Not only has the director fashioned a movie that is filled with excitement, humor, love, fear, and sorrow, but he has also brought to the screen a vision of another age that has an entrancing feeling of authenticity. In fact, The Seven Samurai successfully conjures up both the distinctive values and appearance of a bygone era.
Unlike the overwhelming majority of movies which are set in another age, which tend to present the viewer with modern men living in quaint houses and wearing costumes which, though vaguely reminiscent of the garments of the era supposedly depicted, generally seem to be far more clean and glamorous than they ought to be, Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai is filled with dirty, rough individuals and squalid, dark hovels.
The viewer, having so been drawn from his own world and immersed in a distant time, is made to participate in the peasants' lives so that he experiences their anxieties about the welfare of their village and feels the fear they have for the samurai. He sees why the farmers regard their social betters as violent, exploitative bullies and understands why they need the samurai's help.
Kurosawa's approach is not, however, so simple as to focus only on a single group of persons. Even though he is involved with the peasants, the moviegoer is also able to sympathize with the samurai. He experiences their pride, their camaraderie, their bravery, and even their compassion for those they believe they are meant to protect. By so engaging with these two groups, the viewer is, moreover, made aware of the vast gulfs separating the common people from the nobility. When, for example, the youngest of the samurai hired to protect the village begins a relationship with a peasant girl, the viewer not only feels the love they share, but also a sense of hopelessness, for he knows their romance cannot end well.
Despite his attention to such detail, Kurosawa never allows the pacing of his film to become lethargic. He instead fills the movie with frequent action sequences, affecting incidents, and even with moments of humor. What is more, the comic touches the director includes actually work, which is not commonly the case in films focused on heroic events. Even though relatively few of the humorous sequences are truly hilarious, they do help to involve the viewer with the film's characters and so do enhance the movie's overall emotive impact. The irascible, fraudulent samurai Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), around whom most such scenes are centered, is, for instance, made thereby into one of the film's most attractive and fascinating characters. The viewer cannot but feel concern for the man.
This engagement with Kikuchiyo and the movie's other characters is not, however, achieved merely by the director's skill, but also by the excellent performances of every member of the film's cast. There is not an actor in The Seven Samurai who does not acquit himself well. Even those with the fewest lines are able to give their characters such a sense of veracity that the viewer feels a genuine concern for these persons whenever they are placed in danger or threatened with a cruel death. The extended action sequences with which the movie concludes are, consequently, evocative of both a rousing sense of heroism and an affecting sense of sorrow.
Thanks to such virtues, The Seven Samurai is a wonderfully exhilarating, genuinely touching film. I cannot say that it ever achieves greatness, but it is consistently enjoyable.
Review by Keith Allen
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