Seven Samurai: Kurosawa Masterpiece

Japan

Kingsley International Pictures (Toho Productions)

In Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai,” a group of unemployed Samurai accept the job of protecting a helpless village from looters. The film takes place in sixteenth century Japan, a time of civil war and great strife. Paid only with food, the seven samurai teach the villagers how to defend themselves.

For many critics, “Seven Samurai” is the ultimate Samurai movie, sort of a textbook of an epic picture that’s both very violent and also about how to make a violent movie. Kurosawa’s incredible battle scenes in the film, especially the final one, set a new precedent not only for Samurai films but also for Hollywood and foreign films as well. (Kurosawa’s notion of epic cinema precedes and is very different from that of David Lean (“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia”).

There are many breathtaking scenes, such as the one in which the warrior Kambel (Takashi Shimura) disguises himself as a monk in order to save a kidnapped child from a thug, a sequence that combines all the grammar of cinema in its bravura combination of long shots, medium shots and close-ups, done in various speeds. Or the

The complicated camera movements and fast-paced montage editing of the battle sequences have been endlessly imitated by Hollywood, by Sam Peckinpah and most recently in Michael Mann’s remake of “The Last of the Mohicans,” and by European directors such as Sergio Leone and his “Spaghetti Westerns.”

But “Seven Samurai,” an epic that was over eighteen months in production, is not just a Samurai film. Kurosawa elevates the jidai-geki, or Japanese period film, to an art form. Seven Samurai becomes a film about every aspect of the human condition, evidencing Kurosawa’s immense warmth and humor. And it is also an epic film, betraying the substantial influences of Griffith and Eisenstein on Kurosawa’s work. Many critics believe that Seven Samurai is Kurosawa’s greatest film. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

“Seven Samurai” was remade by John Sturges as “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), with the American West replacing sixteenth century Japan and gunmen replacing the samurai. The great success of The Magnificent Seven inspired an international trend toward samurai imitations, and ultimately led to the “spaghetti Westerns” of Sergio Leone and others. Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (1969) is also highly derivative of Seven Samurai.

Akira Kurosawa, originally a painter, entered the film business at age 26 to support his parents after both his brothers died. He is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest directors of our age. His films include “Rashomon” (1951), “Ikiru” (1952), “Throne of Blood” (1957), “Dersu Uzala” (1975), and “Ran” (1985).

The US director Francis Coppola (The Godfather movies)  considers Kurosawa to be the father of all modern cinematic violence.

Running Time: 208 minutes

Oscar Alert

The film qualified for Oscar nominations in 1956, two years after it was made, when it received theatrical distribution in the U.S.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Art Direction-set Decoration: Takashi Matusyama
Costume Design: Kohei Ezaki

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1956, the Art Direction Oscar went to Robert Wise’s “Somebody There Likes Me,” and the Costume Design to Jean Louis for “The Solid Gold Cadillac.”

Takashi Matsuyama (and H. Motsumoto) were previously Oscar-nominated for Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” in 1952.