Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Akira Kurosawa: 七人の侍 / 'Seven Samurai' (1954)

Akira Kurosawa's 七人の侍 / Seven Samurai (1954) is a sprawling novelistic film steeped in history during a period of violent anarchy in Japan (late 1500s). It serves as a microcosm of social relations and war. Twenty-first century viewers might be surprised by this wild pre-CGI black and white film, its primal nature and serious grasp of the human condition, as well as by the looseness of its structure.

In Seven Samurai, there are three groups: one of more than one hundred villagers/farmers; about forty brigands/bandits; and seven (eight including Kikuchiyo) ronin/samurai. In the midst of surrounding famine and general devastation, all are hungry. The second group wants to plunder and ravage the first group once their harvest comes in. The village elder of the first group hires the third group, the hungry samurai, to help them fight the brigands. That's the set-up. 

Most of the articulated conflict comes actually between the villagers and the samurai, as they adjust to each other. The bandit attackers are not seen from within their own circle -- an effective approach by Kurosawa that often doesn't work in less capable hands. We never see (or rather we never become well-acquainted with) a specific "villain." The stakes as we see them are high enough: life or death. Stanley Kubrick takes a similarly effective approach in Paths of Glory (1957), set during World War One. 
Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune)
In Seven Samurai, we see a range of social activity and responses. The villagers, though they often seem helpless, are also crafty and just as brutal as brigands or samurai. The main difference is their attachment to the soil, and place. 

By far, the coolest samurai is their leader, Kambei Shimada  (Takashi Shimura -- on the far right in the picture at the top of this post). Through his decisions, we see at play Sun Tzu's The Art of War. In many scenes, whether involving combat or just social interaction, we see the cinematic equivalent of The Face of Battle (N.Y.: Viking, 1976), a frank and painstaking look at people under extreme pressures. There is also occasional comic relief. 

Seven Samurai has already been adapted to Western Hemisphere settings in The Magnificent Seven (1960 and 2016 versions), and to outer space in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980).  

Today's Rune: Fertility.  


Mary D. said...

An absolute classic that we've watched over and over!

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks, Mary! It's an amazing film, indeed.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard so much about this film but still have never seen it

t said...