#24. Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Kato, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki
Akira Kurosawa’s first major outing in the genre that made him famous also just happens to be one of the great films ever made. Seven Samurai is his sprawling epic that clocks in at well over three hours long – but the world class director doesn’t waste a single minute. Seven Samurai sees a small mountain farming village about to be pillaged by a gang of ruthless bandits. The farmers band together and recruit a group of experienced, but hungry, ronin to defend their village. When the bandits finally decide to strike the village, their battle with the titular seven samurai is a violent and unforgettable affair. Akira Kurosawa’s prowess as a director is clear from the moment Seven Samurai begins – he wastes no time in setting the scene and establishing the film’s central conflict. The bandits are a constant looming threat, and the film never lets you forget it. Even though the film’s runtime is so long, the race against the clock for the farmers and samurai is always front and center, making internal conflicts between the group of samurai that much more frustrating. Kurosawa absolutely knew what he was doing when structuring the film – building the tension constantly until the film’s final, action-packed act. Kurosawa paces the film as a classic tale of adventure, which works perfectly for Seven Samurai’s epic story – Kurosawa’s influence on film structure can still be felt today. Anybody who’s seen the animated A Bug’s Life knows the basic story of Seven Samurai, as Pixar opted to remake Kurosawa’s film for a more family-friendly audience. The entire cast of characters are memorable and well-written, and their interactions with one another are some of the best parts of the film. The most memorable character in my opinion is Toshiro Mifune’s inexperienced, but invaluable, Kikuchiyo. Mifune’s presence in his collaborations with Kurosawa is almost always the highlight of these films, and Seven Samurai is absolutely no different – his largely improvised performance is often unpredictable and always wild. Arguably the most impressive aspect of Seven Samurai are the movie’s incredible and exhilarating action scenes, especially the climactic battle in the rain. These scenes are frantically paced thanks to the editing, and Kurosawa’s prowess for camera placement. The action is quick, violent, and hard-hitting, and still feels as visceral and exciting as modern action-adventure filmmaking. Seven Samurai is a film that is far easier to watch than it is to write about – its far-reaching influence and technical innovation speak to this. The adventure is absolutely worth the long run-time, and is a great introduction into the samurai sub-genre.