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SEVEN SAMURAI

Japan, 1954 (MIFF 1956, Programme 6)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

To a small village under the hills comes a party of brigands. They stare down, calculate what crops will be there in the Spring. and decide to return as they did last year, As they canter away, a terrified peasant rises out of the hedge to take back the news to the village. They cannot hope to survive another raid: and decide to hire Samurai, professionals fallen on bad days in these times of unrest &ndash: Japan's sixteenth century. The Emperor's palace is crumbling, princes war, Christianity and the gun make inroads on tradition. Such is the uneasy period to which the director has turned for a subject that becomes, in his hands, truly epical and completely fascinating.

The peasants find their Samurai &ndash: seven of them picked by an old warrior of superior virtue. The village is scared of them, but they set about making stockdes and arming the inhabitants. Life grows easier. The weeks pass. Spring comes. During the delay we learn to know the chosen seven intimately: the wily leader, the buffoon sprung from the people the impeccable swordsman, the acolyte; and the tension of impending attack grows intolerably. Relief, exultation, unbounded curiosity, fear are ours when at last, almost incredibly, the bandits appear, on horse &ndsh: back, horned, forty strong.

The film transmits in detail the to &ndash: and &ndsh: fro of battle, day by day, the ruses by which one after another of the bandits is separated and hacked down, the forest ambushes, the sallies into a misty morning, the heroes' deaths, the feigned breach, and the final annihilation of the bandits. So much bloody action would nauseate if it weren't that the whole narrative has been superbly seen, incident and pace varied, moments of quiet stretched to the full. Admiration increases as the battle takes its toll, and we are made to share the stoical pity of the wise leader, who at the end will walk away, leaving four dead companions in the earth and the peasants singing as they gather the last of the spring crop.

The leader us played with assurance and no less brilliant is the pantomime of the peasant Samurai whose uneasiness, larking and joy in battle are given such bodily expression. Character and conduct dominate, and these two men &ndash: the inerrable warrior saint and the popular hero &ndash: typify history. The Samurai caste was to maintain its tradition for a couple of centuries. The sanctification of the fighting man is deep rooted.

The film shows the director as a master of realism, and it succeeds in sustaining heroic, if terrifying, ideals.

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