Seven Samurai , The

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 07/03/01 18:53:23

"Honor, Laughter, and Toshiro Mifune with a big-ass sword"
5 stars (Awesome)

Arguably Kurosawa's best work, "The Seven Samurai" became the touchstone for the entire Samurai genre, as well as the inspiration for several western films (for more information, see my article "Shadow of the Samurai" in the features section of this site). Though old, subtitled, and in grainy black and white, the film continues to endure because it is an epic, and epics never die.

"Seven Samurai" tells the tale of a Japanese village in the 1600's, during a time of social upheaval after wars have taken their toll on the land, leading to a collapse of order. Bandits roam the countryside, many of them former Samurai warriors who, now masterless and without employment, must find a new way to eat. One such village has been targeted by this group of bandits, who will be returning when the harvest is ripe to take their cut, leaving precious little for the already undernourished villagers.

On the advice of the village elder, a few of the men go into the nearest town to hire Ronin, or masterless Samurai, to defend their village. Though most of the wandering Ronin turn them down, Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura), an older and seasoned Samurai, takes pity on their plight and agrees to fight for them, recruiting six more warriors along the way. Among their number is Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), a gleefully maniacal warrior with stolen papers declaring his supposed Samurai lineage. Though a belligerent drunkard and incorrigible smart-ass, he walks softly and carries the biggest fucking katana I have ever seen. He is much more than comic relief, however. In many ways he is the backbone of the this band of warriors, with Kambei serving as its head.

The film is well over 3 hours long, and depending on which version you rent, may not have the best translation (many times the characters would be speaking without accompanying subtitles, making me wonder just how many bits of choice dialouge I might be missing out on). However, the characters are rich and well-developed, and the story is excellent, delivering a smooth blend of comedy, action, and drama. While it is not as action-packed as its sucessors (there is no spurting blood or dazzling sword coreography ala "Lone Wolf and Cub"), it remains a moving and visually exciting film to this day. Strange that nobody has chosen to do a remake of it, as many times as it has been copied.

The Samurai genre is one of the least known or appreciated by western audiences, which is really quite a shame because watching chop-sake' flicks is a hella good time. Do yourself a favor and watch this film. Yes, I know reading subtitles is sooo hard. You don't have to do it all in one night, but just finish it. Then try out "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro". Then move on to the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series. I guarantee you'll be hooked.

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