Wednesday, September 12, 2012

PCP - I Finally Watched Seven Samurai

Here at CRAPOLA, all the way back in February I wrote about the 15 movies I'm ashamed that I've never seen and now I'm finally able to cross a second film off the list.  I'm obviously off my hoped pace of watching all 15 films within a year, as it is September and I'm only crossing off a second one from the list, but life happens.

Only 6 could fit on the poster apparently

Seven Samurai is considered to be a classic of cinema, and is on many all time top 10 or top 25 lists of films.  Based on that alone, I had bought the film, but never had the time to watch it until recently.  And it takes a lot of time to watch the film, as the Criterion Collection version I have clocks in at 3 hours and 27 minutes.  It even has an intermission built right in to the movie, but thanks to being able to pause the movie whenever I want, that wasn't so much of an issue.  The film does drag a bit with its enormous length, but the characters are compelling enough to keep one interested.

Originally released in 1954, the epic samurai story from legendary director Akira Kurosawa tells the story of a village that knows that bandits will be returning in the fall to raid the village and steal their harvest.  Tired of this happening year after year, the villagers decide to hire warriors to protect them when the bandits return.

Continue reading for more including my rating of the film after the jump --->

The villagers are able to hire a noble samurai, Kambei.  He in turn is able to convince four other masterless samurai to join him in protecting the village:  Gorobei, Heihachi, Kyuzo, & Shichiroji.  Realizing that 5 samurai would not be enough to defend the village, he also takes in novice samurai Katsushiro, and also is forced to work with a samurai that he rejected, Kikuchiyo, who follows the six samurai back to the village and insists on helping, refusing to leave.

The seven return to the village where they initially get a cold reception (and in general the villagers are annoying as all hell, the writer of this movie must have really not liked them because they are in turns cowardly, shrill, annoying, or disloyal), but over time relationships form between the villagers and the samurai they have hired to protect them.  They train the villagers to fight with spears, and they build fortifications around the village to force the larger bandit horde to have to go through narrow chokepoints where the villagers and samurai can more easily slay them.  Ultimately, the bandits are defeated but not without the lives of several villagers and some of the samurai ending as well. 

There are several battles in the latter half of the film (the first half primarily being concerned with character development and plot), and it is very interesting to see the film techniques for battles from a movie that is almost sixty years old and in black and white.  Today's cool effects hadn't been developed yet so at time the battles can feel a little cheesy, but they are still impressive for their technological achievement at the time.  Prior to this film, nothing had really been portrayed like this movie, and it also developed a number of plot devices that would be recycled in countless other films in the future especially the gathering of a group of heroes to pull off a job.  The outstanding American western The Magnificent Seven was a direct remake of this film but instead set in the wild west as opposed to feudal Japan.  Also the Pixar movie A Bug's Life adopts the premise of this film, with the ants hiring "warrior bugs" to protect them from the grasshoppers that are there to raid their harvest.  The film is notable for it also being the first of director Kurosawa's samurai movies, and it was one of sixteen films he collaborated on with legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, who plays Kikuchiyo.

This film helped cement Kurosawa's legacy as a director, and it also helped to cement Japanese cinema as a popular force in the Western world as well.  It may not hold up perfectly 58 years later, but what can you expect from a film that old?  The only ways in which it doesn't hold up compared to today's films is in the special effects.  In terms of the plot, acting, and cinematography, the film is just as great today as it was in 1954.

My rating of the film if it came out today:  9 out of 10.  As I said, the special effects don't hold up, but everything else does.  Plus my ADD got the better of me a few times so I had to rewatch some scenes where the plot slowed down.

My rating of the film if I was in a time machine to 1954:  10 out of 10.  An outstanding epic movie, truly groundbreaking at the time it was released.

My final rating of the film:  10 out of 10.  Epic in every sense of the word, this film helped cement the fascination with samurai that many have around the world, and opened the eyes of many around the world to the wonders of Japanese cinema.  The film is long but worth watching to any fan of film, to see how it has evolved.  So many films owe a portion of themselves to this movie, it will always have a legacy in the history of cinema.

Alright, that's all for this one, if you've seen it let me know what you thought in the comments!

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