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A giant of cinema

Bibek Bhattacharya     October 2, 2008

The Seven Samurai (1954)
It’s the film that went on to be remade as The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen which in turn influenced the desi blockbuster Sholay in the late Seventies. One of the most influential films of all time, The Seven Samurai is often credited with spawning the modern action movie. It ostensibly tells the story of a village terrorised by bandits, which hires seven oddball, out-of-work samurai to save them. Kurosawa was a huge fan of the Hollywood Western and what he absorbed from John Ford films he distilled into a vigorous, action-packed, yet humane portrait of society.

So he raises issues of class—the samurai are a higher class than the villagers so they technically can’t be hired by the latter. And love—what if a samurai and a villager fell for each other? And, in the context of an action movie, there’s an immense amount of planning involved. Almost two-thirds of the movie is spent delving into the character of the samurai as well as the villagers. Each samurai gets his own grand entrance, a device later done to death in umpteen action flicks.

The star is Toshiro Mifune who excels as a big-hearted showboating samurai who acts before he thinks. You may recognise him from another much-mimicked Kurosawa classic, Rashomon. Great filmmakers and great actors often work in pairs—witness Ingmar Bergman and Max Von Sydow, Jean Luc Godard and Jean Paul Belmondo, or Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee. For Kurosawa and Mifune, The Seven Samurai was one of their highest points.

The Box Set
THE Seven Samurai (1954)
Throne Of Blood (1957)
Yojimbo (1961)
High and low (1963)
Red Beard (1965)
Price: Rs 1,800 (Each single DVD costs Rs 399)
Where to buy it: Available in most DVD stores or online at

Red Beard (1965)

Akahige or Red Beard is Kurosawa’s final collaboration with Mifune. Between them they’d made Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, Ikiru, The Hidden Fortress (a big influence on Star Wars), Yojimbo (a prototype for Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns), High and Low and Kurosawa’s brilliant take on Macbeth —The Throne of Blood. Mifune plays the eponymous Red Beard—a kind, humanitarian healer who runs a little clinic in a Japanese village. A young doctor arrives from the city with the hopes of making it big, disdaining both the villagers he’s supposed to cure and Red Beard, who’s a hard taskmaster. What follows is a measured look at the nature of care and what it means to really cure a person.

The story builds at a leisurely pace, while the young doctor gets to know the villagers and Red Beard slowly but surely instills in him the humanity and sacrifice necessary to be a physician. As is his won’t, Kurosawa spins many delightful little subplots about other characters, and gradually the grand narrative of the whole film comes into focus. Taking two years to film this difficult movie, Kurosawa fell out with Mifune, ending one of the greatest of cinematic partnerships. Kurosawa would go on to make classics like Ran and Kagemusha in his late period but none of them came close to matching the poetry of his earlier work with Mifune. A must watch.

A Kurosawa viewing list
The five films in this collection are a taster. If you want to go deeper into the art of this wonderful filmmaker, we recommend the following

On Kurosawa

• George Lucas: “Seven Samurai influenced me a lot in terms of understanding how cinema works and how to tell a very exciting story and still have it be very funny and very human.”
• Satyajit Ray: “The effect of (Rashomon) on me, personally, was electric. I saw it three times on consecutive days and wondered each time if there was another film anywhere which gave such sustained and dazzling proof of a director’s command over each aspect of filmmaking.”
Martin Scorsese: “The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits.”


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