Skip to main content

Don't mess with me. I may look like hell, but I'm a real samurai!

Seven Samurai
(1954)

(SPOILERS) Hugely influential classics such as Seven Samurai are so well covered and thoroughly examined, there’s scarcely anything left to say about them. That being the case, I may as well begin with a negative: those influenced, including those remaking the film in inevitably inferior fashion, have been well-advised not to imitate its running time. Really, good as the picture is, Akira Kurosawa had no business making it three and a half hours long. It isn’t that it drags horribly (it doesn’t), but it’s so studiously unhurried that the indulgences are extra-obvious, and, while I would never condone cutting a movie against its maker’s wishes, I can quite understand why the scissors were pulled out in this case.


Nevertheless, it’s quite easy to see why this was the director’s favourite of his films, and why it remains his most popularly acclaimed (all those votes on IMDB can’t be wrong; don’t tread the message boards if you too think it’s a little on the extended side, though –  although, the inadvisability of posting comments probably applies to any movie there, unless you’re a masochist). On the positive side, the luxurious running time affords us ample time to get to know not only each of the seven, albeit some better than others (none are mere faces, though), but also insights into the attitudes of the villagers they vowed to protect; often petty-minded and vindictive, they are borne into a caste system they have no option but to endure (in a particularly chilling scene, an elderly village woman forks a captured bandit to death in vengeance for the murder of her son).


Notably, the bandits are almost entirely indistinct, save for the sensible decision at the outset to save their plundering until post-harvest. As such, the picture could perhaps have more clearly established that the distinctions (or lack thereof) the villages make between bandits and samurai are partly based on the two intertwining (that many a disenfranchised ronin would turn to banditry to support himself), even given Kikuchiyo’s memorable outburst concerning samurai leaving him an orphan.


The most indelible of the seven is, of course, Kikuchiyo, thanks to Tohsiro Mifune’s gusto-driven performance as the wannabe samurai who repeatedly proves how at odds with the reserve and discipline of the warrior (Kikuchiyo is out of his gourd early on, and in an amusing introductory scene is unsuspectingly bashed on the head by Katsushiro; all the other candidates have been wise to his hiding in wait far in advance). Mifune said it was his favourite role, and it’s certainly a tour de force of unbridle energy, almost exhaustingly so.


It’s also interesting, given how influential this is, that the loudmouthed braggart who ends up as the most identifiably heroic character (if not the soundest of judgment) has been diluted in later incarnations. The latest would be Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven remake, but there’s never any doubt about his skillset. It’s Kickuchiyo who ploughs on after being shot, running the chief bandit through, but early on we keep expecting the character to be run off, or proved a coward; at very least, to continue as a permanent joke ("You're so special, I represented you by a triangle" he is told of a banner in which the samurai are signified by circles). Hollywood isn’t generally inclined to go quite so far off the straight and narrow, even when in full blown anti-hero mode.


Other highlight performances include Takshi Shimura’s leader Kambei, shining with moral rectitude and wisdom, but also a quiet sense of humour (also amusing is how diligently he marks off the progressive body count on his chart), and Seiji Miyaguchi’s ultra-serious-minded Kyuzo, who allows himself a rare smile, when no one else is looking, after the permanently bedazzled Katsushiro has effusively praised his amazing skills again (“You really are great, Kyuzo”). Then there’s Kato Daisuke’s perma-smiley Shichiroji. Isao Kimuro also makes an impression as Katsushiro, although that may be because he’s given the most screen time, even more than Mifune; his tentative romance does rather go on.


It’s an inoffensive plotline, what with his frolicking amongst the flowers with Shino (Keiko Tsushima), but begins to feel repetitive when her father (Kamatari Fujiwara) starts wailing on at her the for the umpteenth time. A lot of that is down to Fujiwara’s one note, extreme-pitched performance, though. The coda, in which Shino rejects Katushiro to celebrate planting crops with her fellow villagers, emphasises the lonely lives the samurai lead (albeit reinforcing their nobility) and that, as Kambei notes, “The victory belongs to the farmers, not us”.


The bandits rock up with about an hour to go, which gives some idea of the extended running time, and Kurosawa’s rain-drenched action remains highly impressive. Earlier, we’ve witnessed a masterful first taste of his skilled staging when Kambei takes down a thief who erupts from a hut in slow motion (Roger Ebert has suggested this sequence is the basis for the hero being introduced in a signature, self-contained subplot, such as Dirty Harry, and that’s easy to go with), but the sustained carnage is something else. It’s notable too how much the combined martialling of the villagers contributes to the victory; while this element has remained in later versions, the focus has been appreciably more on the role of the seven.


Admittedly, I’m not hugely au fait with Kurosawa’s oeuvre, a scandalous omission I keep itending to remedy, but it’s immediately obvious that George Lucas’ indebtedness in respect of Star Wars (notably co-opting C-3PO and R2-D2’s roles from the peasants in The Hidden Fortress) extends to Seven Samurai, which he has also cited as his favourite film. Name the protocol droid does this weary reflection, by a Seven Samurai villager, sounds like: “We were born to suffer. It’s our fate”?


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I'm Mary Poppins, y'all.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Most of the time, we’ll settle for a solid, satisfying sequel, even if we’re naturally going to be rooting for a superlative one. Filmmakers are currently so used to invoking the impossible standard of The Empire Strikes Back/The Wrath of Khan, of advancing character and situation, going darker and encountering sacrifice, that expectations are inevitably tempered. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is indebted to at least some of those sequel tropes, although it’s arguably no darker than its predecessor, if more invested in character development. Indeed, for a series far more rooted (grooted?) in gags than any other in the Marvel wheelhouse, it’s ironic that its characterisations thus far have been consistently more satisfyingly realised than in any of their other properties.

Perhaps the most significant aspect writer-director James Gunn is clearly struggling with here is how to keep things fresh knowing he’s developed an instantly satisfyin…

Courage is no match for an unfriendly shoe, Countess…

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Slice him where you like, a hellhound is always a hellhound.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.1: Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer
(aka The Silver Jug) Season Two of Jeeves and Wooster continues the high standard of the previous year’s last two episodes, appropriately since it takes after its literary precedent; Season One ended with a two-part adaptation of Right Ho, Jeeves, which PG Wodehouse followed four years later with The Code of the Woosters. Published in 1938, it was the third full-length outing for Bertie and his genius gentleman’s gentleman, and the first time Plum visited Totleigh Towers, home of imperious nerve specialist Sir Watykn Bassett. If I say “Spode”, and add “Eulalie”, its classic status in the canon will no doubt come flooding back to you.

Sir Watkyn has already graced our screens, of course, in the very first episode, adapting Bertram Wilberforce’s recollection from this very The Code of the Woosters of his policeman’s hat-stealing incident, and for the most part, like the season finale before it, Clive Exton recognises a good thing when he …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

You see, Mr. Bond, I always thought I liked animals. And then I discovered I liked killing people even more.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair."

Alien: Covenant (2017)
(SPOILERS) In tandem with the release of increasingly generic-looking promotional material for Alien: Covenant, a curious, almost-rehabilitation of its predecessor’s rocky legacy seemed to occur, as some of its many naysayers were given to observe, “Well, at least Prometheus was trying something different”. It seems Sir Ridders can’t win: damned if he breaks new ground, damned if he charts a familiar course. The result is a compromise, and boy, does Covenant feel burdened by that at times. Still, those worried it would renege on Prometheus can relax in at least one important regard: Covenant is at least as stupid in terms of character motivation. And, for this reviewer, in another respect: I liked it a lot, or rather, I liked a lot of it, despite myself.

Screenwriter John Logan persuaded Scott to follow the path of more trad-Alien antics, so it would be interesting to learn how different things might have been before that course reset (he told Scott “Look, I love…

Jeeves, you really are the specific dream rabbit.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.2: A Plan for Gussie  (aka The Bassetts’ Fancy Dress Ball)
The cow creamer business dispatched, the second part of this The Code of the Woosters adaptation preoccupies itself with further Gussie scrapes, and the continuing machinations of Stiffy. Fortunately, Spode is still about to make things extra unpleasant.

Sir Roderick delivers more of his winning policies (“the Right to be issued with a British bicycle and an honest, British-made umbrella”) and some remarkably plausible-sounding nonsense political soundbites (“Nothing stands between us and victory except our defeat!”, “Tomorrow is a new day; the future lies ahead!”) while Jeeves curtly dismisses Spode trying to tag him as one of the working masses. It’s in Spode’s ability to crush skulls that we’re interested, though, and it looks as if his powers have deserted him at the start.

Jeeves has given Gussie a pep-talk in how to get over his terror of Spode (“We don’t fear those we despise… fill one’s mind with scorn…