''What's the use of worrying about your beard when your head's about to be taken?''
A poor village under attack by bandits recruit seven unemployed samurai to help them defend against the foes.
Takashi Shimura: Kambei Shimada
Toshirô Mifune: Kikuchiyo
Akira Kurosawa had recently, and very quickly, become one of my all-time favourite directors. I had only seen four of his films and given each and every one of them my highest rating and approval. His greatest, and undoubtedly his most popular film was in 1954 epic Shichinin no samurai. The top-selling movie out of Japan for the year and won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture. Present day, it is ranked one of the greatest motion pictures ever, and it rightfully holds this honour still.
This is a spectacular story; as well as film. Full of wonderful characters, envisioned scenery, and great performances all around; it is Kurosawa's fantastic story about a poor farming village in 16th century Japan being consistently placed under attack by marauding bandits. Facing starvation if the bandits raid them again, the peasants fearfully and reluctantly turn to seven unemployed samurai to defend themselves.
There is no weak foundation to Seven Samurai. One of its greatest aspects is its characters. Every single one of them, farmer or samurai, is given tremendous development, making them all memorable. This is one of those films where if a character is eliminated, you suddenly find yourself missing their presence on the film; because you got to know them so well. I will not name him, but there was one ill-fated character in the film when, after he died, I felt kind of cheerless because I had come to respect him as a human being instead of an actor performing in front of a camera and reading out scripted dialogue. If you were to ask me which character was my favorite, I would be tied between two of them. The characters played by Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune, two of the finest Japanese actors who ever breathed air.
Another thing I admire in Shichinin no samurai is the feeling of authenticity. The feeling that it all scenes could really have occurred. There are very few moments where the unbelievable happens, as most action movies tend to drift towards. One thing I admired was the antagonists of the film: the bandits. Unlike most Hollywood movies where the bad guys have names and are introduced as characters to make them effective, the bandits in Seven Samurai all have no names. We only know them as the bandits and that is appropriate because that's all the main characters know them as too. Just marauding, murdering bandits who must be defeated as soon as possible.
Kurosawa was undoubtedly one of the most influential directors of all time and that is clear in this film. Many of the transitions and techniques that motion pictures today seem to follow on a conventional level were inspired by this film: slow-motion, a fade wipe between scenes like what you see in the Star Wars movies; using the weather to affect emotion and atmosphere, a team forming to take on a larger enemy, the list goes on. The movie was so influential that it was remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven(1960). Not as good as its original source; not by a long shot; but considerably effective and noteworthy.
In regards to the film's soundtrack, it's a success. The music was composed by Fumio Hayasaka and it's simply wonderous. We seldom hear any of it; when we do, its an efficacious presence of impact. The opening score is very effective and the music that plays when the farmers are searching for samurai in the town remains one of my favourite soundtrack pieces today; it penetrates your soul.
There is one thing in the film that might ward off some viewers. It is long. At over three and a half hours in length, some people will be cautious before sitting down to view it and some will lose their patience; but to those who can sit down and enjoy a film no matter how long it lasts, it will be realized as fast-moving storytelling. Even the long takes and the slow pacing seems surrealist fast because it is so well-written and so masterfully directed by Kurosawa.
Akiro Kurosawa gives us one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.
''The farmers have won. We have lost.''