Seven Samurai (1954)
Quite the change of pace, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai harnessed the action genre like no-one in 1954 had before. By alternating between multiple cameras, and casting Toshiro Mifune as the comical seventh samurai, the pacing is fresh, rapid, and involving—despite the 207-minute runtime. As the largest Japanese production of its day, Kurosawa was able to exploit vast custom built sets (like a purpose-built island village), and had access to a wealth of equipment with which to innovate. And innovate he did—Seven Samurai is the faraway source of a great many of the staples of today's action movies.
Breathtaking, fastmoving, and overflowing with a delightfully self-mocking sense of humor, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is one of the most popular and influential Japanese films […] Kurosawa adds a special flavor to the proceedings that sets them apart from any action film ever made. For the story of Seven Samurai isn’t one of simple Good versus Evil, as we learn when we’re told that these villagers have, in the past, preyed on the very class of samurai they’re now asking for help. And why are these samurai helping them, for virtually no pay, and with only a few handfuls of rice for food? Why, for the adventure of it all, of course. These men have seen many battles, but only in this one will they be truly able to test themselves. There’s no reward, and the odds against their winning are a good one hundred to one—and that’s exactly why they want to stay and fight. For these seasoned warriors long to experience that very personal sense of “honor” so prized by the Japanese.David Ehrenstein, 1999, Criterion
The movie is long, with an intermission, and yet it moves quickly because the storytelling is so clear, there are so many sharply defined characters, and the action scenes have a thrilling sweep.Roger Ebert, 2001, Chicago Sun Times