Celluloid Classics: Seven Samurai

In the wonderfully animated Zinema 2 theatre in Duluth, several feet from the entrance, there was once (and more than likely, still is) a portrait of an energetic Toshirô Mifune. The picture is taken directly from the famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

The world renowned, black and white, 1954 film, gathering Kurosawa’s incredibly versatile troupe of actors, stars Takashi Shimura of Godzilla fame, Daisuke Katô, and Isao Kimura as the samurai-in-training, as well as Mifune as the immortally lovable Kikuchiyo.

The story revolves around a small village located in the country side of Japan, in which the people living there work all year to harvest enough rice to feed their families. The drama begins with the sacking and looting of the village by marauders, villainous ronin on horseback, who demand that they are handed almost all the rice the village can produce. The village elders elect a plan to hire seven samurai to protect the villagers and their sacred harvest, with only gruel and porridge to pay them. The brave volunteers chose to defend the villagers despite the lack of trust their employers invest in them.

Seven Samurai has been considered by many to be Kurosawa’s mugnum opus, his masterpiece on celluloid. His dramatic scenes shot deep in the forests, and in the rain, all coupled by a soundtrack that gives Jaws a run for its money. The dialogue is convincingly true enough to suck you in from the start. One of my favorite scenes is toward the beginning when a child is taken hostage by a thief who then runs into a house and refuses to come out. The villagers swarm and try to formulate a plan to remove the thief without harming the child. Enter Kambei (Shimura) who flawlessly deters the hostage taker’s plan by fooling him.

Seven Samurai made such an impact that American filmmakers didn’t want to lose the Japanese film industry, and came out with The Magnificent Seven (1960). Fifty years after the original film was released, FUNimation and Gonzo Entertainment came out with Samurai 7, an anime retelling of the original film. The film was ultimately honored with two Oscar nominations, and was one of the first films released through the Criterion Collection, taking in spine number 2. It was been voted number fourteen on the popular film website IMDb.com as part of their Top 250 list.

My recommendation is an understatement. I say watch this film with an open eye for memorable characters, and ear for wonderful dialogue, and a bowl of popcorn. Make sure to set aside time for breaks because this film is an epic at 3 hours and twenty-seven minutes long!


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