Shichinin no samurai stands tall in the cinema landscape and is widely recognised to be Japanese director Akira Kurosawa‘s masterpiece. Made in 1954, the movie has been copied widely and the story retold so often that an unknowing viewer might find the original masterpiece stale! Shichinin no samurai is a kaleidoscope of many endearing stories from the ages, David vs Goliath, love in the middle of battle, the vagabond with a loyal heart, the silent master, the wise leader, the jovial warrior, to name a few. The story is simple, set in late 16th century, peasants from a village hire seven samurais to fight the bandits who threaten to rob them of their crop and daughters.
The story is told in no great hurry and so the movie runs a good 207 minutes (3 hours, 27 minutes) long. There is no heroism, no mind numbing sword fights, no over arching theme of valour and sacrifice. No, there is none of the melodrama which is often thrown in for good measure to hold your attention. In Shichinin no samurai, the characters vary from cowards to the cautiously brave. Very real, very human. Since the movie was made more than half a century ago, I was not expecting any technical wizadry. And thank God for that. The Black&White tones enhance the drama, keeping your focus dead center on the characters and the story, and not their clothes or whatever. A good part of the climax is relentless fighting between the peasants and samurai on one side and the bandits on the other. Again, very ordinary and very believable scenes. No one person is the hero. There is sludge, there are bows, arrows, spears, and muskets. There are horses. There is valour. There is loss and grief. And there is love. All thrown together into a heady mix, and yet each delineated.
I love movies that do a good job at fleshing out characters. And Shichinin no samurai is a winner in this. From the first samurai recruited to the seventh, they are each introduced in a setting that captures the essence of their individual characters. What surprises me is that not much time is spent on all of them, and yet one finds it easy to connect to each. Surely Kurosawa was a master of his craft!
I recommend Shichinin no samurai to anyone who wants to see not just an all time classic, but also one that is so great that some other great movies are mere retelling of it.