Seven Samurai – Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai - Akira Kurosawa Poster

You will want to see this for a few reasons.

1) This has the burden to be called a classic. Whatever that means today, its real importance is now undermined by much praise and little to no justification. The fact is Kurosawa invented most of our visual grammar today. I think the areas are numerous but they are spread throughout his films.

2) Grammar. And more specifically grammar of space. The battles at the end during the third act are dimensional, in line with Kurosawa’s famous philosophy of viewing planes (back, mid, and foreground). So pay attention at how the sequences are impeccably orchestrated. And ask yourself why would he go through all this trouble?

There is a specific sequence here which I’d like you to watch. It is right before the silent samurai gets shot. It goes like this:

I) Mifune and others motion from the right to the left of the frame to assail oncoming bandits

II) We cut to inside a cabin as a group of villagers watch the gang through a window. The camera pans from right to left and stops to a woman suddenly terrified and screaming

III) We cut to a group of bandits assailing these villagers and their leader looking out the same window as his gang enter on horse from the left of the frame

IV) We cut to outside and a battle ensues, our silent samurai gets shot, Mifune detects the shot came from the cabin and runs towards it

V) As he is about to enter (towards the right side of the frame), he gets sworded through the door

VI) But he gets back up and enters the cabin with the camera tracking through the same window, but this time outside. He walks menacingly towards the bandit and we see the terrified villagers sitting in line in the background

So understand how he uses this cabin as a center, for a sense of orientation, and also to convey as much information possible without resorting to new shots. And the thing also being the final battle scene in the film, it makes sense to set it up with villagers in a cabin, to include an audience for the scene, much like ourselves.

3) For an action movie, it is clean, without over-elaboration in the plot, and still long. How it could be this engaging, appear effortless, and invent vocabulary as it goes along, only a master could achieve. Someone who’s not concerned with celebrating, but with going and moving along, even after he’s saved us from lesser, mischievous, souls.

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Categories: Notes

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