How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Saturday, October 22, 2005

'Seven Samurai'

It's been some time since I wrote two exam papers without making some major mistake. And so the mid-terms are going well so far. I just found time to write about this acclaimed Akira Kurosawa film which I saw over the last few days (in 4 sessions, since the film stretches to 3.25 hours).

Having watched Kurosawa's 'Rashomon' before, I had high expectations from this film. And besides, I had read so much about it. It has inspired the spaghetti Western genre in Hollywood and samurai movies in Japan, besides our very own 'Sholay' (to some extent) and 'China Gate'. This film remains one of a kind though, and I really enjoyed watching it.

This is not art-house cinema, though it can be viewed from the point of view of analyzing Kurosawa's cinematic devices, technique and expertise. It performs best as a story well told - the story of a Japanese village of the 16th century harassed no end by bandits who come down from the hills every now and then; the story of 7 brave, duty-bound and unemployed samurai who decide to defend the village and destroy the bandits, while taking as compensation only three meals a day and no monetary reward.

The story is developed at a leisurely pace - consider the fact that the first bandit encounter with the assembled samurai team does not occur until we are 2 hours into the film. But that doesn't make the film uninteresting. The abject poverty of the villagers, and yet the small treasures they have hidden away; the assembling of the samurai team, each one of a different disposition and having complementary skills; the tenuous relationship between the farmers and the samurai because of the farmers' earlier experiences with samurai; and other things give the viewer a glimpse into Japanese culture, values and social norms like no reference book can provide.

And then there are the fight scenes. Even in black-and-white, the scenes inspire awe (at the expertise with which they have been shot), a bit of revulsion (at the brutality with which the villagers kill isolated bandits), sadness (at the killing of a villager or a samurai). The final fight scene is especially brilliant, shot in pouring rain, with people fighting and running all over the place in mud and slush. The final dialogues between two of the three surviving samurai give another glimpse into Japanese culture: the villagers don't seem to want these heroes to remain in their village, as they get back to their work; and the leader of the samurai says: 'Again we're beaten. The real winners are those farmers, not us.' Duty-bound, the samurai must have walked away, as before.

The acting performances are brilliant, especially from the wise and battle-worn Takashi Shimura - the samurai leader, and the loud, bumbling and over-energetic Toshiro Mifune. It wouldn't be right to leave off writing about this film here, but I don't think I can comment meaningfully beyond this, so I'll stop here.


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