The most famous and highly praised Japanese film of a band of samurais protecting a village from bandits gave rise to an entire genre of films. ‘Schichinin no samurai’ is Kurosawa’s grand epic when he was at the height of his creative powers. For those who haven’t seen it, I can only say watch it and enjoy it. Then you’ll start to see from where many of your favorite action epics came from!
Seven Samurai was the first film to assemble a team to execute a mission. It led not only to its remake, The Magnificent Seven, but also The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, and innumerable other war and caper movies. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was remade as Fistful of Dollars, which led to the spaghetti Western. Roger Ebert explains how this and Hidden Fortress inspiring Star Wars essentially means Kurosawa gave employment to action heroes for the next 60 years till date.
The hero being introduced by his engaging in a brave act in a situation not related to the main plot. Each hero within the team getting his own introductory sequence establishing the character. These are plot devices copied by dozens of movies over the years. The use of deep focus camera technique to keep everyone in focus whether near or far. The movie runs well over three hours yet the intermission seems like an unwanted break – such is the power of the story-telling, so overwhelmingly Seven Samurai draws you in its world.
Contrast the tough, commanding presence of the lead, Takashi Shimura (Kambei) with his worn out, defeated, meaningless existence in Ikiru as Watanabe. Contrast the high-spirited, rambunctious, showoff Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo) with his restrained, awe-inspiring, imposing presence in Red Beard. This is acting of the highest caliber.
Those who do not understand why the bandits keep attacking the village repeatedly when it is clear that they are getting decimated fail to understand the Japanese cultural roots behind the movie. Japanese society forces cultural roles and obligations upon individuals and groups to the extent that they become masochistic.
Kurosawa’s meticulously perfected battle-scenes, extraordinary camera work, great editing – everything comes together to make this a highly enjoyable, rewarding cinematic experience.
Schindler’s List: It was more difficult for me to choose the runner up between Schindler’s List and Seven Samurai, than the winner. In the greater scheme of things, maybe Schindler’s List would rate higher. For example, if I were to choose between the two to select one movie that we should send to share with an alien civilization, it would be Schindler’s List. I would like to tell the aliens – “look folks, here is what we did back on earth. We hope you don’t do anything like this. But more importantly, we would also like you to know that there are people like Oskar Schindler back on earth, so we are not all evil. We’re all human beings and we try our best to make the good triumph.”
Saving Private Ryan: 30 minutes of the most terrifying war scene ever filmed start off this devastating tour de force of Steven Spielberg’s war drama. It is a comprehensive assault on the senses and leaves you breathless. Watch it on the big screen or watch it in a home theatre with Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. You will be transported to Omaha beach in Normandy during WWII. The rest of the movie is great but I still have to go beyond my study of the opening sequence that has overwhelmed me each time I see it.
Sholay: A noteworthy mention that was inspired by the runner-up says a lot. The perfect introduction for a Bollywood virgin. The most beloved and famous Bollywood movie ever made. A must-see for generations to come. Song and dance sequences where the plot continues and is not paused for their sake. The slickly-edited, impeccably filmed opening action sequence with the train and bandits on horses.
The use of silence. The swatting of a fly by the villain denoting the murder of a victim. Sharp characterizations.
The best villain unlike anything seen before in Bollywood. Dialogue that replaced school textbook lines in the minds of generations born decades afterwards. R. D. Burman’s memorable score. The massacre sequence with slow-motion, freeze frames, and the sound of a swing squeaking used to dramatic effect. Do watch the uncensored director’s cut for the true, more fulfilling climax – the censors have cut the heart out of the story in what is essentially a ‘revenge film’.