Friday, December 9, 2011

Seven Samurai

Today, I am reviewing Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece Seven Samurai. This is easily one of the most well-known and influential movies not only in Japan but in the entire world. And while I normally balk at movies that hint of "classic" this is one of the few that in my opinion deserves the title. This movie is a classic in all the best meanings of the word.

The story starts off with a large group of bandit as they are about to attack a peasant farming village. Before they attack, the leader of the bandits remembers that they raided this same village last year, and decides to wait until the harvest is ready so they can steal even more. However one of the villagers who was hidden nearby hears the whole plan and runs back to tell everyone. While most of the villagers insist on just giving up and begging the bandits for mercy, an adamant few insist on fighting back. Eventually they go to the village elder to seek his advice. He says that they should fight back, but since they are peasants and are not trained in war they will need to hire samurai who will train them and fight for them.
So a group of the peasants go off to the nearest large city and search for ronin willing to work for rice. Really. Food is all they have to offer, and offer it they do. While they get rejected quite a bit, eventually six samurai, and one guy who says he's a samurai but doesn't act like one, join on to fight the bandits.

I'll be honest, I really don't know what to say about this movie beyond what other people have already said and said far more eloquently than I. It's a beautiful human story and exploration not only of Japanese society, but of war in general. The statement made by Kanbei (the de facto leader of the ronin) at the end of the movie that he and the other samurai had "lost" the battle, despite defeating the bandits, and that the peasants have won is a very very subtle but beautiful (and rather Confucian) statement on the difference between the peasant class, which raises food and crops and brings life to the world, and the samurai class, which brings only death and suffering to those around them, be they bandits or feudal lords warring with each other.
In all fairness, I have to say that I've met people who say they don't care for the movie, and I think I can see why they might say that. I disagree with them, but I can concede the point that this movie isn't for everyone. There are times where the movie moves a bit slowly, and a basic knowledge of Japanese culture, while not necessary, certainly helps in understanding everything that's going on.

Bottom line: Akira Kurosawa is easily one of the greatest film directors of all time, and in my opinion, this is probably his greatest masterpiece. If you want to see a well-written, well-directed, well-acted, poignant, and all-around thoroughly-enjoyable movie, it's hard to go wrong with Seven Samurai.

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