Thursday, May 11, 2006

"I can't kill a lot with one sword!"

... a quote from Kikuchiyo (foreground, right), responding to why he's stabbing half a dozen swords into an earthen mound. (note: must be a pre-edits shot because there are only 6 samurai, the original number, and Kambei still has his top-knot and they're standing in the villagers' barley field)

I'm completely enthralled with Seven Samurai. Released in black-and-white in 1954 by acclaimed director, Akira Kurosawa, it's an absolute marvel to watch. The story is engrossing; the cinematography is precise, each shot perfectly framed; the characters memorable and enjoyable. It's 3+ hours, but feels like days; it seems as though you're watching through the eyes of a villager as the story moves. And I do not mean that as a slight.

If you've read Stephen King's "Wolves of the Calla", the 5th book in the Dark Tower series, then you know the exact premise of this movie. No doubt King was inspired to retell it, in his own fashion: villagers, plagued by and completely in terror of bandits, decide to hire samurai (ronin, actually) to protect them. Pay for the samurai service? Three meals a day. Each is there for his own reasons, some drawn out and examined, others kept quiet.

I watched The Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa's 'comedy') last evening, and it was also wonderfully told, and quite funny. That movie heavily influenced Lucas' decision to portray Star Wars: A New Hope from the droids' perspective, as the Hidden Fortress is related from the view of two over-the-top greedy pissant peasants. Another novel storyline: two peasants are recruited, their greed as their bond, to help a disguised princess and her samurai general move 200 pieces of gold through enemy territory. You can see the distinct influence many of the shots in the movie had on Lucas, as well as the way in which C3-P0 and R2-D2 relate to one another in an eternal cycle of futile blame and complaint. Hell, even a lot of the setting of Tunisia was reminescent of where many of the scenes from THF were shot.

I think I'm done blabbing about things for now. I'm sitting here writing this, Seven Samurai paused as the final battle for the village is about to take place. Time to see how it ends, and how many of those swords Kikuchiyo gets to employ. ;-)

Okay, finished watching it, and had to watch it again. Doing so with commentary; a great addition to the content as the man is remarking on both historical context, character portrayal, divergences from typical Japanese films, pointing out stylistic variants and cinematic 'conceits'. Fucking brilliant. So much going on in each frame, I'm now taking the time (and paying attention to the commentator's cues) to watch the periphery of the frames. Incredible how much is happening all the time, all planned and put there by Kurosawa.


PG said...

I LOVED 7 Samurai... It was brillant... You can see why they were inspired in making the Magnificent Seven out of it.

That's one DVD I am always on the look out for during movie sales.


Wayward Mind said...

I got a 4-DVD boxed set of: Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro called "Four Samurai Classics". $94 Cdn "used" (but still in its original wrapping). Took a bit longer than I hoped to get it, but it was worth it. Criterion editions. Seven Samurai by itself was like $45.