SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/28/18
Akira Kurosawa is one of the most critically acclaimed directors in the history of cinematography, and he undoubtedly became in the most influential filmmaker for the future generations to come since he started to construct his extraordinary and enviable filmography. Kurosawa considerably popularized the samurai genre within the Seventh Art and his incomparable stories achieved to inspire several directors such as John Sturges with The Magnificent Seven (1960), Sergio Leone with Per un Pugno di Dollari (1964), Sergio Corbucci with Django (1966), George Lucas with Star Wars (1977), Walter Hill with Last Man Standing (1996), John Lasseter with A Bug's Life (1998), Quentin Tarantino more notably with Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), and Takashi Miike with Sukiyaki Western Django (2007). Every single avid fan of epic filmmaking will find Shichinin no Samurai as one of the most outstanding, powerful and unique epic stories that cinema could have ever offered. Although Kurosawa has been considered as the Japanese father of Blockbuster films several times because of the high entertainment quality that his timeless gems have provided throughout the past decades, he was definitely one of the greatest directors that had ever lived and, being Shichinin no Samurai his most representative epic masterwork in his whole filmography, it is arguably the best film he ever made.
Akira Kurosawa edited, wrote and directed this story that deals with a poor village that is under constant attack by a bunch of bandits who steal their rice. The village hires seven unemployed samurai that can help them to fight against the bandits. The film received two Academy Award nominations including Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White losing against Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White losing against The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). Although the category for Best Foreign Language Film was not officially created until the year of 1947 when it began to be given as an Honorary Award to films that were released outside of the United States with a predominant foreign language, it was precisely in the year of 1956 when the category was formally created. La Strada (1954), the legendary neorealist masterpiece by Federico Fellini, was a strong competition for the award of Best Foreign Language Film, but the injustice of this topic can be found in the fact that Shichinin no Samurai had not even been considered for this category.
Despite the obvious simplicity of the plot, Shichinin no Samurai did not win the title of "one of the best movies ever made" for free, which it definitely is. It is the narrative structure and the way the story is handled what make of this film a giant epic. The degree of entertainment that Shichinin no Samurai ends up having is pretty high, and that is one of its main characteristics. However, this is not an aspect that ultimately affects the film in a negative way. The story is told with such originality, style, power and glory that one can even conclude that the most adequate way to see such an unparalleled cinematographic project is on the big screen. Toshirô Mifune is one of the best and most talented foreign actors that ever graced the screen, ranking along the sentimentalist Max Von Sydow. Akira Kurosawa would assign him several roles in the future that would be characterized by their cold-blooded, arrogant, calculating and relentless personalities in films such as Kumonosu-Jou (1957), Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958) and his immortal character Sanjûrô in both Yojimbo (1961) and Tsubaki Sanjûrô (1962), becoming a cinematographic legend and conforming one of the best pairs that cinema ever gave birth to alongside with Kurosawa. Nonetheless, this time Mifune interprets a committed, stubborn, obstinate, loyal, childish and hyperactive samurai with the correct amount of craziness, a more similar character to the one he interpreted in the complex film Rashômon (1950). Undoubtedly, he offers the most outstanding performance out of the whole brilliantly chosen cast. The performances of Takashi Shimura as the boss, Yoshio Inaba and Seiji Miyaguchi are pretty impressive as well, forming part of a rich character variety that includes the compassionate boss, the problematic member, the confused warrior and the humorous rest of disciplined fighters.
Kurosawa was trained as a painter before becoming a director, and Shichinin no Samurai is definitely the very first action-oriented film where he employs an extraordinary cinematography. The handling of open and closed spaces is marvelous, and that aspect accompanied by the editing used to construct a splendid choreography which made the battle scenes easier to follow, concluding in an astonishing result which was useful to appropriately handle the action that the film contains. The rhythm of the story is neither fast nor slow, but the most possibly adequate. We as spectators do not really feel those 207 minutes lasting an eternity. This gives to the story a much more realistic and more human tone. The movie takes the time it needs to present us the psychology and to let us understand the behavior of the most important characters to an adequate degree, making us to create empathy and interest towards all of them. Kurosawa was also very careful with every detail that composes this masterpiece, not forgetting the wonderfully written screenplay by Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto, combining ingenious humor and Eastern wisdom.
The balance of the action is satisfyingly realistic. The battle scenes are very characteristic of how Kurosawa tends to create action in his epic films, which reached their maximum expression in Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). The fact that there is a lot of action from beginning to end cannot be denied, culminating in a final battle that involves 40 bandits attacking the village, but there is solid substance behind it, clearly justifying it and never losing its credibility. Both the sound and the editing could not have been created in a better way considering that the relatively low budget of Japanese cinema. The music is spectacular as well as it is classic, and very characteristic for both the period it was made and the country where it was directed, the most notorious piece of music being played during the opening credits.
Shichinin no Samurai is defensively one of the most absolute masterworks of its genre. The grandiosity of Kurosawa's jewel is undeniable, and it has been one of the major influences in cinema history. It deserves both the admiration and the credit from the people that get the chance to see it and from the numerous directors and filmmakers that were influenced by this eternal gem in any way, not only considering the remarkable technical aspect, but also the plot elements and a grandiose, solidified filmmaking style.