A film that has inspirted a generation
, 26 May 2013
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
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The short version
Four things you know to know
It is in black and white
It old made in 1954
It long (over 3 hours)
and it also has s Subtitles
This film was originally mades for release in a shorter length for the American market only 190 mins
This is still the best mixture of the western and an authentic samurai film, in which seven noble and skilled fighters (beautifully delineated) decide to defend a farming village against marauding bandits. Kurosawa orders the action in waves and the weather deteriorates (so you need to see the long version). Today, perhaps, the ending begs for a touch more irony (as villagers might turn on their heroes), but this set international standards for action cinema, the slow-mo grandeur of combat and the general infiltration of Japanese 'stoicism' into the age of tight-lipped Clint Eastwood heroes.
The longer version
Long before I was to experience the technical marvels of 3D, I was experiencing something much more cinematically powerful the percussive power of Akira Kurosawa's editing. The subtitles didn't even register. I sat in my parent's living room; 12 years old, transfixed and shell-shocked by the way the images had catapulted me into the rain-drenched violence. Cinema would never be the same again and in that moment I decided I wanted to become a film-maker.
Initially, however, I remember being quite resistant to my parent's suggestion of sitting down with them to watch a three-hour black and white film set in 16th century feudal Japan. I had no idea what a samurai was
and why was everyone going bald and wearing pyjamas? It wasn't until master swordsman Kyuzo settled a feud with a lethal swipe of his blade that I started to pay close attention
Seven Samurai, made in 1954, is perhaps Kurosawa's most famous film. It was a blockbuster in every sense, being the most expensive Japanese film ever made (after Kurosawa insisted on shooting everything on location) and running to almost four hours in length. It's a period film (or jidaigeki) conceived on an epic scale, pitting Takashi Shimura's wise, zen-like leader against the wildcat intensity of Toshiro Mifune's son-of-a-farmer samurai. Along with five other swords-for-hire (of mixed ability), they are employed by farmers to protect their village from raiding bandits. What follows is pure cinematic dynamite.
Also paying close attention to all of this was George Lucas, who would eventually combine the plots and characters from Seven Samurai with another Kurosawa adventure, Hidden Fortress, to make Star Wars. The first one (Episode IV: A New Hope) is essentially the first chapter of Seven Samurai, but with slightly fewer characters. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo and Chewbacca are ronin (masterless samurai), light-sabres are samurai swords (rather obvious, I guess) and the Force is a supernatural version of the Bushidõ samurai moral code. Lucas even borrows Kurosawa's favourite character theme of master and apprentice. When Obi-Wan Kenobi faces Darth Vader on the Death Star, light-sabres at the ready, Darth booms: 'When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.'
The lesson this taught me, when I later studied film-making at university, was that cinema is a fluid melting pot of ideas where every composition, every carefully timed edit, every line of dialogue is borrowed or remoulded from the long history of cinematic grammar, thrashed out over decades of genre mashups and cultural twists. And it's all there for the taking. What could be more reassuring to a young film-maker who has no idea of where to begin? Simply pillage from the films and stories that first inspired you to pick up a camera. Lucas did it to Kurosawa, and Kurosawa did it to Shakespeare and John Ford.
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