Here’s the short version: Superb, one of the greatest movies of all time.
Here’s the long version: This is a terrific film, and the version I saw at 3 hours, 26 minutes really shouldn’t have a single moment removed, in my opinion. It moved at a good pace, never faultered in maintaining dramatic tension, and uses its sparse dialogue to get to the heart of the matter straight away, with feeling like monologuing or exposition. Almost every scene lodges itself in your memory as distinct – a sure sign of a very well-put together movie.
Of the 7, I think maybe 3 of the samurai characters were a little underdeveloped, though not to the level of just being a blank. That leaves 4 distinct and interesting characters though, the leader Kambei, the master swordsman Kyuzo, the ‘fool’ Kikuchiyo, and the Apprentice Katsushiro.
Kurosawa picked his characters well. Kyuzo is one extreme of the samurai, the dedicated master who cares only for his art (though even this extreme has a human side…. we see him laugh as hard as anyone at Kikuchiyo’s antics on the horse, and smile sardonically as he wants to sleep and gets some hero worship from Katsushiro) and still as a rock, with Kikuchiyo at the other end – not too skilled, but brave, fearless, angry, emotional and funny, and scratching and twitching like a dog with a terrible flea infestation and a nervous disposition. Contrasting Kambei and his experience we get the Apprentice, who wants to learn and have glory, but lacking in any sort of knowledge about what needs to be done to actually fight the bandits or handle the villagers.
Like I say, the whole thing is a pleasure to watch, and there are a dozen+ standout scenes in the movie, but the personal standouts for me are:
- The intensity of Kambei when watching Kyuzo for the first time…you know this old experienced warrior is watching and appreciating a master at work
- Where the old farmer has lost the rice and gets scolded, and starts to pick up the rice thrown in anger, one grain at a time
- Kikuchiyo railing at the samurai about how the villagers are cowardly and murderous, but it is the samurai that made them that way
- Kikuchiyo sitting next to the bandit with the gun and bantering with him
- Kambei drawing arrows in the rain in the midst of battle
- The death of Kikuchiyo…he’s so lively it’s kind of stunning when he falls face-first into the dirt after getting the coward and lies so still. So Un-Hollywood, and so much more stunning and moving for it.