Not rated, but the movie involves at least 40 people dying by sword, fire, or arrow. On top of that, there's that rear nudity that shows up in a lot of samurai movies. Akira Kurosawa, for all the violence some of his films have, really leaves gore to the imagination. There's nothing that's particularly gross in this movie, but rather a lot of that is implied. A villager beats his daughter pretty savagely at one point. I suppose that should be mentioned. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Akira Kurosawa
I'm always afraid to visit a lot of my fancy-pants favorite movies. I don't know what it is. Maybe part of me absolutely loved having such a hoity-toity favorite movie. It made me feel like a real boss being able to throw down something like Seven Samurai. But that fear always kind of made me feel like a liar. I know that, as a kid, I had seen this movie a few times. Really, I had watched the first remake of Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, a whole bunch of times. But coming back to this movie, I remembered why I like Akira Kurosawa so much.
Like all the movies I adore, I tend to have a hard time writing about them. After all, it is really easy to dunk on a rough movie because you know exactly why you don't like something. Defining why you like something comes across as empty praise and somehow seems to diminish the original object of affection. But with Seven Samurai, I think I have a pretty good idea what makes it so interesting. I'v seen so much Kurosawa. Not everything, but a ton of Kurosawa. Defining what makes Kurosawa a genius is multifaceted, but there's something that I tend to take away from his method of storytelling. Seven Samurai, like a lot of Kurosawa, is a remarkably simple movie. It's almost impossible to think that you could get a four hour film out of the plot of Seven Samurai. This is the movie that started the underdog villager under siege trope. There's this over-the-top unstoppable force and these poor villagers are dependent on these tough guys to fight an impossible battle. In the case of Seven Samurai, it's all in the title. But what Kurosawa does is make the story far more complex, despite keeping his foundation something simple.
There isn't much plot to the movie. Honestly, I've already given all the summary that the movie really needs. The bandits are going to attack the village. After getting seven guys together to protect them, some of them less qualified than others, the samurai have to prepare the town both physically and culturally to ward off the bad guys. There's 40 of them, so you know, not nothing. But everything about how people get in their own way is what makes Seven Samurai so interesting. The world is full of assumptions. Classes of people both meet their expectations and defy them. Seven Samurai, for as simple of a movie as it is, is a look at the complex caste systems that may even apply to Western culture today. After all, Kurosawa's biggest criticism in Japan is that he is far to influenced by the West to be considered a true Japanese director.
The role of the farmer is one of being a peasant. They eat millet and plow the fields. They are farmers because they are born cowards. Throughout the film, these characters are defined by their cowardice and self-interest. But we keep finding out more and more things about them. Some of these traits are impressive; some of them are despicable. There's a moment in the movie that is positively haunting. Kikuchiyo sees that one of them has an honest to goodness spear. It's not something made out of bamboo. It's not a farming implement. Nope. Full honor samurai spear. When he finds out where he got it, we have this really interesting analysis of the nobility of this quest. After all, these seven guys aren't in it for the cash that will accompany this job. This is about honor and doing the right thing. But because this one guy has this spear, we find out that these farmers aren't as pure as we simply assumed. They have murdered weakened samurai passing through their village. They have plundered the fallen warriors who have done nothing wrong to them. This moral question is raised. What went from a black-and-white story about noble samurai defending innocent farmers becomes about disillusioned men, some of them desperately trying to test their mettle, are defending a bunch of jerks.
When the samurai arrive, the farmers hide their daughters. It's not just one scene. They are convinced that the samurai are going to rape their families. Now, I don't know enough about samurai history. I'm sure that there's something there. There becomes this question about what is the greater evil. The farmers are seen as foolish. It almost becomes a dark joke, so much so that Kikuchiyo does this insulting dance, luring them from their homes. But the concept behind the story is one of escalation. While the bandits would have slaughtered them, the farmers consider shame worse than death. Kurosawa gives a clear indication of what the answer should be. He shows these farmers to be in the wrong for hiding their daughters. But as much as Kikuchiyo's jibes seem to cool tensions, that concept runs all the way through the story. The entire plan almost falls apart because one of the farmers can't get past the idea that one of the samurai may be seducing his daughter. He would rather die than allow someone who is here to protect him falls in love with his daugher. To him, that is rape. Yeah, the movie implies that Katsushiro and Shino consumate their relationship. But we actually don't know for sure what happens. Katsushiro is obsessed with both honor and nobility, but he also seems to be in love with Shiro. There's this complexity in the story that complicates whether or not this whole thing is worth it.
And then the samurai start dying. The sexiness of these samurai defending the villagers loses its sheen. The concept of death becomes very real as the story progresses. It goes from being this adventure movie to being something that is almost depressing. There are these high-highs when the villagers work together to take out the bandits. There's a dopamine spike as the X's are painted over the the circles. But one-by-one, the samurai start to fall. The entire last hour of the film is the village taking out the bandits slowly. But the final fight is aggressively not sexy. It's in the rain. It's flailing and its muddy. There's a desperation and a depression to the whole fight. People are dying throughout and the concept of defense becomes something more than something than cinema offers us. There's nothing manipulative about it. It's simply what a fight would really look like. There's a moment in Rashomon that does the same thing. Fighting doesn't look impressive. It's clumsy and ugly and that's what the ending is. And it absolutely works.
As much as the movie is about seven samurai, as the title suggests, it's so interesting to see that the movie is focused primarily on Kikichuyo, played by Toshiro Mifune. He's the comic relief of the movie. But he's the weeping clown. He's this complex guy that is meant to be laughed at. It's really weird and great. Kikichuyo is a lie. That's not even his name. He enters the movie as this braggadocio. He pretends to be this great warrior. His sword is huge (and kind of amazing). But everyone can see that he's a fake. He keeps up this persona for a bulk of the film, even though everyone knows that he's in no way a samurai. He holds his own, sure. But he's this liminal character. He lives in both worlds. He's simultaneously a warrior and a farmer. Normally, a character grows and learns from his mistakes. Kikichuyo grows. He completely does. I don't want to minimize things. But his growth isn't clean. He dies in this place that is almost parallel to where he started. Instead of having the clean Ebenezer Scrooge roundness to it, he grows and shrinks in waves. He becomes vulnerable and covers it up again. His major mistake in the movie is that he thinks that he's a hero, only to realize that his actions led to the death of someone he cares about. It's really interesting. He dies, a braggart. It's something worth watching.
I'm so glad that a movie I claimed to love is actually worthy of love. It's such a fine film. It is fun and it is serious. Maybe I can't watch it over and over because it is four hours. But it is this nice balance between entertainment and art. I adore this film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.