Seven Samurai

“The victory belongs to the peasants, not to us.”

The heroes in Akira Kurosawa’s landmark action film are battle-hardened warriors now roaming the countryside as rōnin — samurai without a master to call their own.

That’s part of the reason they come to fight to protect a village against the bandits plundering their crops.

But there’s something bigger at play for these men, who realize deep down in their souls, that most of them won’t survive the siege.

They fight because it’s the only path they know, and the only way they have left to live a life of honor.

 

Yojimbo

Have sword, will annihilate.

In the later Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns based on this Japanese samurai film, the human killing machine could do his work from a distance, thanks to the power of guns.

Here, Toshiro Mifune, one of the great bad-ass warriors in cinema history, has to get in close to let his blade do its full damage.

Slicing ‘n dicing, twirling ‘n whirling, his rōnin is a hack-happy avenging angel, out to wash the stench of evil warlords from the land. One body at a time.

Hugely influential, it continues to inspire action films to this day.

 

Ran

One legend adapting another.

Using Shakespeare’s King Lear as a jumping-off point, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, going full-tilt at age 75, delivers a film of staggering power and beauty.

His tale concerns a fading warlord who tries to split his wealth and power among his three sons, only to have everything go to Hell in a handbasket.

Instead of the unity he’s seeking to enforce, the old man — who rose to power through his own feats of brute strength — finds his kingdom destroyed by greed, violence, and destruction.

A haunting late-in-life masterpiece, this one roars with fire and passion.

 

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

“You’re like the wind, blowing over the land and passing on…”

Death hangs heavy over this classic Old West tale, which replaces samurai with gunslingers and knife-throwers.

The men who ride into immortality protecting farmers from bandits are rough, violent dudes of few words — warriors redeemed by one act of courage and sacrifice.

All seven of the “good guys,” from Steve McQueen down to Brad Dexter, have died in real life in the years since director John Sturges had them saddle up.

But, like the characters they played, they live on forever in the movie theaters of our minds.

 

Stray Dog

Throw ’em the curveball.

Acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, known for epic, battle-filled tales of samurai, chose a new path with this much-more intimate story of two cops walking a lonely beat.

The younger of the pair, played by Toshiro Mifune, loses his gun to a pickpocket, setting up a race against time to retrieve the weapon before it’s used in a series of crimes.

A gritty homage to the kind of film noir American directors had popularized, this sizzles and pops as our heroes swelter in a heat wave.

Proof old dogs, or revered directors, can learn new tricks.