Seven Samurai (1954)

Find Hungry Samurai.

My roommate Richard doesn’t make requests like the general public does.  His version of a request is usually grabbing me and saying that we should watch a movie.  He knows that I need to review one movie per day until I no longer want to and uses that to make me watch movies that I wouldn’t generally watch, and he uses it to get his requests taken care of much quicker than everyone else that I just get to when I feel like watching their movie.  And, because it’s Richard, it usually means that I’ll be watching a movie that is about as old as my mother.  My mother was about four when today’s movie came out, but – in an interesting change of events – it’s also a movie that I may be interested in because I love martial arts movies.  And I’ve never seen a movie made by the very famous director of today’s movie, so it’s something I felt like I needed to do.  And, at the end of that long winded way to introduce a review, I present my review of Seven Samurai, written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni, directed by Akira Kurosawa, and starring Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Toshiro Mifune, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Kato, Minoru Chiaki, Kokuten Kodo, Bokuzen Hidari, Kamatari Fujiwara, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Keiko Tsushima.

A tiny farming village is being continually ransacked by a marauding band of bandits.  They come back just after the harvest and take the greater majority of their food, returning the next year to do it again.  The villagers finally get sick of it and decide that they should go and hire a group of samurai to fight off the bandits.  The problem with this is that they have no money so they’ll have to find samurai that will work for food.  In town, they’re unsuccessful in recruiting samurai.  They witness a samurai named Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) rescue a child from a thief and ask him if he’d help them.  He accepts and that causes another samurai named Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao Kimura) to join their cause as well, as he was impressed by Kambei’s rescue of the child and wants to follow him.  Kambei decides they will need at least seven samurai to defend the village, so he sets about the task of finding other samurai willing to join the cause.  They’re able to get Gorobei Katayama (Yoshio Inaba), Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato), Heihachi Hayashida (Minoru Chiaki), Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), and Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune).  Then, they set about their task.

I found this movie to be a chore.  It was like the Japanese version of Spartacus.  It’s super long, it moves really slow, but overall I’d have to give the movie a certain degree of credit.  Coming in at 3 and a half hours, it’s a real commitment to start watching this movie but, if you can make it through, it winds up as a pretty good epic war movie with a pretty good amount of emotion infused in it.  But, because it was so slow moving, it was hard for it to keep my attention on it.  The movie starts by laying it on thick with the sob story of the farmers.  This turns into an uneventful search for samurai willing to help them.  Then it’s a whole lot of planning to defend the village, and just dealing with the strained relationship between the farmers and the samurai.  When the fighting finally starts, it’s pretty easy to keep your attention on the movie, but that doesn’t happen until nearly three hours into the movie.  The action – when it finally happens – is satisfying, but it tends towards building tension and ending the action quickly.  Like when Kyuzo is fighting another samurai.  They stand ready for battle for a while before they finally run at each other and the battle is finished in one strike.  It’s kind of the Japanese version of an old west quick draw contest.  Another issue I took with the movie was either to be blamed on the age of the movie or the cultural differences.  There were more than a few instances in the movie where I was unclear about what was even going on.  Their semi-constant talks about millet, for instance.  The villagers weren’t able to eat rice because they were saving it to feed the samurai.  They were instead eating something called millet.  I had no idea what millet was.  Granted, rice farming was not in my ancestry as far as I know, but I had to look up what millet was to understand what was so bad about this.  I also didn’t understand the townspeople and their reaction to the samurai.  They sent these guys out to find samurai to help their village for no money and just food.  When they found seven samurai willing to work nearly for free to save their village, they all shut themselves in their houses and hid from them.  At this point, were I the samurai, I would leave these stupid assholes to their own devices.  Apparently, they think these samurai (even though they’re extremely philanthropic) are going to rape the shit out of their lady folk.  I can get behind that … and their ladies!  BOOYAH!  Speaking of that, I noted that Kurosawa seemed to rather enjoy filming characters kneeling down on the floor from behind so that their butt was the only thing on camera.  So I guess Kurosawa was an ass man.  Later in the movie, it’s revealed that the farmers have a collection of armor and weapons that they’ve collected from murdering and robbing fleeing samurai in the past, I got confused again.  If these people are so good at killing skilled warriors, how have they not been able to take care of their bandit problem in the first place?  But, as I said, it’s still a pretty good movie if you can make it through.  I doubt I’ll ever want to watch it again, but I’m okay with the fact that I’ve watched it once.  I did get bummed out by the look of the movie though.  It occurred to Richard and I that this movie would look amazing if it had been in color, so it was a pretty big bummer that it was in black and white.  Black and white movies can’t ever really make it to visually interest me, so it’s that much more disappointing when you can tell the landscapes would be beautiful and lush wilderness scenes.

The performances in this movie were either really small, or really big.  The comparisons are best shown by contrasting the two samurai Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo.  Kyuzo was the consummate professional type, very quiet and seemingly devoid of emotion.  Kikuchiyo, on the other hand, was completely manic and over the top.  He was quick to any kind of extreme emotion on one side or the other.  Such is the performances of most everyone in the movie.  They’re either relatively emotion-free or they’re over the top.  Almost all of the villagers were over the top, but over the top depressing.  They were the very definition of sad sacks.  I had to semi-constantly stop Richard from slitting his wrists every time they were on camera.  They weren’t as depressing once the samurai arrived, but they were annoying at how they were being kind of shitty to the samurai, apparently forgetting that the samurai could kill the whole lot of them pretty easily.  The most manic was definitely Toshiro Mifune as the aforementioned Kikuchiyo.  But, near the end of the movie, I found it pretty difficult to take him seriously near the end of the big battle because he changed into armor that had his butt cheeks exposed.

I didn’t hate Seven Samurai, but I can’t say I enjoyed the time I spent with them either.  I lack the attention span to get a lot of enjoyment out of such a slow moving story.  It’s a good story and one that takes it’s time building the relationship between the audience and the characters, but the slow pace of the movie made me lose interest midway.  If you have the willpower to make it about three hours into the movie, the climax is pretty satisfying, but it takes a lot to get there.  Even though it doesn’t sound like it, I actually recommend this movie.  It feels like a movie I needed to watch, and you probably should too.  Seven Samurai gets “This is the nature of war” out of “Danger always strikes when everything seems fine.”

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