Friday, April 8, 2011

Links: Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai, as it should considering it is The Greatest Film of All-Time, has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  The praise started way back in 1956, when the film was known in the US as The Magnificent Seven and the Time reviewer acclaimed it (in a review second-billed to Marlon Brando and Machiko Kyo in Teahouse of the August Moon) with casual racism and more than a few transcription errors noting that

"Arms and the men have seldom been more stirringly sung than in this tale of bold emprise in old Nippon. In his latest film, Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon) has plucked the epic string. And though at times, in the usual Japanese fashion, some dismal flats and rather hysterical sharps can be heard, the lay of this Oriental minstrel has a martial thrum and fervor that should be readily understood even in those parts of the world that do not speak the story's language. Violence, as Kurosawa eloquently speaks it, is a universal language."

Bosley Crowther agreed in the Times, noting a particular film comparison that manages to be, as only Crowther could manage, understandable and completely, totally wrong.

"To give you a quick, capsule notion of the nature of this unusual film, let us say it bears cultural comparison with our own popular western "High Noon." That is to say, it is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action, film, wherein the qualities of human strength and weakness are discovered in a crisis taut with peril. And although the occurrence of this crisis is set in the sixteenth century in a village in Japan, it could be transposed without surrendering a basic element to the nineteenth century and a town on our own frontier."

Closer to our own time, Dave Kehr, in his capsule for the Chicago Reader, notes the film's much more complicated relationship to the Hollywood Western:

"Akira Kurosawa's best film is also his most Americanized, drawing on classical Hollywood conventions of genre (the western), characterization (ritual gestures used to distinguish the individuals within a group), and visual style (the horizon lines and exaggerated perspectives of John Ford). Of course, this 1954 film also returned something of what it borrowed, by laying the groundwork for the “professional” western (Rio Bravo, etc) that dominated the genre in the 50s and 60s."

Moving away from daily reviewers, Patrick Crogan at Senses of Cinema writes about the film, and notes that its pretty much impossible to do justice to its many virtues in a short space:

"Space is too short to do justice to all the complexities of the film's story, or to the amazing performances of Shimura, Mifune and many of the other cast members who were part of Kurosawa's troupe of trusted actors in the 1950s and 1960s (including Minoru Chiaki who plays the samurai Heihachi and Bokuzen Hidari whose face radiates the affects of peasant fear and powerlessness as Yohei). Furthermore, the film's stunning formal and stylistic features-the influential slow motion death scenes, the reinvigoration of silent cinema narrational techniques, the dynamic spatial compositions-have hardly been mentioned. If anything can be said about these here, it should be insisted that Kurosawa's formal experimentation and choices as director and editor are an integral part of the film's exploration of these themes of social conflict and group versus individual ethics. At the same time they maximise the film's brilliant portrayal of action and dramatic events in order to make the film as enjoyable and moving as possible."

Check out the video version of Crogan's essay as well:

No comments: