60/60 Review #8: Seven Samurai.

God, what the heck can I even say about this movie? Let's set it up first. While it's one of the longest on this list, it was in my Top 3 Most Anticipated. This was my third Kurosawa film, and the other two were damn good. So adding that and everything I'd heard, my Julianne Moore's (read: expectations. Listen to LAMBcast, people) were pretty freakin' high. In other words, if this movie were anything less than a masterpiece, I was going to be disappointed.

For those who don't know, the movie is about a village of peasants who hire seven samurai to rid them of a gang of bandits that have pillaged them to the point of having nothing left. The head of this samurai squad is a Ronin named Kanbe (Takashi Shimura). Along to help are a mix of other samurai including one who might not even be one, a silly man named Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune). Together, they plan on how best to take down the bandits and then, finally, attempt to accomplish their plans. From here on, you'll have to forgive me name-wise, both with characters and actors. Besides the two I just named (and a few of the villagers), it was tough for me to keep names straight, and I'm too lazy to look up on Wikipedia which was which.

This movie truly is one of the greatest films ever made. It has everything: a great cast of characters who are layered and who evolve, great acting, fantastic camera use, fitting music, exciting action, tense drama, fun comedy, secret romance, and a sprinkle of sadness when characters start to die. And I said it before with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but there needs to be a reason for a movie to be this long (this one clocks in about 3.5 hours). GBU had no reason to be as long as it was. Seven Samurai, on the other hand, utilized every minute with purpose, whether to develop story or character.

The stealer of the show is, without question and without much surprise, Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune. At first he comes off as some insane man following them around. But as the movie continues, you start to realize what makes him tick, what drives him to do what he does, and you really grow attached to the guy, wondering what he's going to do next. The next is probably a tie between Kanbe and the quiet but super-skilled samurai, both showing wisdom and strength in their age.

I also mentioned both comedy and romance in the film. The comedy surprised me, honestly. I know Kurosawa has done comedy (and one of the three I've seen of his is one of them), but for some reason I wasn't expecting the jovial nature of a lot of the characters in this movie. It was really refreshing. And then there's the romance. There are two main "love" issues in the film. The first deals with one of the villagers named Rikichi who gets upset anytime someone brings up how he should have a woman or something like that, and it slowly builds to a reveal of what exactly happened. But the main story in this area is between Kanbe's protege and a peasant girl named Shino. They meet on accident at first, as Shino's father--Manzo--makes her pretend to be a boy so that the samurai won't rape her (as samurai are apparently known to do). They end up meeting in secret and building this relationship, all of which intertwines itself with the main story. I would say that the relationship could have been touched on a wee bit more, but the movie is already long enough.

In fact, I broke down GBU into three parts when I reviewed that one. This one, on the other hand, can be broken down into four, and they are so easily split into four sections that I wouldn't be surprised if Kurosawa planned it as such. The first hour focuses on finding the seven samurai and putting the team together, so to speak. This is a very entertaining portion of the movie. It was a lot of fun watching them try to sift through their choices and get everyone together.

The second hour is all the planning and preparation. This is where the movie slows down and starts building all the subplots and character development. This is also going to be the part of the film where a lot of people iffy about the long time span of the film might struggle the most. I certainly wouldn't say it's boring. There are a lot of good moments in this part, mostly thanks to Toshiro Mifune. But it's certainly the part of the movie with the least action.

The third hour is when all the fighting with the bandits begins. It isn't non-stop action, either. It's a very nice balance of action and then pulling back to not only have the characters strategize, but to give us further development with these characters and their respective subplots. Neither type of segment lasts too long, going back and forth pretty equally. However, where I personally started to feel the drag of the length of the movie was near the end of this hour. There is kind of a stretch between things happening near the end of this hour, but thankfully the fourth section of the movie sweeps in and saves the day.

The last 30 minutes are, as labeled even within the film, the final showdown. This is where everything comes to a head. All the subplots come together--major characters start dying, others start to show their true character (both good and bad), secret relationships come to light, and the final fight with the bandits occurs. I found it kind of a downer ending, despite the outcome of the battle (hey... it's been out for 56 years... I think I can safely allude to the ending without much repercussion). But at the same time, I found it interesting how it did exactly what people complained about with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--either not showing major deaths on screen or not making a huge deal of it when it happens. It has a "this is war--death happens and we need to move on... we can mourn later" attitude.

So overall, I don't really have a summation. This film is damn near perfect, and I can see why it's considered one of the greatest films ever made. I can now add myself to the ranks who agree with this. Sure it's long, but I found it worth sitting through. However, would I sit down on a rainy day and watch Seven Samurai just because I feel like it? Probably not, but that has more to do with the length than anything. It might not crack my Top 10 Favorite Films Of All Time, but it certainly cracks what I feel to be the Top 10 Best Films Of All Time and, if I were to split the categories, Top 10 Favorite Classics (and/or Essentials). That being said, if you've not seen this film, definitely check it out. It's long, but it's worth it.

Rating System.
Royale With Cheese

(P.S. That'll wrap up "Western" Month... whew, what a month! We'll be starting into "Foreign" Month next week with my transitional film, the modern Asian classic: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.)


  1. This post is stamped with the Univarn seal of approval - :P

  2. Alright - you can stay.

    I'd wager that now you can understand why damned near every filmmaker that we consider legendary tends to come back to this film as a touchstone.

    I'm curious about your fixation with length. You're an english teacher - how often do you come across a solid book and say to yourself "too many pages"? Admittedly, the long form isn't for everybody, but if you're going to take the time to visit a whole other world (the old west, feudal Japan)...why not stick around a while?

    I'm with you though. In a story like this (and ditto HP7), death happens. Not everyone needs to go out in a blaze of glory. Just acknowledge their passing and keep moving.

    Glad to hear you dug it, and look forward to reading your "foreign" reactions.

  3. Univarn: Good to know.

    Hatter: Length used to never bother me... about anything. I used to be able to play RPGs for entire days without even a flinch. However, I suppose you can say I've developed a bad case of adult ADD, and there are only a few things that seem to be able to keep my attention for extended periods of time (like Harry Potter). I can't watch any movie these days without grabbing for my laptop--not because I'm bored, but because I can't keep my focus on one thing for too long anymore. I get antsy.

    I can watch 2 different movies back to back fine, but for some reason, when it's one movie the length of 2, it makes me more antsy than usual.

  4. @ Nick... Weird. Wonder how that happened to you. Usually those with antsiness always had the antsiness (Lady Hatter comes to mind).

    Maybe though if you know that about yourself, you shouldn't hold it against a film.

  5. I don't hold it against this film at all because everything in its length was meaningful. The only reason I talked about length for this film was because there are a lot of people who can't sit through long movies and it was more of a forewarning than anything. I write my reviews to the average viewer.

    I do hold it against GBU, though, because not everything needed to be in that one. A good 45 minutes to an hour could have easily been cut from that film.

    And there is a thing called adult ADD where you don't actually get it until after adolescence and whatnot.

  6. Sorry, shoulda clarified. Noting "It's long" is good - like you say, it's good to point out for the average viewer.

    But when a film is clearly interested in the long form, I don't think it's fair to hold its length against it. GBU wanted to be operatic...it wanted the audience to follow those three men down the road and made no bones about the fact that it would be a long road (for evidence, just look at how long it takes to introduce all three).

    That's not a *bad* thing, and not something that works against GBU as a whole...but if a viewer doesn't have the attention span, then it won't work for them.

    Sorta reminds me of that moment in AMADEUS when Mozart asks The Emperor for his thoughts on the opera he's just written and in return he's told "Too many notes".

    I guess what you're saying though, is that it's the difference between "It doesn't work" and "It doesn't work for me".....right?

  7. Actually, for GBU, it was that it doesn't work. Like I said, they could have trimmed 45 minutes to an hour from that movie and nothing would be missed. There's a difference between attempting to make a long, operatic film and doing it perfectly. I wouldn't have minded GBU's length had that extra hour been meaningful to the overall film's story and/or characters. But it wasn't. It felt like filler... which even under your description makes it sound like (it was long because they wanted something operatic = it was long for the sake of being long, not because it *had* to be).

  8. I was gonna read all of this post and the comments, but...yeah, too long.

    Anyway, glad to see you dug this, Nick. I'm sure to be following you in that regard...soon.

  9. Great breakdown! Havent seen Seven Samurai in years and don't plan on revisiting it soon either! Its great but doesn't really have that much rewatch quality as you mention.


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