Friday, August 15, 2014

"The Seven Samurai" (1954)

(Source.)
I've wanted to see this for many years, ever since I found out that The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a western remake of it.  Over the years, I've seen this named on a lot of "greatest films" lists, "movie-lover must-watch" lists, etc, so I have to admit I came to it with high expectations.  But I was also half-expecting to be disappointed, since so often when a movie gets that much hype (::cough:: Citizen Kane ::cough::), I end up underwhelmed.

I'm happy to say that I did like The Seven Samurai.  However, I didn't like it nearly as well as The Magnificent Seven, and not just because one is about cowboys and the other isn't.

What surprised me the most about this is just how closely The Magnificent Seven follows it.  Not just the same basic story -- poor villagers being repeatedly pillaged by outlaws hire champions to defend them -- but down to how some characters were introduced and some of the characterizations.  Cowboy and I had a lot of fun pointing out the similarities to each other.  That might be what I enjoyed most about the movie, in fact.


Let's start with the characters and how they were similar to those magnificent gunfighters.  The main character, Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura), was awesome.  Brave, resourceful, not above resorting to trickery to save a hostage child... he was one cool cat.  He was quite a bit like Chris (Yul Brynner), only even more world-weary.  And he had hair.  Eventually.


My next favorite was Kyuzo (Sieji Miyaguchi), a master swordsman who had about six lines -- almost exactly like the nearly wordless Britt (James Coburn) who competes only with himself.  I really loved one scene where he just ran off into the night to singlehandedly capture some enemy firepower.  Comes back several scenes later, exhausted and triumphant.


Then there was the young kid, Katsushiro (Isao Kimura), out to prove himself and become a grown-up samurai.


And probably the most memorable character was Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), a clownish swordsman who pretends to be a samurai.  In The Magnificent Seven, those two characters got combined to become the humorous youngster, Chico (Horst Bucholz).  Kikuchiyo annoyed me at first, with his apelike antics and childish humor.  But later on I became kind of fond of him, like the samurai did, so that was a very effective bit of characterization.

Another of the samurai was introduced exactly the same way as Bernardo O'Reilly (Charles Bronson), chopping wood in exchange for a meal, quipping drily about his situation.  There was also one who was an old friend of Kambei's, just like Harry (Brad Dexter) is an old friend of Chris'.  And there was a cheerful, resourceful guy who was basically Kambei's second-in-command, like Vin (Steve McQueen).  Sadly, I had a hard time keeping those three apart, as I'm not familiar enough with Japanese actors or names to remember who these they were.

So.  Four very memorable characters and three I got all mixed up.  Considering this is a foreign film, entirely peopled with actors I've never seen before, that's quite good.

Only a handful of the villagers were at all interesting or had any development at all.  ("Yohei!  What's wrong with your face?")  But to be honest, as many times as I have seen The Magnificent Seven, I really can only pick out about six of the Mexican villagers as different characters, and I don't know most of their names (so I give them little nicknames, like "Traitor" and "Mr. Purple Shirt" and "Excitable Guy"), so that's not a big difference.

The bandits, though, were a big disappointment.  Even if I wasn't used to Calverra, Eli Wallach's charming rogue of a bandit leader, I would have been disappointed by them.  They're mostly just faceless baddies.

Um, yeah, this has kind of turned into a comparison between the two movies, not a straight review, but... my reactions to it are all tied up with the remake that I consider to be the finest western ever filmed.  Would I watch this again?  Maybe some day, but not over and over and over.  It starts slowly and gets saggy in places, though not enough that I ever got bored.

Is this a family-friendly movie?  Um.  The violence is non-gory.  There are a lot of scenes of guys wearing nothing but these loin cloth things, so you can see the sides of their butts.  And although it's not shown, it's made clear that one character sleeps with a village woman.

8 comments:

  1. Glad you finally got to see the movie! Back when I watched it, this was my first subtitled film, and it is the one that got me started in Asian cinema. Kikuchiyo and the other characters as your favorites, were my favorites too. I also had trouble trying to keep up with these other Samurai, although the more you watch Japanese movies/TV the easier it is to remember names and understand a few words without the subtitles.

    Even though I have not seen as many Akira Kurosawa movies as I would like, I do know that his other film, Yojimbo inspired A Fistful of Dollars. I have not seen Yojimbo yet, but I have heard that it is another one of his classics.

    You know, I just realized that I never posted my review of the movie. I have it written and everything, but I have just forgotten, haha.

    By the way, I take it that you were not the only one disappointed by the quote: "GREATEST FILM OF ALL-TIME!" (aka Citizen Kane). It is not a bad movie, but it is far from the classic that people like to think it is.

    -James

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    Replies
    1. I found a used copy for $4 like six months ago, and just never had time to watch it until now. (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ate up our Friday night movie-watching slot for months and put me so far behind.) I'm so glad you recommended I see it, as I can cross it off my movie bucket-list now, and feel more knowledgeable about film history, etc. I'd heard about Yojimbo before too, and maybe I'll find a copy of it someday too.

      And yeah... I can understand how Citizen Kane is important and seminal and historically significant with its camera angles that show ceilings and so on... but it's not really a very interesting or enjoyable film, to me. In fact, I thought RKO 281 was more interesting -- it's an HBO(?) movie about the making of Kane, and fascinating, though it's got a lot of unsavory stuff in it.

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  2. Hey, here are the links to my pirate posts. :)
    http://jandjproductions1809.blogspot.com/2014/08/top-10-fictional-pirates.html
    http://jandjproductions1809.blogspot.com/2014/08/space-pirate-captain-harlock-review.html

    -James

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    Replies
    1. Oh no! The blogathon is September 19, not August 19 :-o Obviously, I didn't make that clear enough -- I'll go try to make that more clear in case anyone else was confused too. Meanwhile... has anyone commented on your posts? Could you maybe pull the Top 10 List and hold it for September?

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    2. Oh.... Well.... This is not good. :/ It is too late to pull the post, but I will think of something else Pirate related to post on that day or update the list with some new additions.

      -James

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    3. Bummer :-( Well, how about you pull any mention of the blogathon from your current posts, and then think up something else for next month? I'll change what it says for you on the sign-up list, easy-peasy.

      Some suggestions:

      Top Ten Pirate Movies
      Top Ten Sword Fights in a Pirate Movie
      Top Ten Quotes from a Pirate Movie

      Or a movie review of one of these:

      The Princess Bride
      Muppet Treasure Island
      Treasure Planet
      Treasure Island (1950 -- the old Disney one)
      POTC 2, 3, or 4
      Captain Phillips (I never said it had to be old-fashioned pirates)
      Hook
      The Goonies
      Veggie Tales: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything

      Or... you could make a Lego pirate movie of your own. That would be very different! Use Lego minifigs to reenact a favorite moment of a pirate movie?

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    4. Got it. References to your Blogathon are now removed. A review for the Princess Bride is a great idea though. To think of it, I have an old draft of a review of the movie that I never posted, thanks for the idea!

      -James

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    5. Perfect! I'll put you down for that instead.

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