How the hell am I going to review this? That was my thought once I finished the magnificent 207 minutes Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai comprises. The reputation of the film precedes it. I knew about its status as one of world cinema’s all time classics, an endlessly influential work and one of the greatest films ever made. The film speaks for itself, and all the many more learned and competent critics than myself couldn’t do this film justice with a review, but here it goes.
Seven Samurai is the story of a small Japanese village plagued by a bandit problem. Defenseless and starving, some poor farmers embark on a mission to recruit a group of Samurai to defend the village against an inevitable bandit invasion. I found the whole film surrounded the idea of community. In every way Seven Samurai asks its audience what it means to be a part of a community, what it’s like to be accepted into one, and how a community works together in crisis.
This idea of community is reflected in every corner of this film. Normally, I like to discuss the acting in terms of which actors/actresses had the best performances, who was the worst, etc.; but I can’t for Seven Samurai. No one actor stood out, instead the entire ensemble was the star. Each performer inhabited a part of a communal effort that was greater than the sum of its parts. Each played a significant role in making the film memorable, and removing any one role would have severely impacted the film. I can’t pick a favourite performer or character because I simply didn’t have one, the entire group of samurai and peasants worked as a unity that cannot be broken up.
You’d think that a film in which the main character is a unity of many people would become very cluttered, with people littering each scene, distracting the viewer. But the opposite happens; order dominates each scene. Even if a dozen people are in a shot, Kurosawa and his director of photography Asakazu Nakai found a way to assemble them in such a way that created patterns, rather than chaos. It’s difficult to explain, and I can’t demonstrate it by showing a bunch of stills from the film, but if you watch, you’ll notice the beautiful visual composition of each scene. Again, it comes back to the idea of community, no one person is featured, close-ups are seldom used; each shot instead creates a sense of irreplaceable unity.
The greatest strength of Seven Samurai is its ability to make you feel for this group of people. Kurosawa blands drama, romance, action and a surprising amount of comedy together in such a way that truly makes the community of peasants and samurai both real and heroic. The village has its imperfections and flaws, but they all work to make the audience root for them and care for them as if you were a part of the community as well.
If I was forced to say something bad about Seven Samurai, I guess I’d complain about the length. But once I think about it, there’s no scene in the movie that could be cut. Each moment of this film, like the characters, is greater than the sum of its parts. To take anything away would be detrimental. So really, I have nothing to complain about.
Seven Samurai is the definition of epic. Reading a review will never do the film justice, it needs to be experienced. So if you’ve yet to see it, I urge you to watch it. If you’re interested in movies at all, this is required viewing.