There has been much said about this film. Many consider it a great film. Obviously, it was great enough to spawn a remake, several war stories, and the idea of the group protagonists assembled together on a single mission. It can be said it has even introduced the spaghetti western. Moreover, this film, and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, even gave inspiration to a young George Lucas to create his Star Wars saga. In that regard, it is most certainly a great film.
This film was released in 1954 and it might have been considered a great film – even a masterpiece – at the time, and I enjoyed the film for those reasons. The elements such as cinematography, sound, and music were great attributes and added to the film’s story and tone. However, the length of the film, at nearly three and a half hours (with an actual intermission), just appeared a little lengthy. It was a little tricky to navigate the long running time. During my first viewing, I had to stop about a quarter way through because of a reluctant interruption and it took a little wile to get back to continue the film. I was able to view a little more before I was interrupted again. Finally, I was able to sit down and view it in its entirety. I believe I was able to appreciate it more in that last viewing. Seven Samurai is more than a classic story of heroism and the underdog being triumphant over the forces of evil, it is a story of rich Japanese culture and tradition within the 1600’s, for which this film is set. The length here is the same reason why I thought The Magnificent Seven seemed a bit lengthy and “drag” in some places because some of those sequences of character and story development didn’t work quite as well for me in the Western remake.
The plot centers around a small farming village that is terrorized by bandits who take most of the food they have, barely leaving enough for the villagers to survive. The fearful villagers convene and there is some disagreement as to what the best course of action is. One thing is for sure that they are fed up with the way things are. It is later agreed that they hire samurai to help them fight the bandits. A small group of villagers go on a quest to find the samurai and ultimately hire seven. Of course the farmers have little to offer in the way of funds, so they repay the samurai by giving them rice and shelter until the village is free from the tyranny of the bandits. And during this time, it is not appropriate for farmers to be mixing with samurai (or vice versa). This is where social conventions come in play. This also leads to a subplot of the film where one of the local female villagers falls in love with one of the seven samurai. Eventually discovered, there is discussion about the situation and a common ground is met to appease the modern audience.
Questions arise during this heroic, social commentary. Why do the samurai take the job in the first place? What propels them to put their lives up for these farmers? The samurai are bound by honor and so to keep with societal obligations, they help stand with the farmers to fend off the bandits. The samurai begin training and preparing the locals to fight. The samurai lay out a strategic plan to battle these ruthless bandits and it is clearly seen the samurai and bandits persevere through each of the battles. However, the bandits soon realize the village is being well defended but continue their assault until the climactic showdown.
The film was beautifully crafted and has all of the elements to make a great film. The story and characters were there and it skillfully showed the life of the samurai and villagers and their place in the social caste system of the 17th Century. For some films, lengthy run times can be detrimental. But if masterfully done, it can add so much to a film as it did with Seven Samurai.