The Seven Samurai

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(1954, directed by Akira Kurosawa)

- inducted 2014 –

“Kurosawa is one of cinema's most renowned humanists because when his characters are given the opportunity to be their best selves they take it. Even people as seemingly cartoonishly inhuman as the gamblers who share the peasant's inn and are portrayed as cackling goblins, taking malignant delight in mocking the peasants when their mission of recruiting samurai seems the most hopeless are revealed as ultimately just wanting to help. Indeed their help is essential.

“Paradoxically it is only Kurosawa's willingness to indulge in misanthropy that his humanism has been able to last the ages. Kurosawa is hardly a Pollyanna. He does not make compassion look easy, or human beings always worthy of it. The peasants in The Seven Samurai are not the cheerful, innocent, proletariat beatifically awaiting their deliverance a la the farmers in say, The Magnficant Seven, to choose a completely random example. Kurosawa's peasants are petty, small minded, paranoid, conniving people. Whinging when they feel powerless, cruel and vindictive when they have the upper hand. When they form a mob it is as ugly as any other.

“We are all happy to help good people, but to just help the righteous is not an option that the world affords us, which is precisely why compassion takes real world strength. Imperfect folks helping imperfect folks is about as good as things get and Kurosawa paints that as more than adequate. It is their imperfection that makes the samurai's heroism admirable, as much as their willingness to take such meager pay for sacrificing their lives. That neither the samurai nor their clients are selfless is the very thing that gives meaning to their self sacrifice. Kurosawa understands what Scorsese termed in Rossellini as ‘The terror of compassion.’ The terrible damage one may do to oneself in reaching out to help someone who may be unworthy of help. And the equal dreadful necessity in doing so if one is to become something bearing some semblance to a decent human being.

“Before we read too much of the Bible for its prose, we ought to realize that The Seven Samurai is not a polemic, like Red Beard or Ikiru, but an adventure film, and one of the greatest ever made. Filled with heart stopping sequences of precision action filmmaking, characters who seem genuinely alive (Particularly of course Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura in career defining roles) and the kind of epic filmmaking on a human scale that only Kurosawa seemed capable of. There are not just scenes but entire sequences that remain etched in the film lover's brain once they are seen. The sheer desperation of the villagers upon discovering the theft of the rice they have to pay the samurai their meager wages, Shimura's introduction, the battle in the driving rain, the villager's treatment of the samurai's lone prisoner. Even if the film had none of the other virtues and moral weight that we talked about it would still be a true great.

“But the fact that is that The Seven Samurai does have all these virtues simultaneously. It is an adventure film AND a character study AND epic AND intimate AND an essay on how to live a moral life in a way that makes the segregation of our current cinematic landscape look petty indeed. Like all great cinema, The Seven Samurai makes the boundaries between genre and art cinema melt away and look utterly arbitrary. And that is what takes it from great to greatest.”

~ Bryce Wilson

Original title: Shichinin no samurai
Principal cast: Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Kato, Minuro Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, and Toshiro Mifune
Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa & Shinobu Hasimoto & Hideo Oguni
Produced by Sojiro Motoki
Director of photography: Asakazu Nakai
Production design by Takashi Matsuyama & So Matsuyama
Costume design by Kohei Ezaki, Mieko Yamaguchi
Film editing by Akira Kurosawa
Original music by Fumio Hayasaka
Makeup by Junjiro Yamada
Hair stylist: Midori Nakajo
Sound by Fumio Yanoguchi (sound recording), Masanao Uehara (sound assistant), Ichiro Minawa (sound effects editor)
Archery consultants: Shigeru Endo, Ienori Kaneko
Fencing consultant: Yoshio Sugino
Folklore researcher: Kohei Ezaki

Duration: 207 minutes
Languages: Japanese
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced by Toho Company
Released in USA by Columbia Pictures
Premiered in Japan on 26 April 1954
USA release date: July 1956

Awards and honors:
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 19 August 2001
- Venice Film Festival, 1954: Silver Lion (won)
- Venice Film Festival, 1954: Golden Lion (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1956: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black and White (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1956: Best Costume Design, Black and White (nominated)
- BAFTA Awards, 1956: Best Film From Any Source (nominated)
- BAFTA Awards, 1956: Best Foreign Actor, Toshiro Mifune (nominated)
- BAFTA Awards, 1956: Best Foreign Actor, Takashi Shimura (nominated)