BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge # 16: Seven Samurai, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
This was my first time watching Seven Samurai. I have seen several versions of The Magnificent Seven, but I had never seen the original source material. I won’t lie, the three-and-half-hour-long runtime was a big hinderance. I have mentioned before that Asian cinema is a big gap in film viewing, but the Battleship Pretension Top 100 list has given me the opportunity to fill some of those gaps a little. I wish I could say that I liked Seven Samurai, and I did enjoy watching it, but it felt very slow and every minute of its runtime.
I always like to start with the positive and there is a lot there for Seven Samurai. The story is great and very compelling, as are many of the performances in the film. I also really liked the romance between the young samurai protégé and the young woman forced by her father to dress as a boy. I am always a fan of romance and that gave me something to root for in the film besides the success of the villagers and samurai. I was very sad when they didn’t get a happy ending. They just had a moment of passion when they thought they might die and her father brands her “damaged goods”. I know it was the 1500s and a different culture, but the modern feminist in me was very mad about the way she was treated.
I have to give a lot of credit to the stunt choreographer and fight team on the film. The battle scenes looked brutal and with the sheer number of actors, swords, spears, and horses, it was well choreographed, particularly the parts on horseback. There was also some impressive sword fighting in the film not only between the samurais but in the battles. I noticed the same thing in the other Akira Kurosawa directed film on the Battleship Pretension Top 100 list, Ran – he knew how to direct and film action.
Takashi Shimura, as the wise, older lead samurai Kambei Shamada, gives my favorite performance in the film. He was such a grounding force in a fairly chaotic film. He was also funny when the situation needed it and could also carry off the heavy emotional scenes. I also really liked the young protégé Katsushiro. He had an earnestness that gave a lot of emotional weight to the film. He was also easy to root for because he was so young and sweet and in love. The other real standout performance was Toshirṍ Mifune as Kikuchiyo. Minfune’s drunk acting was impressive as was his almost entirely manic performance. Kikuchiyo is at an eleven in almost every scene and Minfune entirely committed to that energy. I found the character more than a little irritating, but the performance was consistent and strong.
Besides the length and slow pacing, I think the biggest challenge I was with the culture gap. I know very little about samurai culture, so a lot of the politics in the film went over my head. For example, I do not know why it was so shameful to fight for farmers, I think it was because they had little to pay them and the chance for glory was low. There was also a scene when the samurai’s burn down the bandit’s camp and there is a woman there who sees one of the good guys and she chooses to go back into the burning building. It wasn’t until I read up about it that I realized it was his wife who had been kidnapped and made to be a concubine. I was equally confused about the armor until I read that it must have come from dead samurai’s who had been hunted and killed. I also wanted the battle to be more impressive. It was certainly long, but the length made it feel less impressive. I think that is likely my modern cinema expectations kicking in but it still felt a little underwhelming.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Seven Samurai Ranking: Cruiser