Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Columbia (1954), Avco Embassy/Janus/Films Inc/Landmark (1982)
I've dreaded writing this review. This is one of those films that is "protected" by cinema fans, action fans, Kurosawa fans and generally anyone with a true love of the "art" of filmmaking. It is held up as one of the greatest films ever...certainly one of the greatest action films ever.
In all honesty, I have recently upgraded this film to a B+. A recent viewing of the film allowed me to see it in a different light...to appreciate its action, choreography, lighting, direction and performances on a deeper level. I must confess that a certain amount of this was due to having just watched "The Last Samurai." It provided me with a frame of reference that allowed me to more fully appreciate this film.
"The Seven Samurai" was written and directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1956. It's cinematography is simplistically beautiful in black & white, the choreography stellar and the action scenes without question among the best ever captured on film. The storyline evolves around a village that is destined to be attacked by 40 thieves...they hire seven samurai to protect them. The three and a half hour film captures beautifully the struggles of the village to discover answers, find samurai, hire samurai and, of course, the final battle. The film is filled with passion and philosophy and spirituality and beauty and truth and action. One viewing is not nearly enough for this film.
So, how could I possibly rate this film a B+ when so many revere it as a true masterpiece of filmmaking?
Even recognizing the 1956 factor for this film, there were aspects of this film that simply did not work for me.
First, I hear constantly about the humanity of this film...quite honestly, several of the scenes (especially early) felt histrionic. The voices were screeching and irritating...it didn't feel like authentic emotion. Yes, the characters are developed well...Kurosawa is a master storyteller...but, in the more "human" scenes I just didn't believe the actors as much.
Secondly, the background sound...okay, okay...it's part of the ambience. I understand the purpose, but it simply didn't work for me. In particular, the stream had this obnoxious, bought from Walgreen's sound to it. It nearly pushed me over the edge.
Finally, the film is simply too long. Okay, master storyteller...we get your points, we get your Buddhist philosophies, we get the power and the majesty...now, just end the damn thing.
"Seven Samurai" is, indeed, a wonderful action film and among the best of the best action films. I would agree it's a masterful film on many levels, but I simply can't consider it among the best films ever made. It is the road map for so many filmmakers today...Kurosawa did it first, but I'm just not convinced he did it best. It's a wonderful film, but just shy of greatness.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic