Thursday, September 4, 2008

SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa, 1954, Japan) Kurosawa’s allegory of class distinction amid feudal anarchy during Japan’s Sengoku era remains one of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. His innovative storytelling techniques and unique aggressive cinematography captures the frisson of conflict: both the writhing emotional turmoil of hopeless poverty and the katana slashing bloodletting of moral justification. With no laws or central government, a small commune of farmers is at the mercy or bandits, who raid them every year, killing their young men, raping their women, and stealing their crops. But they decide to fight back. How can a village of impoverished farmers, with nothing to offer but food, hire protectors to willingly risk their lives in a battle against well-organized bandits? Find hungry samurai. The farmer’s hire six Ronin who decide to help; though these masterless samurai don’t turn away the food, their rationale seems to be retribution for this perceived moral injustice. Maybe each hides a shameful secret and seeks cosmic exoneration for a good deed, especially at the risk of their lives. A seventh nameless warrior jokingly called Kikuchiyo, who plays the violent jester and offers slapstick relief, is a counterpoint to the other’s stoic and grim disposition. The samurai aren’t even welcome in the village they have sworn to protect: the farmers cower and hide; even disguising their daughters to look like young boys. True to their code, the samurais repress their disgust and humbly prepare the village’s defense and remain willing to fight to the death. Kurosawa structures this narrative is chronological order and slowly develops important characterizations: each farmer and samurai is described with a unique quality or attribute thus creating believable individuals. His compositions and choreographed movements within rioting crowds or during quick slashing duels explode with spring wound tension. The rain soaked apocalypse is violently beautiful: a ballet of blood, a dance of death, and the bandits slaughtered to the last man. Kikuchiyo proves himself a virtuous warrior but as the farmers begin the cycle of growth and rebirth once again, it’s the samurai who are spiritually defeated. They have become an anachronism, their time and need is past. (A+)

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