(1954) dir. Akira Kurosawa
After watching Rashômon (1950) just recently, I decided that I’d waited long enough to watch the some of the great films of cinema, hoping to see them initially in an idealized environment, on the big screen, with a nice clean print, rather than on DVD. I decided that I’d waited long enough to have these experiences.
Seven Samurai is one of those experiences. One of the most well-known “foreign” films in America, in the Western world, in which cinema is still dominated by America, not just by English language film. Also, being a film that has inspired so directly such other films as The Magnificent Seven (1960), and quite frankly so many big action films. Whereas Rashômon is still such an avant-garde and contemplative film, Seven Samurai is the template for the big action film.
Much like the Western in American cinema, the samurai film is a combination of archetypes and standards, social criticism and social history, and a landscape seemingly bared naked for the cinematic experience. I only recently have delved in any depth into this genre, starting this year with Kihachi Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom (1966) and Kill! (1968), recommended by a friend. Though not my first foray into the genre, this venture this year is my first real serious foray into it. It’s profound, fun, and completely engaging.
Seven Samurai‘s experience is profound. Though like much of the most influential cinema, it’s modern day profundity is only truly comprehensible in context. So many tropes, techniques, and characteristics are not only adopted, absorbed, infused, but just plain part of the language of cinema, the invisible language, the standards and traditions, the types of things that one wouldn’t notice at face value. Kurosawa’s innovations are more invisible to a modern, contemporary audience. Yet, this film is pretty fucking rock and roll still. It hold up. It holds up big time.
In my research, such as it is, that I do in preparation of writing here, I’ve found that in the post-WWII era in Japan of cinema, of samurai genre films, this film was still quite early and no doubt influential. Kurosawa is cinema.
I read many years ago, as I was getting re-inspired in film that Nicolas Ray was once analogized to being “cinema”. “Nicolas Ray is cinema”. Well, “Alfred Hitchcock is cinema”. “Akira Kurosawa is cinema”. There are indeed those auteurs from all over the world whose reputation is not simply well-earned, but pretty much a fucking fact. Kurosawa is a fact. Kurosawa is as important a director as there is. Like D.W. Griffith, like Emil Cohl. Like Buster Keaton or John Ford. Cinema would not be cinema in our contemporary understanding without Kurosawa, without Seven Samurai.
Art. Commerce. Hybrids. The 20th century. What history, long-term history, if such a thing comes to exist and to constrain and understand our own lifetimes, will think of him, to this day and age, his work stands its ground, his work has earned its place. And while open to political and social criticism that changes with period and knowledge, his achievements are absolutely obvious. No more so, no less so, than in Seven Samurai. A film not at all unlike The Magnificent Seven (1960) or The Great Escape (1963), the kind of cultural artifacts that are not yet artifacts, the kind of cultural artifacts that are still cultural activators, still cultural traits and truths, still something with great influence and potentiality in our world.
Pretty fucking rock.