“Find hungry samurai.”
Such is the premise of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai: a farming village, under threat from bandits, desperately resorts to the unattractive prospect of hiring a group of ‘ronin’ (samurai without a master) to protect them from the next disastrous raid. Unattractive because of the 16th century Japanese class distinctions that Kurosawa intelligently plays on throughout this three-hour epic; a film that, in many ways, provided a template for modern Hollywood big budget spectacles.
This was Akira Kurosawa’s longest film, but one barely notices the time going in. It is also considered by many to be the director’s best, and I certainly find it hard to argue with that line of thought. The film’s characters are so well fleshed out, individually and as part of the group dynamic, that you bond with them effortlessly over the course of the movie to the point where you’ll soon feel part of the disjointed family yourself.
Disjointed is unmistakably what the group of this film’s title represents, spearheaded by Toshiro Mifune as the humorous Kikuchiyo, a samurai who starts off as the joker of the group and eventually proves himself an adequate warrior later on. This was one of Mifune’s signature roles; Japan’s equivalent of what would be a major Hollywood movie star today.
Seven Samurai more than matches most films American cinema has produced since the 1950s; many of their movies owe at least some debt to this classic Japanese period drama/ adventure, including a direct adaptation of the story in John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960), which replaced the samurai with a group of cowboys. Yet I would still often take this old classic over the epics that followed it.