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Seven Samurai [RSC Film Club 20]


LimeGreenLegend

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LimeGreenLegend

This month the RSC Film Club is getting medieval on your *ss as we head back to the Middle Ages thanks to @Squirrel and @djw180.  The winning selection was my choice (it's not a fix, I swear!), Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  

The Seven Samurai (1954) Original R1967 Japanese B2 Movie Poster ...

This legendary epic (in all meanings of the term, this is almost three and a half hours long) tells the simple story of a small village constantly raided by bandits.  When the villagers are at their most desperate they decide to go out and try to hire some samurai to fight them off.  While the story is simple, the characters and their relationships are not, and thanks to the time we're given with them, and the excellent writing and performances, you grow to deeply care about these people and their fight.  While my personal favourite character is Kyūzō (Seiji Miyaguchi), the calm, stone-faced badass, the best performance is Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo, the loose cannon of the group with a tragic past.

I won't say anymore about the plot so as not to spoil it, but this film has it all, action, drama, suspense, comedy and tragedy, and is truly a masterpiece of film history.  This will also become the oldest film we have covered, being released in 1954 so beating Judgment at Nuremberg by 7 years.  It has stood the test of time, how will it fare against the RSC Film Club.

This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.

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djw180

A very good film but I do struggle to understand why it is rated as one of the very best ever by quite so many people. That is partly because of when it was made, and obviously being made in the 1950s it's hard not to seem dated. Also it being in Japanese causes a slight problem for me in that I struggle to follow the names of the characters, because they are all Japanese names I am not familiar with. So when I hear a character talking about another I don't hear the name I just hear a word I don't recognise because it's in language I don't understand any of. This makes it hard for me to follow the story sometimes. For example the scene where the first of the samurai is killed totally confused me and I didn't know who it was that had died. So I can understand it being so highly rated by people who know a lot about film and can judge it by the standards of other 50s films and / or also understand Japanese, but for me it isn't one of the greatest ever. That being said It wasn't as different to western films of that era as I thought it might be. The way many of the minor characters acted, to me over acted, seemed familiar from British and American films I can think of from the 50s. I also noticed the way scenes sometimes transition by sliding in from the right of the screen. The music seemed similar as well.

 

I assume most people know the basic plot. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of this transposed from Japan to South Western US and placed a couple of hundred years more recent. A poor farming village keeps getting raided by bandits. The authorities can't be bothered to help and the villagers don't have any money to hire guards. But times are hard even for warriors so they manage to get seven samurai to help who are simply paid by being fed and will protect them because they know it's the right thing to do. The samurai don't just turn up and fight, they show the villagers how they can fight too and with the tactical know-how of the samurai leader they fight off attack after attack until all the bandits are dead.

 

The lead actors where good. The fight scenes were very well made and not over-done like many modern action films are. I liked the mix of characters within the seven samurai, e.g. the honourable leader, the young man in awe of the him, the old friend, the comic-drunk who non-the-less sees this is a fight a samurai ought to take up, etc. I found it easy to empathise with the villagers and their plight and their desperation when it seemed they might not find any samurai willing to help.

 

There were are a couple of minor negatives for me. I find it hard to believe Japanese towns had quite so many samurai looking for work just casually strolling back and forth along the main the street. The bandits were remarkably stupid, their only tactic was to charge the village and they seemed not to realise the tactic of the defenders was to gradually reduce their strength by letting one or two bandits in at a time, who could then be overwhelmed, whilst keeping the rest out. You'd think at some point the bandits would realise they needed a change of plan! The few bandits who had guns seemed remarkably skilled marksmen as just about every time we heard a gun shot, someone was hit. These were muskets, they were not very accurate.

 

That brings me on to one final point, something I can't quite decided on 100% and in no way a criticism of the film or it's selection. But is it really a medieval film? In terms of the structure of society portrayed it is certainly Feudal. The peasant villagers have a feudal overlord, who neglects his duty to protect them. The samurai are similar to medieval European knights. But is it really medieval when they have muskets?

 

Anyway overall I'd give this 8/10

Edited by djw180
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