Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Samurai 7 (2004)

SAMURAI 7
DIRECTED BY: TOSHIFUMI TAKIZAWA
BASED ON THE ORIGINAL FILM BY: AKIRA KUROSAWA
TOTAL EPISODES: 26
OVERALL SCORE: 6.75/10


After years of having their rice harvest taken by bandits (ex-samurai warriors who have abandoned their ways), a local group of peasant farmers seek to hire a group of Samurais to protect their village. Gaining 7 such samurai, the farmers and the samurai, both of whom come from very different pasts, must find common ground if they wish to succeed in their task.

If you're going to take my all time favorite film remake it as an anime tv show, include mecha (giant robots controlled by humans) mythos, and throw in a modern spin on it, it's safe to say you're going to get my attention. Samurai 7 brings Kurosawa's classic tale to life in a new, and unique way. Utilizing its 26 episodes to build, analyze, and look deep into the characters, Samurai 7 creates an exciting world for the story to take place in. As well maintaining an opening as true to Kurosawa as any lover could imagine. There's a strong sense of loyalty to the original story (for a while - but more on that later).

Breathing new life into the characters, I was quickly thrust back into the world of Seven Samurai I love so much. The scenery, the tale of woe, and the harsh view of the world by such held down people. The opening episodes for Samurai 7 are easily among the most riveting of any anime show I've seen to date. The action is well incorporated, the characters, colorful, but not cheesy, and the story loyal and yet refreshingly original. Samurai 7 walks the thin line between episodic tale and single narrative. This gives each episode a sense of new life on a classic tale, while getting your blood pumping with some insanely creative action scenes.

As well Samurai 7 shows a great aptitude for fun characters. The early sequences are hilarious, off the cuff, and a stark reminder of Kurosawa's view on life and war. The new characters introduced for the anime show great depth, and the new take on the legendary seven samurai provides a nice insight for an alternate way of evaluating their lives up until that point. Continuing our journey the defending of the village remains strong its loyalty to Kurosawa's original story. Many of the same developments occur, and Takizawa perfectly adapts anime fighting style with the original plot points. At this point the anime had me completely sold. I was ready to dash out and buy my season copy, whale it a 9+ score, and cheer its name. Only one problem.... there were still 9 more episodes!?

To keep the original fans on their feet Samurai 7 throws in a rather strong curveball. Seeking to take Kurosawa's original story to the next level, the writers behind the series have created their own, far more world encompassing, side plot which comes into full fruition. As well to keep the original fans off their game, Samurai 7 kills off one of the seven during this battle sequence, in a manner far different from the original. This leaves them open to endless possibilities: who will they kill next? will they change who is killed? etc. So many possibilities. Unfortunately though the death of this figure becomes more of an allegory for the series than a catalyst for its characters.

From here Samurai 7 begins a fast descent into mediocrity. Undoing many of its character developments, and trying to force new character moves far from their established traits. It's at this point I felt the series getting away from me. As the characters become more distant, the plot becomes more enamored with itself, piling on one political conspiracy after another, until it begins to sink in its own mess. From here Samurai 7 is merely a shell of its former, wonderful, self. The action scenes feel forced, and uninspired. The characters' actions dull, and devoid of the beauty with which they had once shown. It's almost as if Takizawa and company have developed a resentment of their own creation (especially in dealing with the story of Katsushiro and Kirara).

It's not all bad though. Takizawa manages to save face with an epic final 3 episode long battle sequence that would get even the dead's blood pumping. But he's never quite able to tie it all down. Leaving much unanswered. As well Takizawa still wants to maintain that Kurosawa Seven Samurai ending. Unfortunately with his new plot came new complications to that ending, and it just never holds steady. Their ambition to go for more proved to be more than they could handle, and perhaps should have been where they aimed from the start of the series.

Samurai 7 is without a doubt a visual feast, and its action is near unmatched. Unfortunately though, the more it seeks to get away from the Kurosawa fable, the more obvious it becomes it needs it. Ultimately Samurai 7 is the best 17 episode series I've seen. I recommend watching that, turning it off, and just making up your own final 9.

3 better thoughts:

Alex said...

Aw, that's too bad the show takes such a downward turn towards the end- I was totally excited for it until you mentioned the last nine episodes! Maybe I will just watch the first part of the series, but I guess I should see The Seven Samurai first, huh?

Univarn said...

@Alex I really think it is a shame. I was incredibly into the series, and I felt like the final 9 just robbed me of it. So many different character relationships I was eager to see threw, and they just tore them all down (except one). I, of course being the big Seven Samurai fan I am, always recommend you watch it regardless of whether or not you see this series.

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