Seven Samurai (1954) | Movies to See Before You Die

Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai is probably the most famous work by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The name endures even among those who may not actually know anything about him. His movies still have considerable value with film schools and those who spend more than the average amount of time watching, reading about, and studying films. Rashomon and Yojimbo are two more famous titles in his filmography, but nothing has the instant recognition value of Seven Samurai.

So much so that Seven Samurai is kind of a stock answer to “What’s the greatest movie of all time?” Some people even see it as a low-hanging fruit. We’re talking about what is easily one of the most famous foreign films in the history of cinema. Saying Seven Samurai is your favorite movie, or one of your favorites, is like saying the best movie of all time is Citizen Kane. It’s a well-traveled opinion.

But honestly, who cares? I saw Seven Samurai for the first time at 14 because it was one of those movies everyone said everyone else should watch. If you love movies, there’s nothing wrong with starting there. I knew its basic story concerning a small, beaten down farming community and their desperate turning to a group of ronin samurai to protect them from bandits. I knew that story because it was still being told in countless examples of other media, from the classic western The Magnificent Seven to A Bug’s Life. I was aware of its regard but wouldn’t know more until I watched the movie and made up my own mind.

Seven Samurai should remind us that the films most often considered to be the best didn’t get there because a few people 50 or 60 years ago made the call. Movies as old as Seven Samurai are still in conversation because people are still watching them and discovering the beauty of the performances, the cinematography, the music, the costumes, the editing, and on and on. When I saw Seven Samurai, I knew I was watching a film many considered a masterpiece, but it still had to prove that to me on a mediocre VHS tape in 1999.

Which it did. Seven Samurai has an accessible, fascinating story of survival. Not just from the farmers who refuse to be destroyed by ravenous criminals, but from the seven ronin warriors who each find themselves brought to this story for a different reason. The film juggles all these perspectives, while building steadily on the promise that the bandits will return in one year’s time, with tightly constructed moments of drama or even light humor. It moves gently, but distinctly towards the moment in which the farmers and the samurai will fight for their future.

The pacing of the 207-minute Seven Samurai is flawless, and the movie never stops being cinematic entertainment with themes and deeper ideas that you can absorb, as well. If you want. The movie can be enjoyed at just surface value, too.

I’ve seen Seven Samurai a dozen or so times at this point. From perfect, electrifying performances by Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, and literally everyone else, to the fighting that takes place in torrential rain in the movie’s climax, and in the scenes in which we meet each samurai, this movie never gets olds. It’s still a wonderful, almost overwhelmingly enjoyable action epic with unforgettable characters and performances. Few films repeatedly earn their legendary status with me on the level Seven Samurai still functions at almost seventy years later.

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