“So, I’ve started my samurai training”.
I said it casually in a phone conversation with my sister as we were catching up on what had been going on in our lives the last few months.
“You’ve WHAT” I heard her saying, before her speech turned into a loud, merciless and uncontrolled laughter. It was obvious that she’d never seen the samurai potential in her older sister.
To her defence I should add that once she had recovered, I got her full support and she even scorned me for even thinking twice before importing a badass exclusive sword from Japan at the cost of a computer. “Are you kidding me? Of course you need a proper sword! And don’t you dare go for the cheapest one!” (I have a wonderful sister.)
I’ll be honest with you, if it wasn’t for my newbie enthusiasm for iaido (Japanese swords art), Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai probably wouldn’t have been my first choice among all the movies that are at my disposal at home, at my library and at my local theatres.
A 3,5 hour long black and white movie from 1954 about some farmers fighting a bunch of bandits – how fun does it sound? Honestly. As far as I was concerned battle scenes in films were about as exciting as car chases and sex, which means not exciting at all, not for a long time at least. But with my new hobby, the word “samurai” in the title had a strong attraction on me and in combination with a vague sense of guilt for not having seen a single movie by someone who is considered “a classic” was enough to convince me to give it a shot.
Even if the movie would turn out to be a complete bore, I might at least get to see a few tricks in the sleeve of people who were far more skilled with their weapons than I ever could dream of becoming.
In the end I turned out to like it well enough, way more than I had imagined and I don’t think it was only thanks to the occasional sword handling (actually there was far less of it than I had hoped for, mostly they were using long sticks and spears, swords being too exclusive for an ordinary farmer to own).
Admittedly it took me a little while to get used to the style of acting, which draws to the melodramatic. When people cry, they do it loudly so to say and when they laugh and fool around they make faces as if they were playing for children. There are definitely some more subtle moments, but many times it makes me think a little of theatre actors trying to reach out to a big audience. But once I got into it, it didn’t bother me too much. Instead I started to enjoy the flow in the storytelling, so nice and smooth, giving plenty of room for every character and plot line to develop, and yet never feeling boring or slow. While the film was a little darkish at moments (it could be my copy that wasn’t the best), I was overall impressed by the cinematography. For something made in 1954 it felt strangely modern.
Star Trek kinship
But what really made Seven Samurai click for me was the leader of the pack, played by Takashi Shimura. He was like a black and white, Japanese speaking version of my all-time favourite captain of SS Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard. With the difference that he children didn’t make him uncomfortable.
And that young guy who wanted to prove himself, always feeling a little inferior to the other ones in the party, didn’t he remind me a little of Crusher? And that samurai who was a bit crazy and daring, didn’t he remind me a bit of Tom Paris?
There was also something Star Trekish in the way those superior, almost godlike samurai enter the world of the peasants, helping and educating them, but at the same time make sure to keep a certain distance, just like the Enterprise crew do when they meddle into the business of alien civilizations. (With the difference that they don’t need to take the Prime Directive into consideration). The outcome is bittersweet, like an episode from Voyager or Space:1999, if someone remember that series. Problem solved, but the mission needs to go on, even if you’d prefer to settle down. While the farmers will happily go on with their lives, the surviving amurai will have to continue, doomed to forever be on their way, never settling down, searching for something unknown. Or for honour, as Mr Wolf would have said.
All in all it was a totally enjoyable experience. If I hadn’t already been in the samurai business, I could very well have gotten inspired to check it out after watching this film. Even at the cost of the merciless laughter from my sister.
Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai, Akira Kurosawa, JA 1954) My rating: 4/5