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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