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Online Film Club: 2009 kicks off with ‘Seven Samurai’

Seven SamuraiThe Akira Kurosawa Online Film Club starts 2009 with the mouth watering offering of Seven Samurai, perhaps Kurosawa’s most well known work.

The 1954 film, about a group of samurai coming together to protect a farmers’ village from bandits, was the most expensive Japanese film ever made at the time, and its production spanned for over a year. For Kurosawa, it was his first full foray into the jidaigeki (“period film”) genre, and his stated intention was to make a realistic historical film with a serious subject, but which would at the same time be entertaining to the audiences.

Seven Samurai has been influential in terms of both its technique and storytelling. It has also spawned a number of remakes, the best known of which is probably John Sturges’s 1960 western The Magnificent Seven. A science fiction reworking, Battle Beyond the Stars, was released in 1980, while the animated Japanese TV series Samurai 7 (2004) shifts the story of Kurosawa’s original into a futuristic steampunk setting.

Some other films on which Seven Samurai is said to have had relatively direct influence include Sholay (1975), Duel of the Seven Tigers (‘Liu he qian shou’, 1979), The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (‘I sette magnifici gladiatori’, 1983), Three Amigos (1986), Dune Warriors (1990), The Wild East (‘Dikiy vostok’, 1993), A Bug’s Life (1998) and China Gate (1998). One reason for the film’s seemingly widespread influence is that it was perhaps the first widely known film to use the narrative structure where a group of heroes is gathered together in order to accomplish a specific goal. Having said that, however, Seven Samurai‘s influence does go beyond the structure of its story, as many of the filming techniques that Kurosawa employs in the movie have also become a standard part of any contemporary film maker’s arsenal.

For background reading, there are the usual suspects. Do, however, pay special attention to Joan Mellen’s 2002 collection of essays on the movie, titled simply Seven Samurai and published by BFI Film Classics.

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