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Seven Samurai: Art is a Lie that tells the Truth

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili has wondered in another post if Seven Samurai is Kurosawa’s Citizen Kane. In Vili’s estimation this would be not an indication of masterwork status, but an indication of an overblown valuation of what, for him, is a rather hollow work. While art’s value is always somewhat subjective, there is proportionality. Stimulus such as the Grand Canyon would be inappropriately described as “cute”. However, Vili’s criticism of Seven Samurai is not an inappropriate critique, but rather the flip-side of greatness: great reputation, hollow core. Is Seven Samurai famous for being famous? Why would it inspire an also-famous spaghetti western? Why does it show up on lists of “ten best” films of all time? Is it really famous for being famous, but hollow at the core?

    Looking at character development:

    One of Vili’s disconnects seems to be what he perceives of as a lack of character development. He finds the characters sketched in without depth, and Mifune’s performance as Kikuchiyo so “over-the-top” (yet, flat) as to be detrimental to the illusion of the film-it breaks continuity and draws attention to itself-something he points out as rarely being a good thing.

    For me, Seven Samurai achieves one of the very highest expressions possible in the cinematic arts. I always think that there is a little luck in these things-as well as artistry, and that genius takes advantage of advantages. In this case, Kurosawa had an incredibly beautiful man (Mifune) at his peak of physical and mental perfection, and most willing to please. Kurosawa dressed him scantily (thank you) and gave him free reign to bluster, crow, leap, monkey about, mumble, burble, growl, sulk, cry, rail, rant, and generally act up. Here’s where the luck comes in: Toshiro Mifune, that handsome, gentleman, really did want to please his director, Akira Kurosawa. Oh, it is so exquisite! And, the character, Kikuchiyo, while trying to “act” unconcerned, really does want-desperately wants the approval of the samurai. This is where art is a lie that tells the truth. The need for approval is real. It’s just the circumstances that are invented. This is where genius and luck intersect. Kurosawa used Mifune the man and Kikuchiyo the role to create a deep truth-the insecurity, need for approval, basically decent nature of the character are all Mifune’s characteristics. And, here’s the funniest part: Kikuchiyo is always “acting”. He is over-the-top because he is artificial in his reaction/interactions with the samurai who are his social superiors. he is a “poseur”. And as an actor, Mifune is acting (duh) but is also a “poseur”-he is a “radish actor” (equivalent to what we would call a “ham” and this is something he said himself, quoted in Prince) in other words, untrained and not a “professional”. Just as the real samurai are “professional” and the character Kikuchiyo is not, Mifune was an “amateur” actor. But, one with so much heart!!!! Just as the samurai indicate that Kikuchiyo is a true samurai at his death, the world embraced the spirit of Mifune! Is it a case of confusing the actor with his roles? I think rather, it is a case of appreciating a certain kind of exploitation that great art does so well.

    It’s a good little poke in the side to everyone who loves Mifune’s characterization in Seven Samurai, and a good conversation starter!

    Most of us in this forum have read everything available in English about Kurosawa and Mifune and Seven Samurai and listened to the commentary tracks on DVDs and watched the films themselves, repeatedly, and come to our own conclusions. I may be way off base, but everything I’ve read leads me to this place.

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    Jeremy

    While I’ll admit I have a man-crush for Mifune, and even that he is rather handsome, I see however, no need for his ass to consume an entire frame 😛

    Really, Coco, the parts about Kikuchiyo acting, is really great stuff. I can’t claim to of seen this way, but I wish I’ve had.

    In my long list of notes, regarding this movie, I write about Kikuchiyo, being like an excited child, playing “adult” or “samurai”. And while I wasnt sure where I was really meaning, your post gave it completion.

    Indeed, the over-the-top acting of Mifune, is not so much Mifune being over-the-top, as it is Kikuchiyo, playing pretend. A bit of acting, within the acting.

    I’m starting to just recap your words, and then quite poorly, so I just say: your comments are the best I’ve read regarding Mifune’s Kikuchiyo.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Aww, thanks, Jeremy. I remember you saying how sometimes you feel kind of “protective” about Kurosawa films in a way-how difficult it is to share your personal feeling or to imagine others feel the same…it’s almost annoying if other people also claim to feel strongly about the films you love…and I admit that I have had a major crush on Mifune for, well, it must be going on about six or seven years that it has been so intense, and feel like in some way he is “mine”.

    What do the Japanese call that, when you are divorced from reality and obsessed in a geeky kind of way with something? “Otaku”? Yeah, that’s me. And, just to let you know how bad it is: I slow mo and freeze frame the parts where he’s fishing…

    Even Mifune had a little anecdote about a woman standing up in an audience and yelling out something about his beautiful ass.

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    Jeremy

    Well, the random stranger on the internet talking about something I like, has sort of evaporated. We’ve conversed enough for me to realize anything that you mention, even if different from my views is worthy of my self-proclaimed valuable time and consideration. 😆

    Otaku has a similar idea as our “nerd” but instead carries a strong negative contention in Japanese; versus how Americans use nerd with no true hatred or negativity and to some point as complementarity.

    Although lately there has been a “neo-otaku” movement, were Japanese are trying to take away the negative of otaku, and bring it on level with the American “nerd”. Still, otaku is more insult then anything else.

    But, freeze framing parts…well, maybe 😉

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    Vili Maunula

    A nice title for a post, Coco! 🙂

    And indeed, Kikuchiyo is acting throughout most of the film. Actually, we do get glimpses of moments when he isn’t, usually after being humiliated or scolded, and at these moments he comes across as a very insecure individual.

    These moments are actually my personal favourites among Mifune’s performances in this film, and his ability to switch from over-the-top boasting to insecure sulking is simply incredible! No wonder it has been suggested that his acting skills form the centre of Kurosawa’s dynamism.

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