Overview: Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese epic about a group of seven misfit samurai that come together to defend a farming village from bandits. Toho; 1954; Unrated; 207 Minutes.
The Original Epic: At the time of Seven Samurai’s release, very few films had a vision or scope as ambitious as Kurosawa’s, with his large action set pieces, unprecedented battles, and sheer number of actors on screen. The film tops the three hour mark, but very little of that time is filler, as Kurosawa provides ample character development in each of the samurai. By the end of the film, each samurai has a distinguishable personality and viewers will grow to care for each of them. The most memorable performance is provided by the great Toshiro Mifune, who plays Kikuchiyo, the rogue samurai of the group. He provides the comic relief with his arrogance and overconfidence, but becomes the most endearing member of the group by the end (think Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark from Iron Man and The Avengers).
Influence on Film: Seven Samurai’s impact on the action and western genres is immeasurable. The film was influenced by early westerns and is deeply rooted in the traditions of the genre (good vs. evil, defending honor and homeland against enemies, a final showdown). The film was remade in 1960 as the American western The Magnificent Seven, and proved to be a tremendous influence on westerns that followed, specifically the Spaghetti Western period of the mid-1960’s.
The Final Set Piece: The final conflict of the film is set against one of the most ambitious set pieces in film history. Samurai and villagers engage bandits on horseback in combat, while heavy rain falls, and the battleground becomes a sea of mud. At times upwards of thirty people and several horses are on screen and locked in the struggle.
Watch This Movie If: You like western, action, or samurai films.
Home Video Options: This film is available in the Criterion Collection (Spine #2). The release features an extraordinary restoration and transfer and includes multiple commentaries and documentaries about the film, among many other extras. This is one of Criterion’s most impressive releases.
Final Thoughts: Seven Samurai is a flagship of epic, action cinema. The film’s impression and spirit can be seen and felt all through the action and western genres, and is one of Kurosawa’s greatest achievements.