director Akira Kurosawa
My venture into cinema with my kids has typically been quite a broad one, but seeking to expand it yet further, I set us up with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai for Friday night. I, myself, hadn’t seen it until five years ago, shamed-faced as I was to realize that. But Seven Samurai was actually only the 2nd film that we watched in a foreign language together, with me reading the subtitles to them so they wouldn’t have the challenge of keeping up, but would have the sound of the language in their ears. They were certainly open-minded about it. I had, however, forgotten that it was over 3 hours long, which has been more daunting (the length) than many other possible impediments to success with them.
When the intermission rolled around, both Clara and Felix groaned, “What! It’s only half-over?” Fair enough, fair enough. Epics are epics. They require endurance.
Being familiar with The Magnificent Seven (1960) and A Bug’s Life (1998) (oddly to a slightly lesser extent), I had talked to them about how this film was adapted into those two, and how many elements of the story, characterization, action and adventure had been pulled into many other films since. Felix has been particularly keen to see many of the films considered to be among the best ever made. Whether he is at the right age to appreciate them fully, or whether Clara is, might be somewhat questionable, but I also thought that having seen Seven Samurai now, at this age with me, it will be a part of his/her landscape of cinema going forward.
Queried at the end of the film, Felix said it was “okay”. Clara said she liked it. These are typical post-movie responses from the two of them, probable to be repeated time and again after many varied films we see together.
For me, it had been five years since I’d first seen it, and while much of it remained strong in my mind, oddly the fact of its epic length had been forgotten. Maybe that is a statement to how engaging the film is. Even at 3 hours plus, it doesn’t feel overlong. In fact, through much of it, the pacing seems apt and energetic. And really, the kids did not wane through the film. They made it all the way and were involved throughout.
It really has been the template of a great action/adventure film, from the build up of the characters to the inevitable battle sequence that finishes the story. Takashi Shimura is great as Kambei Shimada, the eldest, noble, first samurai enlisted to protect the farming village. I also particularly liked Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyūzō, the quiet, serious, deadly capable member of the team. And as always, the great Toshiro Mifune is great as the rambunctious, wily rebel, Kikuchiyo. There is much of class, not so much critique perhaps, but representation in what the ideals of the samurai are meant to be. Like the classics of the Western genre, which I so often consider in contrast with the Samurai film, such an early genre film tends to establish more of the tropes, traditions, effects, character types than to subvert them.
What I noticed this time that I hadn’t before was that each of the samurai that are slain in the film are felled by musket fire. None falls to the traditional weapons of the samurai, not swords, spears, arrows, knives, but each are brought down by essentially “cheap shots”. Set as it is in 1587, these weapons are rare and almost seem anachronistic. Throughout the siege, though, the samurai are keenly aware of the number of guns that the enemy has, with two of the weapons being uniquely captured by the daring of two of the samurai. It is the third, uncaptured gun that brings down the last two, even with Kikuchiyo surging forward, bullet wound in his gut, to slay the man with the firearm.
It’s an interesting point, with perhaps some interesting interpretations. I won’t overly hazard much here. But I will say that it struck me.
Great movie. Maybe I’ll give the kids a break next week.