Before screening it for this review, I hadn’t seen Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai since I was 17, at which time it bored me out of my mind — and that was the 160-minute version. This was the restored 206-minute print. Well, either the film got better in the intervening years, or my tastes have changed. I suspect the latter — partly because I can now better appreciate the 1954 film, in the wake of what has, over the years, increasingly passed for an action film. I’m not sure that Seven Samurai is quite the masterpiece it’s often called, but it’s both an intelligent epic and its action is superbly crafted.
The story of a band of Samurai hired to rid a small farming community of a horde of bandits is fairly basic. The characterizations are not. They aren’t always that deep, but Kurosawa is able to invest them with a sense of humanity, sometimes including very human contradictions.
The film develops at a leisurely pace, but once it arrives at the action scenes, it becomes remarkable, especially now. If you saw the jumbled-up edits of incomprehensible close-ups palmed off as action in Mission: Impossible III, you may be surprised to find coherently staged and shot action scenes here — scenes where spatial relations have some meaning. It’s the difference between a true filmmaker and a mere poser. See it and see how we’re being short-changed in modern film.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke