Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seven Samurai

I saw a handful of Akira Kurosawa movies in high school, although I somehow missed his most famous until now. Seven Samurai is a classic adventure tale of a group of villagers hiring seven unemployed samurai to protect them from some bandits after their crops. It's quite long and can be pretty easily broken into three hour long acts - the finding and recruitment of the seven men, the training of the villagers and preparation for battle, and then the actual assault by the bandits. It's a pretty classic story and establishes some classic action/adventure tropes, without itself feeling tired over fifty years later.

The seven samurai are all pretty distinct, not an easy accomplishment for an old movie in a foreign language. The two biggest ones are the oldest one who takes the role of leader, played by Takashi Shimura, and the brash one with a low background played by Toshiro Mifune, both of which are Kurosawa mainstays and the latter of which might have the most charismatic on-screen presence of any foreign actor I've seen. The rest of the group is less recognizable, but no less distinct, as they all have at least a couple memorable traits, and a reason to make you sad if they happen to be killed.

So yeah, the plot is fairly typical, with a few less than mesmerizing subplot sprinkled around to mix it up, but the real strength is just in the filmmaking. There's some impressive touches and editing for a movie this old, and even the acting is pretty good for the standards I would hold it to. Some of the action, especially by the end, is pretty messy. Instead of well staged, choreographed battles, it just seems like chaos as a bunch of guys and horses run around on screen wildly swinging at each other. The conflict itself is interesting because of the immense preparation and strategy to it, but actually watching it unfold is less so. Lots of really good imagery in the film though, especially at the end. It's a bit too long and old fashioned for me to really love it, but it's obviously an extremely significant movie, and an obviously good one as well.

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