“Listen, I’m not a man with any special skill, but I’ve had plenty of experience in battles; losing battles, all of them. In short, that’s all I am.”
I think a great movie should leave me with a lot to say, but I often find that my favorite movies leave me speechless. Nonetheless, I find myself grinning from ear to ear. Such is the case with Seven Samurai, a movie that really trampled on the more focused, personal films I’ve been seeking out lately. I knew this movie would be an epic, but my lack of attention given to Kurosawa-type movies and the breathtaking storytelling driving this film really hit me in a surprising way, and I had an absolute blast with Seven Samurai.
A poor farming community is on the brink of extinction, recently devastated by the pillaging of a nearby group of bandits who plan to strike again for their latest crop. In desperation, the farmers seek out a group of samurai to protect them from the bandits. The first act of the film concerns the seeking out, testing, convincing, and uniting of these samurai for a cause that will yield no glory. The second act is a strategically fought battle between the samurai and the bandits, culminating in a bloody showdown for the future of the village.
I’ve always been wary of longer run times, but this movie was easily the briskest 3+ hour movie I’ve ever seen, and it made me want to watch another Kurosawa film right away. The cut to intermission was probably the most striking bit in the entire film, and I found myself marinating in the first act far more than I expected. Kurosawa builds an epic not with set pieces but with a sense of community, and it nestles you into an experience that understands what scale actually means: substance over stuffing. Seven Samurai reminded me of a fine Netflix series, rounding out different characters and scenarios for the purpose of a greater thematic whole.
I believe a great film should have something to say, but Kurosawa seems to glide past theme and move straight into the “human experience” level of depth. There’s romance, philosophy, action, friendship, and many other plot pieces that only feel like an extension of a musing on the human experience. Everything in the story serves this idea, particularly its characters. The wise and aging Kembei is the tragic hero who seems ready for death, only to watch so many brave, younger men die in the same pursuit. Kikuchiyo is his younger, hot-headed foil who brings humor and courage in a way that no longer resonates with Kembei and the other more elitist samurai.
I think it might be my lack of experience with Kurosawa and Japense cinema, but there was a freshness to my viewing – a feeling like when I watched movies as a kid. I hear a lot of people say that they don’t want to study films because they “don’t want to hate movies” and still want the feel the magic of it all. I think this is valid, but my experience with Seven Samurai re-affirms that we can keep that magic present if we continue to challenge and indulge ourselves in cinema we’ve never seen before. I felt overjoyed with the movie in ways I can’t describe, and this sounds cliché but it speaks to how much I have to learn and the power of cinematic techniques in the hand of someone who understands their effect. If I saw Seven Samurai a few more times along with other Kurosawa movies, I could probably crack a few codes and piece together formal techniques, but I’ll never forget this viewing and the surprise and sheer delight of being in the dark in a way that any movie at my local theater won’t provide right now (but did when I was a kid).
Seven Samurai is worth more substantive study than I could provide right now, and that study has surely been done to death given its Holy Grail status to a lot of cinephiles and its prominent influence, so I’ll say I’m happy I saw it. I’ll say I feel inspired to see more Japanese cinema but also just to see more cinema. I’ve been watching a lot of mainstream horror this month, and for lack of a less pretentious phrase, I get conventional American horror. I didn’t get Seven Samurai, but I hope to get it soon. And I hope to discover movies I didn’t know existed that make me feel the same sense of awe and wonder about film as an art, and I hope to get those movies too. And I hope to repeat that process over and over until I die with a blade in my hand.
Films Left to Watch: 852