Akira Kurosawa, 1954
“The first time I saw Seven Samurai was my first day at college. You got IFC on dorm cable, and conveniently it was starting just as my folks finally left. I remember being immediately transfixed by Seiji Miyaguchi’s character, the stoic swordsman Kyuzo, who seemed to fill up my tiny 19-inch TV. Moving day fatigue, however, prevented me from making it even to the intermission, although I dreamed of being chased by horses through a muddy forest. I woke up just as the film was ending, cursing myself for falling asleep even while the final sight of those graves on the hill assured me I’d be watching Seven Samurai in its entirety very soon.
“I don’t have anything substantive to add to the miles of text written about Kurosawa’s film, except to agree that it is a perfect work of narrative art. Since that day, now almost exactly half my life ago, I’ve seen the film probably a dozen times. Whenever I watch it any insight I might have into its themes or style seems to be drowned out by a pure, specific recurring sensation (which of course entails another dumb anecdote). In Virginia it gets very hot and humid in the summer, with many days going by without rain or a break in the heat. When I was a little kid, if a brief storm happened by I would lie on our driveway in the rain to cool off and listen to the hissing steam rising off the pavement as it cracked. And so that Kurosawa rain, that slicing blanket of rain that incessantly pounds the final battle in Seven Samurai has always felt like a cleansing rain, almost a blessing of the combat. That’s probably not what Kurosawa intended but it has become an integral part of my love of the film.
“A few years after that first viewing, I lent my Criterion DVD to a good friend, at the time a brilliant but very cynical young man. When he returned it to me he left a note in the case, which now sits snugly inside my upgraded Blu-ray package. It reads:
Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’, featuring the magnificent Toshiro Mifune, is generally agreed to be the greatest film Japan ever produced. In many circles it is considered the greatest film ever made. By the closing shot it has conveyed these things:
Your talents exist to be exploited by lesser men.
Your friends will die.
You will not get the girl.
Your heroes will fall.
Rice is more important than you.
It took over a year to shoot. Its running time is a beefy 207 minutes. Perhaps that seems inefficient. But how long will it take you to learn these things?
~ Matt Lynch