Seven Samurai (1954) Review

A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend

Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is considered a classic of Japanese cinema and has spawned many American copies, such as The Magnificant Seven and A Bugs Life. But how does this 1954 movie hold up today? Quite well actually. For its length (over 3 hours) and place at the beginning of Japanese cinema, Seven Samurai has an engaging plot, unique characters and genuine moments of tragedy, comedy, and tension.

Seven Samurai has the plot of a film you’ve seen before. It’s spawned so many clones, that it’s nice to see the original in all its glory. That being said, it’s not perfect. The films pacing is rather uneven, with the first act moving at a very quick pace, which was refreshing until the second act started dragging on way too slowly. The films length definitely is correlated to this and maybe if some cutting had been done to that second act, a more compressed and smooth story could have been created. That’s not to say that the second act is bad, it still upholds the good writing and acting the other two have, but it just slows down to concentrate on various smaller issues. Great for character development, but not as necessary as it one might think.

The titular seven samurai are all unique characters, with solid performances backing them up. You’ll never get confused as to which samurai is which, even if you’ll never remember their names. The villagers are rather interesting too, in that they aren’t played up as the helpless, innocent victims. To the contrary, Kurosawa portrays them as human to a fault, selfishly trying to keep what they have, even if it means betraying their protectors. This fascinating dynamic between them and the samurai and how it changes is a highlight of the movie

Kurosawa’s brilliant directing is truly something to behold, and way beyond its time. The way he shoots action, comedy, and the haunting ending scene are all extremely effective. A lot of older movies, especially foreign ones, loose their effectiveness when watched today because it feels so distant. Kurosawa’s comedy is funny, particularly the scene with the horse. His action is exciting and nowhere nearly as confusing as the post-Transformers action sequences of today. In fact his use of different frame rates to either speed up the action or slow down the dramatic deaths is really effective and not as cheesy as one would think. His drama is very real; as he sets the mood well and with his strong actors delivers true heartbreaking moments. He’s also not afraid to let you be confused, as there are a few scenes where you really sit there wondering what’s going on, just like the characters are, until it’s finally explained to you.

The hardest thing for someone going into this film is the cultural difference. The names are hard to remember, there are references to things you won’t know, and a lot of the history involved that just won’t make sense. It’s the side effect of being a westerner, but try and keep an open mind. As you watch the movie, you begin to understand how this world works, just with any other movie and soon you’re just as immersed as with the latest blockbuster.

I saw this film on VHS and you know what… it wasn’t that bad. The subbing was ok, even if it wasn’t present for every line and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything because… I wasn’t. This film isn’t widescreen so don’t bother looking for a copy like that. I wouldn’t recommend pirating this movie, as it truly deserves a non-pixilated watching. If you can get this on Blu-Ray or DVD because it’s totally worth it, and you will want to show this classic to everyone you know. If you can get past the length, and the very nature of the film being a 50s Japanese movie, then you should have a remarkable viewing experience ahead of you.