Blindsided by SEVEN SAMURAI – Review

~ Seven Samurai is the Blind Spot entry for April. Full listing here. ~

Akira Kurosawa’s scorching samurai epic screams and shrills it’s way onto the classics list with its blistering final act.

With a running time of 207 minutes Kurosawa’s expansive visual essay requires your full attention, and it took me two sittings. Seven Samurai was my Blind Spot choice for April, now well into May I’m a tad behind schedule but it just means double Blind Spot for you guys this month.

"How'd you like to kill thirty bandits?"

A small farmers village is plagued by the fearful returning bandits who seek to steal their crop after the harvest. A young and impatient villager, Rikichi, is infuriated with the lack of initiative shown by his fellow villagers. Determined to make a difference and protect his village from the marauding bandits Rikichi sets out on a quest to find willing samurai to defend his village for when the bandits return.

Following the village patriarch’s advice Rikichi sets off to find “hungry samurai”. Stumbling and bumbling along the dirt roads of 1587 Warring Japan, Rikichi and his band of unwilling cohorts search in vain for compassionate samurai, willing to work for food, after all pittance is expensive to a poor farmer.

Their search sees them kicked around, beat up, and down on their luck. Constantly harrassed by local peasants and taken for fools by passing samurai their fortunes turn when they come across an unusual gathering at a local village. The focus centres on Kambei, a ronin, volunteered to deal with a local thief who has taken a child captive. Exacting his incisive plan to return the child and evict the thief Rikichi and his band of merry men look on dumbstruck as Kambei strolls out of the village humble in victory.

With an opportunity too good to let walk off down the road Rikichi timidly follows behind until, to Rikichi’s disbelief, two enthusiastic swordsman take turns convincing Kambei to take them on as his protégé. Finally given his chance Rikichi lays it all on the table in an effort to convince the compassionate ronin Kambei to aid the village in it’s defence from brutal banditry.

Kambei, the first of the titular Seven is a cunning tactician. Endowed with a comforting stillness by Kurosawa, Kambei plays a central role in the natural progression of the film as philosopher, leader, warrior, and interventionist. Guiding the rally for ronin potential the remainder of the the samurai are duly snapped up.

Shichirōji, an old friend of Kambei. Heihachi, enthusiastic log and side splitter extraordinaire. Kyūzō, accomplished samurai with a keen eye for the art of swordsmanship. Gorōbei, a skilled archer, the 16th century Hawkeye. Finally, Kikuchiyo, the erratic and irascible wandering warrior.

Kurosawa’s eclectic collection of estranged ronin forge a bond that comes to define each as an individual through each masterful stroke of character development. Utilising a range of pioneering camera and editing techniques each shot tells its own story, connected by fluid and comprehensive editing centred around Kurosawa’s Composition of Movement. There’s a reason Seven Samurai is rated so highly by ciritc and public audiences alike, higher than it’s Western remake The Magnificent Seven Akira Kurosawa – At the helm of direction, his original screenplay and control of the editing process make this an all round Kurosawa experience that draws the emotion to the surface.

A quick scroll through Kurosawa’s trademarks and his use of weather to manipulate a specific audience reaction signifies a simple technique, that of symbolism and connection, mastered by an auteur with a natural vision. Kurosawa is a pioneer of the age-old creative directive, ‘Show, Don’t Tell’. Each composite shot focuses on the sensory reaction of the audience, largely excluding exposition in favour of action. When Kurosawa does employ narrative background into his films the effect is doubled. Kikuchiyo has an extended monologue two thirds into the lengthy running time that succeeds because it marks a significant contrast to everything we have seen before. The emotion, passion, and improvisation of Toshirô Mifune’s performance as Kikuchiyo throughout culminates in this one, pacing explosion of pent up rage, and Kurosawa doesn’t leave the action for a moment.

Seven Samurai could easily be misinterpreted as an heroic flim. Seven warriors called upon to save a village from banditry against all odds has, in fairness, got a lot going for it. But Kurosawa is careful to shine a slightly tainted light on the heroism of Kambei’s warriors. Frequently are we shown their excitement at the thought of brutality, the sinister laughs and their unnverving treatment of purging banditry as game. Kikuchiyo is often prancing and gloating about the thought of spilling bandit blood on the foggy morn of battle but his passion is later explained by a cynical distrust of memories, another trademark of Kurosawa that adds depth to his characters.

Seven Samurai is incisive at the hand of Kurosawa. Every lasting cinematographic movement, from the camera to the action, to the pouring rain tells a wonderfully crafted story. His vision is exquisite and choice of shot elegant to the point of an artist’s brush stroke. For the uneducated modern audience Kurosawa’s precise, detailed, moving art is timeless.

Don’t let the 207 minute monochrome longevity deter you from this Timeless Classic that will grow and grow as one of cinema’s finest examples of exemplary film making in an age where the art is sadly relinquishing it’s roots to Hollywood’s bank account.

* * * *

~ Happy Viewing ~

Oliver Hierschbiegel’s harrowing biopic, Downfall is the Blind Spot for May.

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