Seven Samurai02 Aug 2016
People have written about, talked about and discussed this film for 60 years. I’m hardly the man to add something brand new to the conversation. The whole I was watching this film, recently, though, the main thing on my mind were the silences and pauses in editing. Each shot, reaction, counter-balance and juxtaposition frame in this film is set up with plenty of space at both the beginning and end. This creates a meditative feel to the whole film. Not only is this editing present in contemplative, emotional moments (where we might expect it in other films), it is also present in the comedy and action scenes (where traditionally, film makers opt for less time and space).
This is one among many seemingly simple choices that Kurosawa makes that bring out the complexity of this film. Other choices include his frame selection, the placement of faces and characters to convey depth of field, blocking and photography, the acting (especially Toshiro Mifune) and the overall tone management from section to section.
The screening I attended, a 4-hour 35MM showing at the Metrograph in NYC, was introduced by Helen Dewitt, author of The Last Samurai (no relation to the film). In it, she emphasized Kurosawa’s interest in and questioning of traditional class and caste status in Japan. He spends much of the film probing the idea of who gets to be samurai or peasant and why. Kurosawa was, clearly, ahead of his time as a film-maker but also as a student of identity politics.