Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Seven Samurai (1954)

The Seven Samurai (1954)
"What's the use of worrying about your beard when your head's about to be taken?" 

"Japan in 207 minutes."

Is it just me or does Akira Kurosawa always manage to have some blundering loud mouth fool? Don't get me wrong I love the guy, I've grown quite fond of his character in the limited films I have seen of him - two (Rashomon and now The Seven Samurai). Oh wait, thanks to the lovely invention of the internet I found out he's the same guy, well in that case what an extraordinary actor. Sure, Toshiro is no emotionally deep Gregory Peck, but he certainly has mastered the laughing outcast. Anyway, not straining too far away, I watched highly acclaimed, The Seven Samurai, and before I watched this so-called Japanese masterpiece, I learnt a new plural! And yes, my second film of Kurosawa lives to its legend, I know this because it kept me glued to the screen till 2am - and inspired a late night review.

Our story is of a rural Japanese village, one villager conveniently hears the plans of local bandits, and cries fear to the villagers. Their decided option is to travel to what I assume is a city or large town, and try to hire samurai for a pittance. Eventually after the impressively detailed section hiring the samurai, they return to the helpless village and prepare for a huge amount of bandits, out numbering the seven greatly - although I'd class only five, since one was our colourful Toshiro, again playing the crazy buffoon, who in this case just follows them, and a younger samurai who is effectively 'cock blocked', because of his lack of action...
Now to get this clear and off the tip of your tongues', I would not class this as the best action film. Yes, this movie has a considerable amount of 'action' - specifically meaning one hurting another, which most films feel most inclined to exaggerate. I guess as far as classics go, The Seven Samurai has quite a lot of violence, which is brilliantly directed, yet I just don't see the connection, since the vast majority is void of any 'action'. With this said, I'm not sure exactly which genre I could cast this film into, I'd like to say adventure, but all the adventure is effectively cut-out of the story, skipping the travel itself to the destination. Therefore, I guess the best place for this grand gem is a mix of action, drama and some sly comedy, or I may even be class this in the 'epic' genre, terminology I'm not so fond of, but alas that's all I can clearly place The Seven Samurai.

The performances are rather strong. Characters never really have what a modern film would constitute strong emotional development; many are more of an icon than the deep philosopher. However, I think this works to an advantage, this film had me convinced. There were times when a samurai would simply join the men, and immediately seem comfortable of the new men, and ask very little questions of his life-threatening mission, and I loved it because it feels real. Many of the easily accustomed characters just feels organic for its time, and it's rather nice to see a time when we weren't full of whinging Prozac addicts, the only complaining I saw was from the villagers about to lose their lives! In addition, that Toshiro Milfune is a delicious absurdity, brilliance in his ridiculously enjoyable performances, definitely one of my favourite actors.

I think what benefits our tale most is Kurosawa's genius. Often the direction uses different narratives and symbols; I could fill an essay with the little subtleties. One of the most notable forms of story telling was the parchment, which willingly compelled me. As the bandits were slowly killed, circles representing each man would be crossed out to symbolise the death - almost like a death clock. Kurosawa constantly uses little perspectives as a timer, for the survival angst throughout the film.
One of the most beautiful aspects is how simple and easily understandable the hectic battles can be, in fact, they can be often clearer then the stretches of dialogue. It is for these reasons (among others) I found myself absolutely in awe of the whole production. Although the white saturation is shocking, whites are really white, that in itself is probably a good thing for a black and white film, yet it's unfortunate the subtitles had to be bright white as well. It wasn't long before my eyes in were pain from straining to see what these people were saying; too bad, I'm restricted to the English language.

Overall, I'm dribbling at The Seven Samurai's feet. Everything about this movie is powerful and brilliant, and I can't seem to find an issue beyond superficial ones (being an ignorant English speaking person and having invisible subtitiles). Not only are we told a story, but also we are told a story of a nation, Japan and all its culture is picked upon, including honour, traditions and even sexual freedom. As any great movie is so often labelled, The Seven Samurai portrays the folly of man, not on a broad spectrum as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the confines of Japanese (and similar cultures) society. My best summary is of the famous Godard, 'Japan in 207 minutes'.


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