Seven Samurai (1954)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenwriters: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Stars: Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Kato, Minoru Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, Toshiro Mifune
Seven Samurai is widely considered to be one of the most important and expertly made films ever made, in any country. Directed, edited, and co-written by Akira Kurosawa in 1954, it's a violent, epic (clocking in at over three hours long) tale of vengeance and honor. Sounds like a description applicable to any martial arts-themed flick, no? Indeed, except that all others examples of the genre wish they were Seven Samurai.
Seven samurai are hired by the residents of a poor and beaten-down village for protection against bands of criminals during the late 1500s. With a plot as simple as that, Seven Samurai could've easily progressed on cruise control and preceded the story-less monotony and mindless brawn of The Expendables by 56 years. Kurosawa didn't get down like that, though. In his gem, the characters are all well-drawn, the performances hit their marks, and, not surprisingly, the action sequences are massive and seamlessly executed.
And about that "simple" plot: Seven Samurai is credited as being the first movie in which a group of experts are assembled for a common cause, a narrative device that's since been rehashed to death. The multi-hero plot trope is so common nowadays that it's actually difficult to accept that there was a "first" of its kind. Even movies without a single moment of swordplay have bit Kurosawa's style—think of Ocean's Eleven and its sequels. —MB