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Japanese Filmmaking At Its Finest

August 10, 2010

The Hidden Fortress was rather disappointing to me.  So it was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to watch The Seven Samurai, often considered one of if not the best Japanese movie ever.  The premise is simple.  It’s Sengoku Jidai, the Warring States period, when warlords battled each other all over Japan, bandits ransacked village after village, rampaging hordes of Buddhist monks sacked towns, and everything was generally just a mess.  One particular bandit group passes by a village and, recognizing that they attacked it before, decides to come back after the harvest.  A villager overhears the bandits and reports back to the rest of the village.  They do not know what to do, but the village elder decides that they must find some samurai (preferably hungry ones) willing to help.  Four villagers head into a nearby city.  They manage to recruit one intelligent, older samurai, Shimada Kanbei, who they see rescuing a young man from a kidnapper.  With his help, they eventually recruit Okamoto Katsushiro, a young, eager samurai, Katayama Goroubei, a skilled archer, Shichirouji, a former lieutenant of Kanbei’s, Hayashida Heihachi, a charming, witty, friendly samurai, Kyuuzou, an extremely skilled, silent samurai, and Kikuchiyo, a wild wanna-be samurai with a big temper.  Together, these seven samurai (and there you have it) must figure out how to protect this village.  And of course, there are other problems, like one of the villagers’ beautiful daughters, Shino, and her father forcing her to dress up like a man because he’s worried the samurai will rape her.  Those wacky villagers.

Well, dang.  This movie was absolutely awesome.  For one, all of the fighting was just so wonderfully choreographed.  Kyuuzou in particular was totally bad-ass, even when he was just standing still in a stance.  All of the characters were very different, and the personalities of each of the seven complimented each other perfectly.  Of course, Kikuchiyo, played by Mifune Toshiro, stole basically every scene he was in.  But all of the other samurai are likable.  Particularly old Kanbei, and even Kyuuzou, who shows that, even though he’s the toughest of all of them, he too can be compassionate.  But yes, the acting was great all around.  And the movie was shot so simply but beautifully.  I mean, compared to what we do nowadays, there was nothing crazy, like no really ridiculous camera shots.  But everything was framed great, and it was simple enough that there were no crazy camera angles to detract from the story itself.  Even though the scale was small, this movie was just beautifully constructed.  And it was just so exciting.  You really get into the plight of the villagers and get excited every time when the samurai score a victory.  Likewise, you are crushed when characters die.  Because they do die.  This was just such a well-done movie that I don’t really have any complaints.  I could complain about how it doesn’t always look terribly realistic because of what moviemakers were capable of at the time, but truth be told, I don’t always care about how good the CGI is or whatever.  After all, CGI can detract from a movie.  This was definitely the seminal samurai movie.  Best of all, it was Kurosawa Akira’s first.  Guess it had to be all downhill from there just because of how good this was.

Story: 9.3      Cinematography: 9.0      Soundtrack: 8.5      Acting: 9.5      Overall: 9.3

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