七人の侍 | Seven Samurai (1954)
One of the greatest films ever made, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is crafted with such grace, passion & dedication that every moment of its 207 minutes runtime seems relevant to the plot, and it never feels overlong. Brought to life with remarkable control & composure and sustaining its grip on the viewers with effortless ease, it has inspired & influenced countless films & filmmakers over the years yet has never been bettered.
Set in the late 16th century, the story takes place in a poor village of farmers that has been ransacked by bandits. When one of the villagers overhears the bandits’ plan to raid it after harvest, they turn to their eldest who advises them to recruit samurais to protect them. The farmers manage to convince a veteran samurai who in turn gathers six more for the mission, and together they teach the villagers how to defend themselves and prepare for the upcoming battle.
Co-written, edited & directed by Akira Kurosawa, the story is told in two parts, separated by an intermission. First part concerns the villagers & their plight, the introduction of the eponymous characters who decide to help them, their arrival into the village, and the several tactics they come up with to defend the village. The next part brings the bandits into play which ultimately culminates in a giant battle that tests the determination of both the samurais & the villagers.
The script is pretty much flawless. Never in a hurry and taking all the time, it builds up the premise slowly, focusing on defining the village’s desperate situation first before introducing the samurais. All the relevant characters are given tremendous depth & meaty arcs in the script which only helps provides the actors a solid platform to build their performances upon. Kurosawa is incredibly patient in his approach here, letting each scene play out gradually, and even infuses humour wherever he can.
The location & settings do evoke an era that’s reminiscent of its timeline. Cinematography is one major player as the tactical use of close-ups, slow-mo & smooth manoeuvres only immerses the audience into its tale. Editing is perfect too, for the narrative flow is just right, the interest never fizzles out, and its demanding runtime isn’t felt at any given time. Lastly, it boasts a memorable background score that’s always in tune with the unfolding events and further enriches the viewing experience.
Coming to the performances, Seven Samurai features a highly devoted cast and every single one of them leaves their imprint. Leading the group from the front is Takashi Shimura in the role of a veteran samurai and his input is deftly measured. Seiji Miyaguchi steals all his moments with his mere presence. The most interesting of all, however, is the character played by Toshirô Mifune. In command of his role from the start, Mifune delivers a fierce, energetic & euphoric performance to leave an unforgettable mark, and is also the most amusing of all. The rest of the supporting cast is no slouch and play their part responsibly.
On an overall scale, Seven Samurai is a landmark achievement that scores full marks in all aspects of filmmaking. Original, arresting & thoroughly entertaining, it is timeless masterpiece that hasn’t lost one bit of its potency despite being over 60 years old, plus Kurosawa’s observation of human nature gives it a universal appeal. An impeccable feat of first-rate direction, faultless screenplay & bravura performances that’s engrossing, amusing & consistently engaging from the first frame to the last, Seven Samurai is a meticulously crafted epic that finds its master storyteller at the very top of his game. In short, Akira Kurosawa’s magnum opus is a work of perfection.