Seven Samurai

Year: 1954
Studio: Toho Company
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writer: Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hashimoto/Hideo Oguni
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

Warning; cineaste heresy ahead. Seven Samurai is a terrible movie. Please bear with me.

Yes, there might have been storytelling innovations and techniques audiences had never seen before. Yes, it might have contained a rebellious adherence to the American ideal of individualism versus fealty to institutions, traditions and class that were uniquely Eastern - embodied by the love story between one of the crusading samurai and the winsome village girl.

And most of all yes, to suggest anything that came from the directorial imagination of Akira Kurosawa wasn't unadulterated genius is like saying you're not particularly fond of sexual intercourse with an attractive partner.

Yes, you feel pressure to love it because George Lucas and Steven Spielberg do and if you grew up in the 70s loving their movies there must be something wrong with you if you can't see the same magic. Believe me, I wanted to love Seven Samurai as much as any film nerd should for all the above reasons.

And all of the above is why it's one of the most remade, reworked and referenced stories in the history of cinema, but let's talk about the bad points. First, it's a product very much of its time, and the pace is so stately – almost glacial – that any audience watching it today bought up on the filmmakers influenced by the MTV era will fight to stay awake.

Second is the character of Kikuchiyo, one of the titular squad who they only accept because he follows them so devotedly despite apparently being batshit crazy. Played right to the back of the theatre by the legendary Toshiro Mifune, he's supposed to be comic relief in his seeming derring-do insanity, but after ten minutes he'll just irritate the shit out of you, screaming every line of dialogue and overacting to a degree that gives 'ripe' new meaning (although that's a choice by Kurosawa based on a performance style that's again very much a stalwart of the period).

Another part of the movie that's talked about in hushed and reverent tones is the final battle staged in a teeming downpour and yes, you can appreciate what Kurosawa did in an academic sense. But just like the slow pan across a battlefield that so wowed audiences in DW Griffith's The Birth of a Nation back in 1915, what was a technical achievement back then doesn't hold much of a candle to the sights and sounds in movies we've seen since – many of which are homaging it.

It's a big problem when your film is so endlessly beloved and referred to in other stories. We saw it in the years following Star Wars with outer space monsters and adventure and again following Lord of the Rings with enormous otherworldy CGI armies clashing on battlefields. The original is never bested in one sense simply because it did it all first, but it's not hard to wait a while to see the same ideas done bigger, better and with more technical artistry because audiences, filmmaking styles and the technology moves on. Bwana Devil did something amazing by ushering in 3D, but does that make Avatar just a cheap knockoff of it?

So Seven Samurai might be original but in my case, the motifs of this story were introduced decades before I was born and using the tools and styles of the day, and when I finally saw it 63 years after it was released I'd seen it done better a hundred times.

So maybe I'm being unfair, maybe Seven Samurai isn't a bad movie. Maybe it's just too firmly rooted in the mid 1950s when it was made. But to be fair to myself, the most reliable gauge about your opinion of a movie is whether you simply enjoyed watching it. In my case, I spent the entire running time just enduring it because I know that as a movie buff I needed to be able to say I've seen it.

If you've seen either version of The Magnificent Seven , Battle Beyond the Stars or a dozen other imitators you know the story. A small village (planet, etc) of peaceful farmers has had it to the gills with being raided by a gang of cruel thieves who threaten their livelhood, so they turn to a wisened old ronin (a former samurai without a master) to help them hatch a plan to defend themselves.

He goes about recruiting enough fellow soldiers to mount a defence against the bandits, and they figure out the magic number should be seven. The two-part story is separated into assembling the Shogun-era Avengers (see another endlessly replayed theme that originated here?) and waging the war on the forty horsemen who'll be back to loot the village again soon.

That's the structure, and like the writers of subsequent remakes John Sayles (Battle Beyond the Stars) and William Roberts ( The Magnificent Seven ) understand, putting the samurai and villagers into a blender and seeing what romantic, dramatic and comic entangelements spill out onto the page keeps it all together.

You need to sacrifice three hours of your life to cross it off your list, but you can see the same concept done far better all over the place.

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