Film: Seven Samurai (1954)

aka: 七人の侍 (Shichinin no samurai)
language: Japanese
author: Akira Kurosawa
length: 190 minutes
watched on: 14/1/11

film poster

This really is a brilliant film. It’s really long, but if it was any shorter, it’d be too short… paradoxically. Toshiro Mifune, again, steals the light away from any of the other performers easily with his absolute madman of a character (I can’t remember if I’ve seen him in a role where he’s not completely off the rails… a bit like Klaus Kinski, for instance…), who I think I described as the comic relief character in the last post, from what I could remember from watching Seven Samurai 2 and a bit years ago. That’s only partially accurate, I’d say; it’s mainly that to the other characters, he’s a laughing stock, although I did find his character funny too.

The 3 hour running time, however, means that plenty of time is devoted to some of the other characters, and allows their relationships to develop onscreen. I’m particularly pleased that because I’m watching it again, I notice things that went over my head the last time, like blatant gay overtones in the relationship between Katsushiro, the young wannabe, and Kyuzo, one of the older samurais. I mean, even this still of Katsushiro is pretty gay:

katsushiro in flowers

Well, he does have it on with one of the girls in the village, so he’s not ‘gay’ per se. But y’know… the seeds of doubt have been sown. Or a more appropriate turn of phrase, if you will.

The main plot of the film is pretty much pure action, anyway. The baddies are the ultimate in faceless mooks, absent for most of the film and only really showing up at the end to sack the village, and are pretty much unambiguously evil, which then leaves us to concentrate on the protagonists, most of whom are ‘flawed’ somehow, as usual.

I think many of the major criticisms that would be levelled at this film are symptoms of what TV Tropes calls Seinfeld Is Unfunny, the idea being that something that was innovative in its own time is now seen as contrived and old, despite it inventing half of the tropes it uses. Seven Samurai suffers massively from this, naturally, being an incredible film from a revered Japanese director… not only has its entire plot been remade in a blatant fashion several times (most famously with The Magnificent Seven, which I now need to track down and watch! On that note, I also haven’t seen Seinfeld…), but even just a lot of the ways that they use the camera were new for the time, the budget was bigger than anything else contemporary with it, etc. There’s one particular camera move that stood out for me, where it looked to be on some sort of crane and moving around the group in a circular manner. Done to death these days, of course, but back then it must have been jaw-dropping in its innovation. I can only imagine.

If you’re reading this and haven’t seen this film, do, really. It’s worth the three and a bit hours.

I suppose I ought to be trying to track down bad points in the film for a bit of balance, but I think I have some kind of psychological bias where I either really like something, really hate it, or I’m just a bit lukewarm about the whole matter. So I think I’ll confine myself to gushing for this post, at least. Heh. Normal service to resume again soon? I need to practise making sarcastic comments about things, it’s been a while.

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