Classic Intel: Seven Samurai - DVD Review

'Kurosawa's genius is in giving you a little bit of everything at just the right moments'

There is, in my opinion, only one possible day in the week and in that day, only one possible time, to sit down and watch an epic film. The day and time I refer to is, of course, Sunday afternoon. With an optimum start time of around 2.00pm (just late enough so that you've finished your Sunday lunch, early enough to feel like you've written off a significant amount of your day to watching a film), there's something about this time of day and week which just matches epic movies. Like rice and peas, Canon and Ball, Glover and Gibson, Sundays and epicness just fit.

And so it was that I sat down to watch Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. The cut available in the UK is three hours and ten minutes long, just a snip shorter than fellow epic Lawrence Of Arabia whilst still being a clear twelve hours shy of Berlin Alexanderplatz which the ever-reliable Wikipedia lists as the longest film ever. The story is simple and familiar: a poor village awaits the time of year when, post harvest, a group of forty bandits will show up to steal their crop, kill their menfolk and rape their women. Led by a militant villager (Yoshio Tsuchiya) the inhabitants decide that enough is enough and manage to convince the titular seven samurai to defend their village. With each samurai having his own motivation for joining the band, leader Kanbê Shimada (Takashi Shimura) must pull the samurai and the villagers together if they have any hope of victory.

Akira Kurosawa's film was pretty much everything I expected it to be. Technically it has a lot for the budding film student in you to concentrate on and spot but outside this, it's a beautifully shot, occasionally tense thriller with some wonderful performances and kinetic action sequences.

Kurosawa's genius is in giving you a little bit of everything at just the right moments. Take the first third of the film for example, when the group are gathered together. The slow character development here threatens to grind the film to a halt but Kurosawa is on to this even faster than you are. Whilst other samurai are found doing fairly mundane things such as chopping wood or being drunk, Kyûzô (Seiji Miyaguchi) is found mid-quarrel, testing his metal against an unworthy opponent. As Kyûzô beats him in the made-safe-by-wood warm up fight, the challenger refuses to accept and forces the samurai in to a real duel. All this is showcased painstakingly with real attention to every little slow detail apparent in the combat. Its conclusion, inevitable but none-the-less ghastly and compelling, moves to carefully judged slow-motion which really brings to light Asakazu Nakai's landmark cinematography.

There are lighter moments too, with Toshirô Mifune again (like Rashomon) playing the crazed, almost outlaw-like, member of the bunch, leaping and pivoting wildly - an outer display of an inner torment, revealed in a scene crucial to our understanding of the samurai's decisions. The relationship that blossoms later too between the youngest of the samurai and Shino (Keiko Tsushima) a village girl, provides a much-needed human element that any audience will feel able to relate to and theirs is a courtship as touching as anything we see in modern-day romances. All of this needs a stable centre to hold it together and in Shimura, Kurosawa has it, the late actor stoic, unmoving and justly righteous as the centurion in this piece.

Where there are problems they are never there significantly enough to ever risk this not attaining classic status. Parts of it do inevitably feel baggy and Kurosawa's much publicised battle with the studio to keep his desired run time feels more like a case of egotism then genuine artistic need. Some of the samurai also receive more attention than others although I suppose that that, along with a limited amount of time to reflect on any one's death, became the nature of the beast as the story hurtles along towards a final conflict of genre-defining proportions for the 1950s. It is a final conflict which also, quite rightly, sees the film completely fulfill and justify its status as bona fide classic.

Look further...

'Any pub quiz clod can name the Magnificent Seven, even down to Brad Dexter. But only a true sensei of movie trivia can list all of the Seven Samurai' - Kim Newman's Empire Essay


  1. I openly admit that there's a lot of little nit-picky errors in Seven Samurai (I think just about any movie at near 3 hours has it), but I love the story, and the characters, and the motifs so much I'm actually really psyched to review this :).

    And I'm glad it got a 5/5 from you.

  2. I absolutely need to see this movie soon or Univarn is going to hunt me down and cut my head off with a Samurai sword

  3. Univarn - It was very good yes. I can't say I'll be rushing to watch it again any time very soon but it was an excellent film - very enjoyable.

    Castor - Almost certainly: get watching!