Seven Samurai (1957)

















War is a selfless act. At least that's what Akira Kurosawa's movie "Seven Samurai" would like to convince us. Near intermission we are told by one of the main characters that in order to understand the nature of war one has to think of others and not themselves.
It's the sixteenth century in Japan, where civil wars are ravaging the land. Bandits sweep across the farm areas, pillaging the crops. They are a form of anarchy, a blackness that is plaguing the country side.
"Seven Samurai" opens with a group of farmers from a small village huddled around a circle in the middle of their central square. They have been pillaged many times by the bandits and they know that the vagrants are coming back when its time to harvest the barley. The villagers all wail and cry and bemoan their position, but one man voices his opinion that he thinks that its a good idea to fight back. Once this idea is taken up with the village elder, they decide to try to find a few samurai with hearts of gold that will work for food. But they quickly find out that samurai are a proud group of people, rarely helping those who can't pay money.
But fortunately, they find a samurai with this elusive heart of gold. He decides to help the farmers with their plight and recruits six other warriors to help him defend the village.
That in of itself takes well over half the movie. The film runs three and half hours long, so you can imagine what about two hours of people recruiting other people to fight is like. It's quite dull.
Once the samurai return to the village they set up preparations for the attack coming from the bandits. They set up positions to the north, south, east, and west.
The samurai themselves are slightly typical. The rag-tag team that comprises this heroic ensemble is less than original: there's the old master, the apprentice, the seasoned warrior, the one with a temper but a story that is supposed to make you feel sorry for him, and then three others who are exactly alike.
In what is supposed to be the "golden age" of cinema comes this tale. The acting from this movie seems to be trying to recreate the overacting of the silent era, frankly it just doesn't work. There are only one or two characters in the movie that are believable at all. The one samurai with an anger problem is the source of "comedy" in the movie. He acts pretty crazy and yells a lot, but the villagers sure find him entertaining.
The villagers themselves are classically stupid. They run around like sheep and need the guidance of the elder samurai to help them through this time of war.
That's what this time becomes, war time. Instead of running away after loosing a few men, which I would have thought would be the sensible thing to do, the bandits keep coming back and coming back.........and coming back. Does a measly harvest of barley really mean that much to them?
Maybe it's a sense of honor, because three samurai and a villager snuck up to their camp and killed a bunch of them. It's this time when a back story is revealed about a villager that makes no sense and is never resolved.
But even if they were avenging their fallen comrades......wait—there shouldn't even be a "but" here. Have you heard the phrase "No honor amongst thieves"? Every other action these bandits do prove them to be not the honorable or loyal type so I still don't understand what is so enticing about barley.
The action sequences, which is what the movie is heralded for, are vaguely exciting—too bad that they're five minutes long and it takes hours to get to them.
This movie is the predecessor for action epics like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or the movies from the "Lord of the Rings" franchise. I would just rather watch those than this again. It has a very unsatisfying ending. I fail to understand what is so classic about this movie.
It starts out as a movie about samurai that will help defend the village and turns into a mud-bathed 'war' movie. It lacks a sense of real direction.

Score: 2 stars out of 4

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