Movie Review: Shichinin No Samurai (The Seven Samurai)

SevenSamuraiThumb2by Brad Nelson
Where to begin? Rarely does a movie impress me and delight me at the same time. I was impressed, strictly speaking, by the special effects and sheer noise of Transformers, but only the nubile brunette mechanic was a delight. I should take a whack at the Eastwood version of The Unforgiven or bitch slap the horid Star Trek Voyager series again while I’m at it. When in the presence of sincere excellence I find it hard not to look back and sneer at crap pretending (or rated by others) to be far better than it is. Sometimes that just seems the best way to express my admiration for something. Voyager. Crap. Crap. Crap. Double crap.

The biggest surprise (other than that this 3-1/2 hour movie could slip by in seemingly half the time) was that this wasn’t the typical weird-ass ultra-Zen Japanese foreign language film like I expected. And don’t get me wrong. I like weird-ass ultra-Zen Japanese foreign language films.

But The Seven Samurai was just straightforward good, hardly an ounce of pretention. I thought to myself while watching it, “This is what Hollywood could be if they weren’t all drugged out on coke and audiences weren’t hyped up on sugar treats at the theatres.”

You just so rarely get the full range of human action and emotions in the typical Hollywood film. The volume is turned up so loud that contrast fades and the whole work ends up sounding as hacked as a clipped piece of audio where much of the range has been lost. I weep for most of today’s film producers. They are the people who can never taste their food anymore because they layer on too much salt. But meat and potatoes are so good — if only one’s palate isn’t ruined so that one can taste them.

Who else can I whack? I’m feeling my critiquer’s oats at the moment. I don’t know. It just seems that the only way to praise something of this caliber is by pointing out the schlock out there that even deigns to call itself art. I’ve done Lucas. I’ve done Spielberg. Pastor Wright doesn’t quite fit here. Wait, we do have the Holy Hand Grenade. Good God wasn’t Spider-Man 3 about the worst piece of blockbuster trash ever produced?

There. That’s better. That’s how good The Seven Samurai is. By contrast. But my criticism of it would be as such: The ending was a bit anti-climactic, and they might have made more prominent, and give more personality to, a couple of the other samurai. Oh, and they left the details of Kikuchiyo’s life a bit too up in the air. Some resolution of his character would have made more sense. But other than that, this movie is a gem.

Perhaps, surprisingly, this isn’t really a film for grooving to the high skills of fighting samurais. That’s perhaps to its benefit. This isn’t a real showy film. It doesn’t live or die on understatement, but there is a wholesome diet of it. Whether the makers of this film wished to bring more dignity (whatever the hell that word means) to the portrayal of samurai or not, I don’t know. But this is no Jackie Chan film, thank God. It’s not a bloodfest nor is it little but the “ching” of two swords clashing together.

This movie is shot in black and white and one wonders if it would have suffered at all being in color. I don’t think it would have. Not a bit. This film is so picturesque, so beautifully filmed, and the landscapes so lush that color would have been an enhancement. You can’t say that about Casablanca. But I love black and white films and don’t mind at all that this one is black and white.

This film is in elite territory. We’re automatically talking 4.5 or above out of 5. I’m so pleased with the restraint shown. This guy really understood filmmaking and the role of the audience. You don’t have to spell every friggin’ detail out, nor should you. Suggest, steer, cajole. That’s what brings the audience into the film. You don’t have to turn the music up to do that. You don’t have to shake the camera to do that. You don’t have to double or triple the number of moving things in the frame to do that. You just have to tell a good story. Oh, blessed relief from the typical stupidity of movies today. Okay, 4.7 bald-head-rubs out of 5. And thank you, Akira Kurosawa. • (1623 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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7 Responses to Movie Review: Shichinin No Samurai (The Seven Samurai)

  1. Kurt NY says:

    Yeah, this one is recognized by almost everybody as a seminal work in world film, affecting international audiences (a’la its remake in an American context The Magnificent Seven, etc). What I really found fascinating about it is that, similar to the role of Westerns to those of my generation of Americans, the film gives a microcosm of certain cultural values of the nation producing it.

    The ideal American male for my generation was John Wayne-ish from the Westerns, quiet, tough, uncomplaining, undemonstrative, self-sacrificing with a firm moral core. Assuming that the roles portrayed in Japan’s equivalent were their take on what constituted ideal male behavior for them struck me as completely alien. The males were loud and belligerent with exaggerated, demonstrative behaviors you’d never see in a Western. Were I a perceptive kind of guy, I’d probably be able to deduce something pertinent about the differences in national characters between Japan and America from this, but I leave that to those smarter than I.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Didn’t supposedly Lucas get inspiration for Star Wars from some of this? Or am I thinking of another film?

      • RobL_V2 RobL_V2 says:

        That was the Hidden Fortress. If you see it you know why the inspiration…

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Oh, god yes, now I remember that, Rob. I was into watching these great Japanese movies for a while and unfortunately they all sort of blended into each other. And Toshirô Mifune is the man….or is the samurai. Good movie.

  2. RobL_V2 RobL_V2 says:

    One of the best movies of all time…

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    For Mifune fans, and Asian film fans in general, the link takes you to a brief article about a new documentary film on Mifune which is being shown in NYC.

    There are some nice stills and a great short clip of Mifune in various roles.

    A nice bit of info which I did not know, was Mifune’s parents were Christian missionaries in China.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I see this was before I was informed about stubbornthings. I’ve never seen the movie, though I did see The Magnificent Seven and I once read a nice comparison of the two sets of seven as characters (but that was several years ago and I don’t recall the details, alas). I understand that the Jedi light saber fighting moves were also inspired by this.

      Incidentally, I understand the proper English translation is Seven Samurai — the lack of a definite article makes a difference.

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