The Seven Samurai (1954)
((This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves. Kambei Shimada))
Based on the screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni, the story is set in the war-torn time of the 1500s of Japan when small villages were attack without warning and pillaged for the their goods. In this movie, one farming village has had enough, so they seek out seven Samurai to defend their land.
Despite the sometimes poor quality of the black and white film, you can see the influences this movie has had on other filmmakers in style and storytelling. Part of the fun of the movie is seeing these characters being recruited by one by one. (Ocean's 11 used this technique.)
The scale goes from being a character piece to a grand fight for the last 30-40 minutes. And it is an amazing fight, and you can see that Peter Jackson used this final battle as an influence for his siege battles in the Lord of the Rings movies. It is a brilliant battle of wits and numbers.
Akira Kurosawa was able to keep control over this cast and get a consistent performance out of his cast of players. They all bring in different but first-rate performances.
Takashi Shimura brought out a compelling performance as the lead Samurai and there is a sense of class and respect to his character. I really liked this character when he shaved his head and dressed as a monk to save a child's life from a theft.
Toshirô Mifune, as Kikuchiyo, is the drunken comic relief character that will make you laugh throughout the movie. Technically, he's not a Samurai, but by the end it doesn't matter. He does have a serious back story involving the Samurai.
And, the main subtext is the tension between the farmers and the Samurai. They don't trust each other. The film explores the classism between the farmers and the Samurai. They see the Samurai a threat as well but not as much as the bandits. They are the lesser of two evils.
However, we see that the farmers and the Samurai can put aside their differences and fight for the greater good and be successful. Part of the fun of the movie is watching the farmers and warriors change the village into fort and create an army out of the non-warriors.
I really enjoyed watching this film and comparing it to the American remake The Magnificent Seven. They are both great films about folks putting aside their bad history and working together for the greater good.
Note: I watched the original 203 minutes version with English subtitles.