Akira Kurosawa is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. The well-renowned Japanese director is dubbed “The Master” due to his style becoming inspired by Western Cinema (John Ford, for example) and the turmoil of World War 2 (and its impact on Japan). Each work he crafted from his popular Rashomon to Ran has gained critical acclaim due to their storytelling and camerawork. Perhaps the one that associates the most with his name is the 207-minute gem of Seven Samurai. Released on April 26, 1954, it stands as one of the essential films in cinema history.
The film starts with a great hook, as bandits seek to wait until after harvesting season to storm the village and raid. A farmer overhears this, and after much painful deliberation, the group seeks out the protection of samurai. The film slowly (yet potently) launches into an “assembling the team” sequence, a mandatory part required for so many action/adventure and team-up movies. Afterward, it demonstrates how the samurai evaluate the landscape they are about to defend, and tensions arise between the farmers and samurai due to tragic history. The final battle comes, drenched in rain and mud, and is a wonderfully choreographed third act of chaos. Bandits go in and collapse, and some farmers (and samurai) lose their lives for the greater good of the village.
What makes his work so enthralling is how Kurosawa blurs the line between the farmers’ innocence and the samurais’ honor. The age of feudalism was dying, and Kurosawa focuses on it wonderfully as the samurai inhabit some of the same behavior as the enemy bandits. Therefore, it becomes indistinguishable when the third act rolls around, and the samurais’ position in Japan continues to fade. One of the samurai states, “In the end, we lost this battle too. The victory belongs to the peasants, not us.” The saviors are forgotten on the horizon, and Japanese feudalism is coming to a definitive end.
Even if Kurosawa became scorned for utilizing Western ideals, the buildup to suspense in Seven Samurai is the complete opposite as today’s films. Usually, music would swell the screen for jumpy moments, or explosions would occur left and right to keep the audiences’ interests. The arduous takes of the massive landscape, coupled with silent images, mirrors stress and anxiety in the characters. The tension takes no effort to incorporate, and the combats present a realistic attitude. The boldness and confidence of it reflect well on Kurosawa, who even had to take breaks when the studios shut down due to over budgeting (around half a million).
Overall, Kurosawa thoroughly unified action and statement to create a behemoth in the form of Seven Samurai,and it compels many to watch it endlessly. Its salient, dynamic nature is untouchable and would serve to inspire a cornucopia of directors and films many adore in today’s times. It is, thus, one of the most reworked and referenced films of all time. The Magnificent Seven, Lord of the Rings, Mad Max, Three Amigos, Avengers, Matrix, and Blade Runner series all owe an enormous debt to Kurosawa’s masterpiece and, inevitably, more films in the future will as well.