Rice farmers hire a band of samurai to defend them against marauding bandits in Akira Kurosawa’s influential epic, a touchstone for action movies ever since.
Akira Kurosawa followed the breakthrough international acclaim for Rashomon (1950) and Ikiru (1952) with this three-and-a-half-hour jidaigeki (period drama) set during Japan’s turbulent 16th century. Strongly influenced by the poetic westerns of John Ford, Kurosawa’s story of farmers recruiting a motley troupe of samurai to help them fend off bandits in turn had a huge impact on subsequent westerns and action films – from Hollywood remake The Magnificent Seven (1961) onwards.
The early section’s gathering together of the diversely talented fighters is a trope in action movies to this day, while the restrained use of slow-motion in the frenzied final faceoff has since been abused to far less subtle ends. Kurosawa expertly sustains the suspense over a lengthy duration, instilling the story with an almost Shakespearian grandeur.
“So ambitious and successful in its ambition that it seems to embody the most exciting aspects of the cinematic medium: epic sweep, not of place but of classes, from samurai to peasant to bandit to outsider; stunning photography that recreates 16th-century Japan, from its beautiful heights (the flower-picking scene) to its muddy depths (the final, agonising battle); wonderful performances, not only by Mifune Toshirō as the intense outsider who yearns to be a samurai, but also by Shimura Takashi as the samurai’s canny, world-weary leader and the finefeatured Miyaguchi Seiji, whom I refer to as Cool Old Guy. And with a moving, indeed shattering finale that suggests the sorrow of war both on the personal and on the historical side.” Susan Napier
“My list is light on epics, in part because depth of character impresses me more than scope. But Kurosawa gives us both.” Peter Debruge
“Exciting and moving, its handling of characters and story makes it maybe the best film school that cinema has to offer.” Mårten Blomkvist
“When I was a kid, I watched an episode of the TV programme Movie Masterclass (1988), presented by Mamoun Hassan, that analysed this film’s framing, movement and editing, scene by scene. It blew my mind. Decades on, Kurosawa’s dynamism still leads the way.” Leigh Singer
“Because Kurosawa transcended action cinema even as he invented it. Because he made it rain and rain. And because of his gaggle of ohso- human heroes: Shimura, Inaba, Katō, Miyaguchi, Chiaki, Kimura – and Mifune Toshirō like a cat on a hotplate.” Ian Nathan
“Seven Samurai reminds us how moving pictures move. The whole film celebrates thrilling energy with compassion and empathy for the underprivileged.” Peggy Chiao
“The intricacy, ferocity and poignancy of Seven Samurai enable it to define a genre.” Katie Smith-Wong
“Kurosawa is Eisenstein’s principal heir and the genius of Japanese cinema.” Joan Mellen
“The eastern to top all westerns. Kurosawa’s absolute highlight and a film to be studied in terms of blending the exterior and the interior, the grand and the small, the there-and-then and the timeless.” Andrei Liimets
“Sixty-eight years after its release, Kurosawa’s masterpiece still defines everything that I want an action film to possess – a meaningful story with deep characterisations, beautiful shots and purposeful action, and a rhythm that immerses me in its every moment. There are very few action films that achieve this tapestry and Seven Samurai remains the best of them all.” Richard Propes
“Kurosawa’s samurai epic marked a peak in the influential Japanese filmmaker’s most critically appreciated period. Together with star Mifune Toshirō, theirs was a collaboration which produced 17 years of films that belong in any catalogue of the greatest films ever made.” Tambay Obenson
“Where would cinema be without Kurosawa Akira?” James Harrison