Favorite Films: The Seven Samurai (1954)

Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune in the Final Battle with the Brigands

From the first time I saw the film in college, I have regarded Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as the greatest action film ever made. It had one thing that action films rarely have: An amazing clarity so that you as the viewer knew exactly what was happening, where, and with whom. In Hollywood, action has become synonymous with CGI animation which actually has the opposite effect, blurring the actions and the outcomes and papering it over with loud noises.

The action of The Seven Samurai is simple enough: Seven ronin (i.e., masterless samurai) agree to serve as low-paid mercenaries to protect a village of farmers against a band of mounted brigands who periodically raid to steal as much of the harvest as they can. These brigands also have several guns, which were imported by Portuguese traders around the 16th and 17th centuries but disdained by the samurai. The samurai are outnumbered approximately forty to seven. In the end, the samurai and their villager auxiliaries slaughter the bandits, losing four of their men in the fight.

Although The Seven Samurai runs well over three hours, it seems only half that long. Kurosawa makes everything so crystal clear that we viewers almost feel as if we were part of the action. There are crude maps of the village, showing where the bandits are likely to attack; a symbol for each bandit, crossed out when he is killed; and the great acting of Takashi Shimura as the leader of the samurai, who patiently explains everything.

Over the years, I have seen the film over six times. I would be willing to see it six more times because I am not anywhere near through with it yet.