Saturday, August 8, 2015

278. Shichinin no Samurai/The Seven Samurai (1954)

Running Time: 207 minutes
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Written By: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Main Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Daisuke Kato, Isao Kimura, Minoru Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba
Click here to view the trailer

NOTES: Couple things...

One - I've once again watched two BOOK movies without writing a review, so expect another review to immediately or almost immediately (it is nearly midnight) follow this one...

Two - I've decided to give one more crack at a MONTHLY recap of the NON-BOOK movies I watch, instead of tacking them into every other review. Instead of trying to find the time each month to write a big, long post, I've decided to just keep a draft of a post and keep adding to it throughout the month and then pushing the publish button on either August 31 or September 1 or whatever. I THINK this will work...

Now then...


Finally I've managed to knock off all of the movies that are OVER three hours in length, thus officially avoiding being caught at the end of my journey with a handful of three plus hour films. The longest movie I have now is Scarface, which, according to THE BOOK, clocks in at two hours, fifty minutes. Also, I KNOW it's not THE Seven Samurai and JUST SEVEN SAMURAI...but I always put it how THE BOOK puts it, so...

With 950 or so movies down, let's not change the formula now - we'll tackle a quick plot summary first and foremost and then I'll play armchair director and tell you how this movie should've gone down...I'm a cocky cuss!

The film wastes ZERO time getting right down to the meat & potatoes of the plot, as a group of bandits in 16th century Japan come upon a small village, made up entirely of farmers. Remembering that they've already raped, pillaged and plundered the village, a decision is made to return once the barley is ripe and re-thieve the place. This plan is overheard by one of the villagers and panic ensues. A meeting is held where half of the villagers wish to appease the bandits, giving them whatever they want and the other half wish to stand up for themselves and fight back. After consulting the village elder, it is decided that the villagers will go out in search of samurai and hire them to return to the village and protect the villagers. He notes that they can only pay the samurai with rice, so warns them to find hungry warriors. A group of representatives leave the village, in search of the samurai. After searching far & wide, they eventually find a brave, noble samurai, Kambei (Shimura), who is willing to help the farmers. One leads to two, two leads to three and so on. Kambei decides that they will need seven samurai to protect the village properly, since the town can be breached from all four directions. Last but not least, the samurai hire as their last recruit, a drunk calling himself Kikuchiyo (Mifune), who isn't really a samurai at all, but rather, a farmer with a axe to grind. Back at the village, the samurai try to teach the villagers how to fight and strategize about offense and how to force the bandits to come at them from only one direction.


My God, I'm really going to get it for trying to rewrite Seven Samurai, but I wanna play armchair director, Mommy, I wanna, I wanna!!

I feel like when I play armchair director, it's because I saw so much potential for a film to be RIGHT UP MY ALLEY and then it takes a left turn and becomes right up someone else's alley. I had seen this once before, but barely remembered it and thus kept guessing and plotting how I thought everything would turn out, only to be terribly wrong. Actually, I was kinda' right, but it didn't get pulled off just how I wanted it to. Let me start by saying, I think we could've shaved off a little bit of the running time. Even twenty minutes, I think, would've made a big difference and helped enough to move the film along at a more succinct pace. So for the benefit of my armchair direction, lets assume that Seven Samurai is only a three hour film - no more, no less (five is right out!).


With the first hour, I literally would've changed nothing. NOT A THING! I feel like this initial hour was the best first hour that Kurosawa could've given us to get us emotionally invested in these characters, not just the samurai, but the farmers and their plight. Kurosawa takes his time introducing us to each samurai, one by one, explaining their motivations for wanting to come and help the famers and so on. Perfect, perfect, perfect first hour and it totally got me jazzed up for the rest of the movie, which unfortunately, wasn't worthy of the great character development already put into motion.


Okay, so what we ACTUALLY get in HOUR #2 is kind of a bunch of things. We get the samurai returning to the village, plotting their strategy, as far as how they'll cut off the East, West and South, forcing the bandits to attack from the North and only the North. We get Kikuchiyo's back story, learning that he's a farmer and his big speech about how farmer's are both horrible and amazing. This ends up leading nowhere, as far as I could tell and I was left scratching my head as to why this was even brought up as a plot point. We get villager Manzo chasing his daughter around with a straight razor, forcing her to dress like a boy and samurai Katsuhiro and his fling with Shino - again, something that I felt was unnecessary. Long story short, we get a bunch of little snippets and it doesn't balance out with the first hour where our goal was simple: Villagers need samurai to fight bandits, period.

I'd have liked to have seen HOUR #2 be The Great Escape style intricate and show us EVERYTHING that the samurai and villagers were doing to protect the village. Show us intricacies as far as how the samurai plan to flood the southern part of the village, show them building the wall that will block off the east and give us the details on how they'll deconstruct a bridge, leaving the west side unattainable. Also, show us Kikuchiyo and Kyuzo training the villagers on how to use spears, maybe even have them teaching Rikichi how to sword fight. You could also take this hour to FURTHER develop the characters. If you must put in the part about Kikuchiyo being a farmer and how that's the real reason that he accepted this mission, fine, squeeze it in here. But make sure everything is wrapped up by HOUR #3 or say even the 2:15 mark, so that war can ensue...


What we got was really a bunch of little battles, instead of one, giant epic, be all end all battle, which is what I wanted. We first see the samurai spotting a few scouts, killing them and learning where the bandit hideout is. So they go to the hideout and battle #1 ensues, Heihachi is killed and samurai retreat. Then we get another battle, later, when the bandits finally do attack the village, but to me, it was anti-climactic. I felt like after all the work we put in, after all the recruiting by the villagers and all the building up they did, we should've gotten a bigger, better, badder battle. It should've been like Rocky vs. Apollo Creed style hype and delivered. Imagine if in Rocky, they did all that hyping and build up, only to have the match go two rounds and end. Then they have another fight, later on in the movie and it goes to a sixth round just wouldn't have been the same.

I know you film snobs are going to crucify me for comparing Seven Samurai to The Lord of the Rings, but I would've preferred a battle similar to the Battle of Helmsdeep in The Two Towers or even a longer version of one of the battle scenes we got in Ran, if that helps you swallow my reasoning any better. Because literally from the time the village elder says "WE WILL FIGHT!", which takes place at about the twelve minute mark, that tension starts to build and when they gave us just a taste by having the samurai ambush the bandit hideout, it was like deflating a balloon, letting a lot of that tension fly out the window. I would've preferred to wait, see how the samurai's plans unfolded, seen if their ideas actually worked, seen if they trained the villagers to fight properly and seen the seven in action, live and in person.


This is how I would've liked it to have all gone down, but, as The Stones said, "you can't always get what you want". I still liked it a lot and like I said before, when I armchair direct, it means I care. You don't see me sitting around saying what I would've liked to have seen in, say "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" and that's because all I wanted to happen there was for the ending to come sooner. Fellini was a big one that made me want to always rewrite his scripts and I'm finding that a lot with Kurosawa too. I still say RAN is his best work, but this was fine and I feel like two or three more viewings and I'll finally GET IT all. I feel like the villagers, the samurai and the bandits are all examples of some sort of symbolism that is just going over my head and someday it'll all just click and I won't fight it anymore. But for now...

RATING: 7/10  Maybe I didn't even quite like it THAT much, but I feel like anything less just wouldn't be fair, so it's a '7'. I apologize if the above was filled with typos and nonsensical thoughts, but it's late and I'm tired.


August 8, 2015  12:24am


  1. Interesting review. Trying to change what is considered one of the greatest films ever made. LOL

    Seriously, I would have to re-watch this to know if I agree or not, but I remember loving this film as is.

    1. I like to armchair direct, but I'm sure my observations will be scoffed at by almost everyone.


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