Now Showing in The Man Cave #3: Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai (1954)
I recently wrote about my favorite film of all time, the 1953 George Stevens masterpiece, Shane. For this review, I’m going to tell you about the best film ever made. Confused? Allow me to explain.
Shane is my all-time favorite film. The story, the characters, the acting, the cinematography and everything else creates for me a wonderful cinematic experience. Not only that, Shane is a motion picture that was introduced to me as a child by my grandfather. I can still remember sitting in the den at my grandfather’s house, watching the film alongside him and my brother. When you add it all up, as far as I am concerned, nothing can compete with Shane.
With that said, I don’t believe Shane is the greatest film ever made. That honor, in my opinion, goes to Seven Samurai, a Japanese movie that was released a year later, in 1954.
I should note at this time that I am a fan of Japanese films, especially the older ones made by the legendary Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. And the motion picture profiled in this review, to me, epitomizes what filmmaking is all about.
The film is in black and white, and uses the 4:3 aspect ratio, so widescreen fans have to suffer with borders on the sides of their HDTVs. But make no mistake--this film is well worth it.
The story is set in 1587, an era known as the Warring States Period. The caste system is strong at this time in Japan’s history, and there is little if any legal recourse for those, like farmers, who reside at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The people of one small village have become the victims of a group of bandits. These bandits frequently steal most of the crops that the farmers produce, leaving barely enough behind for the farmers to survive on.
The farmers concur, out of desperation, that they either have to take action or accept their fate, which may mean death by starvation. The village elder agrees with those who no longer wish to stand by and do nothing, and recommends that the local dwellers hire Samurai to help them defeat the bandits.
The rest of the film portrays a detailed walk through the villagers' and the hired Samurai's adventures. With a length just shy of three and a half hours (don’t worry, there is an intermission), one might think the movie drags. It doesn’t. In fact, I’m always amazed by how the film draws the viewer in and, despite its length, never seems too long. I don’t believe the film wastes one frame. Yes, it’s that good.
Seven Samurai has an ample supply of violence, albeit 1950s style. Sorry, no squirting blood or blood of any kind, for that matter. Nevertheless, this film provides suspense, human emotion, philosophy, humor and even a bit of romance. The viewer becomes an observer of a past culture and the struggle of its inhabitants to survive.
If you are thinking that the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it probably does. The Magnificent Seven (1960) is essentially a Hollywood remake of Seven Samurai. With an all-star cast, The Magnificent Seven has become an American classic. But most critics agree that it pales in comparison to the film that started it all - Seven Samurai.
For those of you who may be wondering, yes, the film is in Japanese. But anyone not fluent in Japanese can rely on the excellent English subtitles.
The Blu-Ray version, like the DVD release, is part of the well known Criterion Collection. Anyone familiar with the Criterion Collection knows that Criterion releases provide spectacular picture and audio quality. Despite its age, this film looks wonderful.
Seven Samurai is, obviously, highly recommended.
Rob Geyer (Rob G) resides with his family (and hangs out in his Man Cave) in Syracuse, NY.