One of the most popular movies in cinematic history, Seven Samurai, by Akira Kurosawa, changed the way I saw films.
It not only laid the groundwork for so many directors to follow, including Lucas and Spielberg to name a few, but it’s considered to be the father of modern action films, combining a plethora of new camera techniques and advancement in cinematography.
While the film boasts these qualities, they aren’t even the reasons for changing the way I saw filmmaking. After seeing it for yourself, it may even change your view as well.
I don’t want to give many spoilers, because I want you to watch the film for yourself. It’s a long one, clocking in at almost 3 ½ hours, but it’s worth it. The following points show why Seven Samurai changed the way I saw film.
Capturing the scale
One of the best things about Seven Samurai is the epic scale of the film. In many scenes Kurosawa used large crowds to capture an emotion and intensify it. Instead of using one person to break down and weep, he would use an entire village of people, capturing a stronger sense of emotion.
This film stands out because it uses scale not for its own sake, but because it helps tell the narrative. Kurosawa uses scale specifically to sharpen an idea.
If something needs to be catastrophic he uses a large amount of people to display catastrophe. If something needs to be isolated, he will have one individual express dismay while a crowd surrounds them unaffected.
In epic battles, he uses dozens of people at a time, again, capturing the feeling of the scale of the battle. It showed me how film can be the perfect medium to use scale to capture a feeling or an idea.
Capturing the movement
Movement is a big part of Kurosawa’s work. He is a master of it. During the film there is always some kind of purposeful movement. Whether it’s the characters, or the weather, or fire, or anything else. It allows for every shot to entertain the eye and make things visually interesting, even if it is a slower point in the plot.
But even more importantly, every bit of movement helps tell the story. In a lot of films motion isn’t utilised as much as it can be. But in Seven Samurai, motion is used very deliberately, usually in a naturalistic way.
Many films rely heavily on dialogue to get a message across. But this film shows just how much you can communicate an idea or feeling through motion without having to use words.
Capturing the contrast
This film is packed with moments of realism. The acting is usually over-dramatized though, with subtle performances woven throughout.
Seven Samurai plays largely on contrast in this sense, because there are many unrealistic moments in the film. The parts which do present more realism stand out even more, contrasting the other less realistic moments.
This movie taught me film is a great place for using contrast to highlight specific points in your narrative, allowing them to stand out. There are things you can do which make your movie feel flat. This sense of contrasting moments of realism is unique to this film, I haven’t seen this element used in any other film.
Overall, the biggest take away from the film was how important it is to make everything purposeful, and use everything you have to it’s fullest potential. The elements I listed above are the elements which stood out the most to me. Kurosawa pulled as much as he could from each element.
This film shows what filmmaking is all about. Using scale, movement, and contrast to their greatest potential, that’s how you tell the story. If you wanted to know how to make movies, this is how!