The Seven Samurai
A personal favorite of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai was the most expensive film ever made in Japan at the time of its release in 1954. Toho, the production company, tried to make Kurosawa shoot the film in Tokyo in a controlled environment but he insisted on filming it in the countryside where he could create the look and feel of a 16th century rural community of peasant farmers. It took him over a year to finish the film with numerous setbacks along the way, such as a lack of horses for the action sequences and adverse weather conditions. But his striving for perfection paid off and Seven Samurai is considered one of the most important films in the history of cinema. Not only was it responsible for the postwar renaissance of the samurai film but its influence on other filmmakers like John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, 1960 ), George Lucas (Star Wars, 1977), and John Sayles (Battle Beyond the Stars, 1980) is undeniable. Comedian John Belushi even paid homage to the film in the "samurai deli" skits on Saturday Night Live featuring a character he modeled on Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai.
In terms of film technique, Seven Samurai is a model textbook on the innovative use of sound effects (whizzing arrows, the clump of horse hooves), music (a distinctive theme is used to introduce each central character or group), and montage (the final battle scene in the driving rain is a masterpiece). But more importantly, the film transcends the standard action film with its complex presentation of good and bad, heroes and cowards. In the end, the samurai are doomed to failure just like the aging gunfighters in the Westerns of John Ford (a major influence on Kurosawa's films). They are loners who have simply outlived their usefulness in a changing society. In a way, Kurosawa's ending is analogous to the wake of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when the samurai class in Japan was abolished.
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Producer: Sojiro Motoki
Screenplay: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Cinematography: Asakazu Nakai
Editor: Akira Kurosawa
Music: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Takashi Shimura (Kambai Shimada), Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei Katayama), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi Hayashida).
by Jeff Stafford