I watched Seven Samurai last night for the first time. It is, of course, masterfully done. The visuals are so rich and the story is so well-told.
We watched it on Hulu, where it’s part of the Criterion Collection. So after the feature they had a short documentary about the film, its inspirations, its impact on the genre, and its context in Japanese history. Although I had know that it was one of those “masterpiece films” that everybody talks about, I hadn’t realized that it came out only a few years after the end of the American Occupation and how that informed what was going on in the film. Kurosawa was not just making a brilliant genre picture, he was taking bits and pieces of samurai genre conventions and remixing them in a way that applied to the new reality of post-war, post-occupation Japan. There are no questions of loyalty to one’s lord in this story; the samurai are hired by the common people, collectively. While the samurai do display stereotypical traits drawn from the genre, they are each an individual. The end shows the villagers victorious, and the samurai as dying off, with no place in society. To say these things less than a decade after the Japanese militarists had used ideas of bushido to rally the people to greater sacrifice in a losing war was, and still is, powerful stuff.
I’ve been thinking along similar lines myself about this sword-and-sorcery fiction I’ve been writing. There are so many horrible genre conventions in sword-and-sorcery, from “might makes right” to issues of gender to legitimate authority deriving from birth. But I feel there is also power in the genre, and virtue can be found there. A world so big and vast that you will only ever scratch the surface of it, no matter how much you study; and yet, still being able to have an impact. The idea that your future is in your own hands. The idea that individual actions are the root of positive change. I’d like to remix sword-and-sorcery into something relevant for the 21st century, much like Kurosawa did for samurai film.
Anyway, yeah, a really great film. Got me thinking.