You’ve got to be a pretty special film to hold my attention for over 3 hours. Jesus wept. I said after watching Lagaan (2001) for last year’s April Blind Spot that I wouldn’t do it again. But here’s the first entry to 2016 and look what I’ve gone and done. But when you find yourself on an unusually relaxing Sunday afternoon, or nursing a wretched hangover (luckily I have the former) then an incredibly epic, yet brilliant, film like Seven Samurai might be just what the doctor ordered.
Seven Samurai was of course directed by Akira Kurosawa (and edited, and co-written, and goodness knows what else. Honestly, I think Kurosawa was an android for the amount he accomplished in film making) at the height of his career. The narrative takes place a bloody long time ago in 1586 which, without sounding like an imbecile, was around the time Shakespeare was born. So since it was all thatched roofs and Tudors over here, in Japan it was probably a similar deal. The simple life and a strong hierarchical order.
It was also the time of the Samurai, a high-ranking or caste soldier and usually had a master. The story takes place in a small village. One that is regularly the target of bandits that come and take all of the village’s crops. When the bandits show up they realise they’ve recently stolen from this village and nothing is ready to take. One of the villagers overhears the bandits say they will come back soon when the crop is ready.
With this news, the villagers ask an Elder villager what they should do. Fight the bandits, or let them take the crop. His answer is wise. Hire Samurai to protect the villagers and fight the bandits. And hire hungry Samurai who will be happy to do the work for the payment of food and shelter. And so, the villagers one by one enlist the help of seven Samurai to win their village back.
A true classic
The reputation of this film preceded my viewing so I went in looking for particular elements. It’s well known to have specific elements reworked, tweaked and rehashed in many different films and is extremely influential. So, I was on the look out for anything I might have seen before. The Western genre comparison is well known, but someone might have to convince me on that one. I understand on a loose basis, narrative wise, they’re both about defending your home turf from outsiders and but colonial townsfolk are generally suspicious of anyone new, even if they are there to help. Though there was a lot of fighting over territory and even some of Seven Samurai was on horses. And set in the country with beautiful landscapes on display.
But I couldn’t think of many huge influences right off the bat which were so glaringly obvious, though there was one that I couldn’t get out of my head. It’s probably completely incorrect but once I’d latched on to it, I wouldn’t let go. Kambei was my favourite character throughout the whole film. He was the first masterless Samurai to jump on-board and would be the one to persuade the others to join him and he would take an apprentice Samurai on too. He was obviously very wise, very skilled, world weary but hadn’t lost his sense of humour. His moves were calculated and soft, like he knew exactly what he was doing. Not quite un-Jedi like…
The sincerest form of flattery…
I guess if I really thought about it, I could think of 1,000 modern, Hollywood films* that are slightly similar to Seven Samurai but maybe not many that came before. Ultimately, it’s a fantastic film that any cinephile should have watched at least once in their life.
* I told a friends I was writing about Seven Samurai for my blog and he told me that the narrative from A Bug’s Life (1998) was based on Seven Samurai, and when you think about it, it’s so obvious!