April 19th, 2004


Seven Samurai.

last night i sat down and watched akira kurosawa's seven samurai, a film i'd heard a lot about, but never seen.

i'd seen the american remake of the film, the magnificent seven years ago, and generally speaking, liked it. there is yul brynner, whose presence on screen i love, like wise steve mcqueen, who i like, and a young charles bronson, before the slow death of the deathwish movies. sadly, elli wallach was totally misused in the film, but i liked it, and i always intended to watch seven samurai.

at the end of this film, i had one thought: the magnificent seven, yul brynner be damned, is a pile of shit.

this film, which follows has the simple plot of poor farmers hiring samurai to protect their village from bandits, is utterly epic and amazing. it's just under three and a half hours, and there is not an ounce of wasted space, a moment that doesn't serve to characterise the seven samurai, the farmer's daughter, and a handful of the farmers, focusing mainly on the four responsible for bring the samurai to the town. it's a true ensemble cast, though it could be argued that the focus falls upon kikuchiyo, the samurai who isn't a samurai, as is the character that links the farmers and samurai together, and who has the most defined character arc, turning from a man one step above being a bandit, into a man who is, indeed, a samurai.

there are so many things i could talk about in this film, but the truth is, you should just go out and watch it. it's at turns, beautiful, quiet, violent, dirty, treacherous, and honourable, and has some of the finest final lines of dialogue in a film that i have ever seen. however, what i liked most about the film is that, outside the bandits, who are nothing more than a faceless horde, no one in the film is portrayed as a saint or villain.

the farmers, who are shown as being dirty poor and eating millet, are shown to be, as the character kikuchiyo says, cunning, liars, and murderers. in the last part, this is shown in the chilling and unheroic images that kurosawa presents of farmers in groups of ten and fifteen swarming over individual bandits to stab repeatedly. but there is, at the same time, a strength, a sense that the farming community is going up against an undefeatable enemy, and that these things are necessary.

likewise, the samurai are not perfect, either. in their skill, or their personal life, the film explores each of them which, i think, discussing, ruins bits of the film, so i won't. however, i will present you with a scene that demonstrates kurosawa's ability to make his samurai mysterious and dangerous and just so utterly fucking cool.

one of the samurai is kyuzo, a lean, weathered swordsman portrayed fabulously by seiji miyaguchi. at one stage during seven samurai, the samurai are discussing the need to take away the rifles that the bandits have, and which are being used from a distance. kyuzo heads off into the night, off into the bandit infested hills and forest, and he does it alone. he is gone the entire night, the fires the farmer have lit burning down into cinders and ash, but there is no sign of kyuzo. the youngest samurai is pacing back and forth, the older samurai sitting, believing that they've lost the swordsman, that they made a mistake allowing him to go off alone.


then, a sound. faint. the youngest samurai cries out, but he's strung out, tired, and the others believe he is hearing things. they tell him this.

no, he cries. no. i hear something. don't you hear something? how can you not hear that, it's clear, it's clear--

it's someone walking into the town.

and from the smoke and mist of the morning walks kyuzo. but not just walks: he strolls down the middle of the road. the day previous, bandits had ridden down that road and been killed and farmers had been shot from a distance. it's a road that if you step too far out onto, you'll be stabbed or shot, and this guy, he fucking strolls down it, not a care in the world. and as he comes closer, you see that he's tired, but you also notice that there's not a scratch on him, and that in his hands he holds one of the bandit rifles.

'killed two,' he says, handing the rifle to kambei, the samurai leader.
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