Thursday, June 02, 2011
#131: Seven Samurai
It's daunting to review a Kurosawa movie. It is to pass a judgement on a filmmaker, who many illustrious predecessors and contemporaries, hail as one of the greatest ever. And it is even more worrisome to commence writing about a movie that has been declared a timeless classic by far more worthy judges. It is hence with a pinch of caution that I proceed to write this one.
The Seven Samurai is one of the first movies to employ a cinematic theme of assembling a team to defeat an enemy. Made in 1954, not only was the movie Kurosawa's magnum opus in terms of budget but also in terms of the techniques utilized to film and the number of cast members. Kurosawa's usual suspects Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura play two of those seven samurai called upon by a set of farmers in a village to thwart an impending attack by bandits. The rest as they is history.
The Seven Samurai has an extremely long narrative (207 minutes) and because our generation grew up watching crisper action movies like The Magnificent Seven, it might draw on your reserves of patience. But that apart the typical Kurosawa touch in the picture perfect frames, the electric energy of the actors- especially Mifune's, the sage-like command of Shimura and the daringly stark action sequences work well in unison for you to realise, that this is a piece of art unfolding in front of you. You know a protagonist is in trouble in a Kurosawa movie when it's raining incessantly and there's plenty of it in this one. Taking a cue from Kurosawa, many filmmakers, have employed this as a cinematic tool to connote escalating tension. Mifune's comic interludes provide the much needed relief in a movie that at it's heart is a simple but serious good versus evil story. As the seventh samurai, Mifune's story is also the one that you will empathize with the most while Shimura's stoic characterization of a warrior is an unrivalled gem.
Personally, among Kurosawa movies, I would rank a Stray Dog or a Yojimbo and certainly a Rashomon ahead of Seven Samurai. The other three that I've mentioned here are extremely sharp in their screenplay as not a moment is wasted as far as justice to the storyline is concerned. In this one, I thought a couple of sub-plots needlessly took away from the main thread of the story, making it a touch too long and melodramatic. A person I was recently discussing the movie with said without a moment's hesitation, "I think Sholay is better than the Seven Samurai.".
Even before I could summon up the words, I found myself nodding in agreement.