Akira Kurosawa’s three-and-a-half-hour sprawling epic Seven Samurai (七人の侍/Shichinin no samurai) is a masterpiece, a crown jewel in cinema. This film indeed proves the saying, “No good movie is too long.” With a running time that could have induced sleep,Seven Samurai is a lofty and thrilling ride. It is a tour-de-force in filmmaking rarely matched by contemporary films.
Watching Seven Samurai did not make me feel like I was watching an “old” film. It is indeed the very definition of a classic – timeless. The visual imagery, lush cinematography and kinesthetic editing, all of which are Kurosawa’s signature style, are just so powerful that they stunned me. Together these aspects allow Seven Samurai to combine the flamboyance of Kabuki with the serenity of Noh.
This genre of “uniting against a common enemy” was pioneered by this film. It really works since Kurosawa carefully introduced the plight of the farmers and then delicately brought to us the seven samurai one by one – Kambei, Shichirōji, Gorōbei, Heihachi, Katsushirō, Kyūzō and Kikuchiyo. The “gang” was a colorful bunch indeed and the exposition was done with such poetic beauty – contrasting personalities balanced by one goal.
No one is more colorful and flamboyant than Kikuchiyo, played by the magnificent thespian Toshirō Mifune. Kikuchiyo indeed ranks as one of the most memorable characters in film. He was able to incorporate mischief and humor without losing chivalry and gravitas. Mifune’s performance rivals his other entrancing turn in Kurosawa’s Rashômon. The character’s transformation from being a crooked prankster to a valiant warrior is seamless and has been often copied by other films since then.
The battle scenes are equally great. Even in just a small scale, Seven Samurai puts to shame a lot of “epic” war movies and make them look like a joke. Kurosawa incorporated a certain rhythm, a dynamic of cycling tranquility and chaos as if he was choreographing dance. Well, there was indeed a dance as the farmers were planting rice but that is beside the point. Even his composition of poignant mise-en-scène made such an impact that the film’s images remain etched in my mind after viewing. The film really captures the zeitgeist of the era.
Overall, Seven Samurai is a memorable and unbelievable cinematic experience with its exquisite combination – and sometimes oxymoronic juxtaposition – of comedy, romance, action and melodrama. This extensive Kurosawa magnum opus may be endlessly remade, copied and imitated but it remains and will always remain a timeless and true crowning achievement.