It's one thing to see Kurosawa's use of horizons, deep-focus and lighting on a small screen but it is truly something to be marveled at on the big screen. The level of detail and care on a big screen is magnified a hundred-fold and never ceases to amaze me.

2) The use of the weather. Kurosawa's mastery of the weather in this film is nothing short of extraordinary. Every gust of wind, every still frame, every ounce of smoke or fog, every drop of rain has clearly been calculated to obtain the maximum dramatic effect. It's not often you see someone so controlling over every aspect of a frame to such chilling effect and it's no wonder that no one makes movies of this scale like Kurosawa did. I mean, others compete in their respective fields but no one can top the brilliant mind of Akira Kurosawa.

3) The script. The script was as tight as any script I've ever seen put on screen. and I know you're thinking, "But Bryan, the movie is almost four hours long. How in the hell could a script that long be tight?" I'll tell you: every scene is required to get the full effect. This film makes you laugh and cry. It infuriates and frustrates. It involves romance, coming of age, action, intelligence, strategy, battle, morals... Any aspect of a story, this film has it all. And it's paced so well it honestly boggles the mind.

4) Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. It pains me that more people don't know who these guys are. These are two of the most brilliant actors in the known galaxy. They are the Japanese acting equivalent of Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.

So, go back and watch this film.

Let me know what you thought.


thetoymaker said...

A well thought out review of an amazing film.

Thank you!

Best thoughts,


Anonymous said...

Excellent review.

I had seen Seven Samurai several times on dvd and finally got to see it at the Cleveland Cinematheque this past fall (part of Janus films series).

I agree about the audience factor. They love Mifune.

Good points about the weather. Akira K. often uses extremes in weather with rain and mud, etc. The lastest SS criterion dvd set has some a fascinating look at how long it took AK to shoot SS because he waited for the perfect weather for his scenes.

Also, it takes a look at the writing process for AK. You've probably seen this as you're a big fan of the film, but I'd recommend the latest criterion dvd to anyone who likes SS.

All in all, Great review!