Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is remarkable for the way its director stages and choreographs action scenes that are thrilling and engaging while leaving space for meditation on the bloodshed taking place. Indeed, Kurosawa’s particular talent for sculpting kinetic battle sequences was never at odds with his humane view of the world. Even in his bloodiest films, including Rashomon, Kagemusha, Yojimbo, and Ran, there’s a definite sense of moral weight. In its fleet nearly three and a half hours, Seven Samurai manages to enrapture and delight and quicken the pulse with a story of peasant farmers who hire a band of misfit warriors to defend them against dangerous marauders—but it is also a moving tale of life and death. None of the killing on display is gratuitous, and the director never takes pleasure in watching his characters perish. There is, in fact, a lyrical beauty to the deeply felt conscientiousness of these groundbreaking action scenes. Kurosawa once said, “If it is necessary to show violence in a film, it is good to avoid ugliness.”
In the following clip, three renowned Kurosawa scholars—David Desser, Stephen Prince, and Donald Richie—discuss “one of the great poets of screen violence,” and describe how Seven Samurai moved away from the detachment of traditional Japanese cinema’s formalized representations of war and death.
Now watch a sequence from the astonishing, audacious final hour of Seven Samurai. With its quick-cutting, almost abstract climactic battle scenes, the film offered up a revolutionary type of action cinema, which has been imitated time and again since its release.