#20: Seven Samurai (1954)

When and how did I watch this?

May 1st and 2nd, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

This is the highest ranking foreign film on the IMDb Top 250, and naturally the highest ranking Kurosawa film, who I now regard as the greatest non-American movie director. I knew this movie was long, and that it was going to be violent — kind of a hallmark of the films at this point.

What do I know about it now?

I think I’m more disappointed with myself more so than I am with the film.  I’ve seen several 3+ hour films on this list, and usually they move along quickly and arrest my attention from cover to cover.  Take Fanny and Alexander, a rich and colorful film wrought with quirky characters and engaging subplots, all the while following the plight of the children in these strange circumstances.  At over five hours long, one can get lost — both immersed and occasionally confused — in the environment, but the film feels like it moves along at the pace of life, an intriguing achievement for a film. Seven Samurai is not as long, but it felt doubly so, and perhaps it’s because I missed something, or everything. Before writing my brief summary, I took a peek at Roger Ebert’s review of the film.  I respect Ebert because his take on films usually resonates with mine, and he writes with an enviable clarity and depth. He lauded the film as a remarkably entertaining and informative film: entertaining because of its innovative use of camerawork and interesting characters (the latter didn’t escape my attention), and informative because of its employment of ancient cultural nuances, and then its shattering of such through a couple of the samurai. Instead, for myself (and a couple of other viewers with me), the film felt long and boring.  The setup was laborious, stretched out; eventually I grew tired of the whining villagers, and the lack of action — I mean, we’re talking about Japanese sword-wielding ronin here.  I wasn’t engaged.  The inevitable result was missing out on the fine details of this masterful achievement, and perhaps it’s my lack of a trained eye to blame.  However, here we are in the top 20, and obviously not everyone is an expert, yet people have consistently voted this one high. To the film’s credit, the fight/battle choreography is unparalleled. I admit that the final hour was some of the most breathtaking collection of scenes in film, topped off with a haunting image in the final shot, but to me that isn’t enough to qualify its ranking.  So, again, I probably missed something, and it’s likely I need to check it out again.

What are some themes in the film?

Revenge, pride, fear, the caste system, honor, integrity, Japanese culture

Did this affect me personally?

It’s an unforgettable film overall.  Much of it is a reminder of the value of bravery and cooperation, along with the importance of perservering despite loss.  A challenging scene encapsulating all of this involves a samurai who sees his long-kidnapped wife in a bandit camp, and what occurs thereafter is both remarkable and tragic.

Why is this ranked #20?

It’s a huge cinematic achievement, and, according to Ebert, a landmark genre-establishing film that echoes through the rest of the century. On a raw level, it has action and swordplay and samurai, falling under the “cool violence” category.  As one might imagine, the good guys win, which makes us all sort of feel better. Finally, we’re talking about the beloved Kurosawa here.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She found it unbearably boring and tiresome.  I attempted to convince her that some of it was redeeming, but she strongly disagrees.

Would I watch it again?

Yes — I need to.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Sure!  In fact, I’d like a friend to suggest a rewatch along with me.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

By reputation, it’s supposed to be one of the all-time greats.  While it didn’t resonate with me personally, I refuse to disregard it as a legendary film.  I admire Kurosawa’s work, and after this list is through, I’m willing to check out more of his films.  Meanwhile, Seven Samurai will remain an enigma until I revisit it.

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