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DVDs I think you should own #9 – Seven Samurai


When your village is constant prey to a rampaging warlord who you gonna call? The Magnificent Seven right? Right? Perhaps Akira Kurosawa’s seminal 1954 samurai epic may never have been heard of in the western world if not for John Sturges’ (admittedly excellent) 1960 wild west remake but it’s earned its formidable reputation entirely on its own merit. When poor villagers set out to retain the services of swordsmen to protect them from a bandit gang who habitually pillage their village they meet a veteran samurai who has fallen on hard times and agrees to work for food. He ropes in another six of his fellow warriors for the apparent suicide mission and then they head to the village to prepare the population for the coming onslaught.

It’s an extraordinary piece of film, full of nostalgia for a bygone era and grief for the loss of a set of codes of honour that can never be recaptured. The samurai are in despair at the decline of their culture and the opportunity to serve new masters, even for the tiny fee of three meagre meals a day, is their chance to cling to the last vestiges of their samurai ways. Kurosawa doesn’t allow himself to be blinded by rose tinted views of the past though, choosing to explore some of the hypcrisies inherent in the samurai’s supposedly honourable way of life. Comic relief is provided in the form of the magical Toshiro Mifune who not only provides the laughs but also some of the film’s most touching moments as the rowdy farmer-come-warrior Kikuchiyo. He is also the mirror that Kurosawa uses to highlight the failings of the other samurai.

Masterpiece is not strong enough a word. On the basis of this film alone it is easy to see how Kurosawa attained his global reputation and influenced so many other film makers around the world, film makers such as George Lucas (famously taking inspiration from The Hidden Fortress for Star Wars) and Sergio Leone (his A Fistful Of Dollars is basically a straight remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo). His influence on Leone is plain to see with his tales of principled guns for hire, courage in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds and the value placed on fighting with your brain as much as your brawn.

Seven Samurai is not just the definitive samurai film, it’s an excellent introduction to a body of work by one of the greatest film makers to have ever lived. Granted, if you’ve seen The Magnificent Seven it won’t hold many surprises for you, but that is of little consequence as there is as much joy to be had by the subtlety and artistry of Kurosawa as there is in the story.

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