Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ was the East’s answer to an American Western

The fact that Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic features regularly on “Best Films Ever” lists might say more about the kind of people who vote in such polls than the movie itself. (Screengrab)
Updated 08 August 2018
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Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ was the East’s answer to an American Western

DUBAI: To the casual moviegoer, “Seven Samurai” can appear a daunting prospect. A three-and-a-half-hour, 60-year-old, black and white samurai story set in 16th-century feudal Japan – it seems to be the ultimate in film-buff nicheness. The fact that Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic features regularly on “Best Films Ever” lists might say more about the kind of people who vote in such polls than the movie itself.

Like the impenetrable later works of James Joyce, it seems probable that many copies of “Seven Samurai” remain unopened. I was certainly guilty as charged — my DVD copy lurked at the bottom of a “to watch” pile for almost a decade.

How wrong my preconceptions of pretension proved to be. More so than its much-touted technical triumphs, “Seven Samurai” first and foremost offers an easily digestible, audience-pleasing tale that gallops along with the pace of an epic adventure, driven by the force of a universal moral fable. This movie is long but never slow.

Besieged by bandits, desperate peasants entice hungry, out-of-work “ronin” samurai warriors to protect them, a gang led stoically by veteran actor Takashi Shimura. Filmed during a year-long harvest, and costing four times its initial budget, the film is more concerned with building unlikely, cross-caste relationships – among and between the outcasts and their suspicious hosts – than the redemptive, rain-and blood-soaked climax.

Much has been written of Kurosawa’s debt to – and influence on – the American Western. This film’s sincere mix of action, heroism, camaraderie and slapstick are certainly straight out of the playbook of director John Ford, Hollywood’s master of the genre. It also mirrors the clear moral dynamic found in early examples of the genre — the age-old battle of good versus evil — along with other elements such as a deep respect for the land and an affecting, affirmative sense of brotherhood. All of this is intertwined with a distinctly Eastern sense of hierarchy and honor, at a time when Japan was struggling to redefine both.

Six years after its release, “Seven Samurai” was successfully remade in Hollywood as “The Magnificent Seven” – the first of three Kurosawa pictures given the Hollywood Western treatment. The original was not only never bettered, it was destined never to be forgotten.


R&B star Alicia Keys to host 2019 Grammy Awards

Updated 16 January 2019
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R&B star Alicia Keys to host 2019 Grammy Awards

  • Alicia Keys will replace James Corden, British-late night comedian, who hosted two years in a row
  • Numerous female performers are contending for the awards this year

LOS ANGELES: American singer and songwriter Alicia Keys will host the Grammy Awards next month, she announced Tuesday, one year after the gala came under fire over diversity concerns.
Keys -- herself a 15-time Grammy winner -- will be the emcee for music's biggest night, which this year features a diverse slate of women and hip hop artists as leading contenders.
"I know what it feels like to be on that stage, and I know what it feels like to be proud of the work that you've put in and to be recognized for it," Keys said in a video posted on social media.
"I feel like it's the perfect opportunity for me to give the light back and lift people up -- especially all the young women that are nominated," she added.
"To me, it feels like sister vibes."
Keys replaces James Corden, the British-late night comedian who has hosted the awards the past two years.
Since releasing her blockbuster album "Songs in A Minor" in 2001, classically trained pianist Keys has sold more than 30 million records and become a successful film, television and Broadway producer.
Her appointment as Grammy host comes after the Recording Academy -- which organizes the event -- faced backlash that the show is consistently too male and too white.
Academy head Neil Portnow said in May he would step aside when his contract expires later this year, after he triggered outrage after saying women artists should "step up."
"A dynamic artist with the rare combination of groundbreaking talent and passion for her craft, Alicia Keys is the perfect choice as host for our show," Portnow said in a statement.
Rap superstar Kendrick Lamar is leading the Grammy pack with eight nominations, propelled mostly by his work on the "Black Panther" soundtrack.
Women performers also boast a heavy presence in top categories after being largely snubbed a year ago.
Rapper Cardi B, pop diva Lady Gaga and folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile all nabbed key nominations for the show, which will take place on February 10 in Los Angeles.