The best movie ever was made in 1954 in black and white and, if you don’t speak Japanese, you have to watch it with subtitles.
I speak, of course, of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
I often joke that all a movie — or a book — needs to win my heart is a moral dilemma and a fight scene, and Seven Samurai certainly has both of those in spades. But the story does much more than that. It gives us the highest principles of Samurai culture while simultaneously showing us its flaws, and does the same thing with the peasant culture, which both we viewers and the Samurai are inclined to praise in a condescending way.
The final battle is brutal and vicious — as war always is — and while it has supreme acts of heroism — as war does, because even unlikely people rise to the occasion — you can’t come away from that last scene wanting to fight except when there is no other choice. And yet, you can’t help feeling that the farmers had no other choice — being in thrall to bandits is no kind of life — and that the seven ronin Samurai who helped them did a great thing by teaching the farmers how to protect themselves.
Of course, I happen to believe strongly that all people should — and can — know how to take care of themselves in a myriad of ways (I blog on this subject sporadically at Taking Care of Ourselves), so this movie speaks to my heart. But that’s just a sampling of the issues touched on in this great work.
I’m sure there’s much to be said about the cinematography, and I know that part of what makes this movie work is the way scenes were filmed, but I don’t know enough about filmmaking to comment on that properly. As a writer, I can tell you that the story was put together impeccably. Yes, it moves slowly, but it needs to move slowly to build to the powerful ending.
The Magnificent Seven — which ripped off Seven Samurai and yet managed to mangle the most important aspects of the plot — doesn’t even come close, despite having some fine acting. And I shudder to hear that there is a “remake” coming out this year.
Oh, please. Steal the plot if you want to — it’s a great plot — but don’t insult the master by using the name.
[adapted from one of my posts on Blending on Open Salon]