Supreme’s latest drop saw the New York brand team with Japan’s UNDERCOVER once again, delivering yet another strong collab-heavy collection. One standout was the Seven Samurai-emblazoned T-shirt, arriving in both white and black colorways. One thing we know from Supreme is that no pop culture reference is off limits, but what makes this shirt so great (besides being a glorified Bogo with a samurai film still overlaid on) is that the film is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
Released in 1954 and directed by one of the film greats – and Japan’s best director – Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai is known as (one of) his pièce de résistance. As epic as its title suggests, the film was groundbreaking both in its storytelling and in its technical innovation. It tells the story of seven rōnin (masterless samurai) who come together in order to protect a small farming community that is being terrorized by local bandits. Set in 1586 during Japan’s Warring States Period, the film is a historical action-drama.
If that wasn’t enough to get you racing for a stream, here are seven reasons why you need to see Seven Samurai (in case you haven’t already).
Because it’s one of the most epic Japanese films ever made
In 1954, Seven Samurai was the most expensive Japanese film made to date. Coming in at 125 million yen budget (around 500,000 USD), the shoot itself was an epic one. It started with Kurosawa taking his two lead scriptwriters on a 45-day-long writing retreat and months of pre-production which led to a 148-day shoot, which was spread out over a year, with Toho Studios shutting down production twice for going over-budget.
Kurosawa’s dedication to on-location shooting and refusal to shoot in Toho Studios drove the budget up and producers mad, but paid off in the film, adding realism in both actors’ portrayals and in the mise-en-scene. Kurosawa recounted the intense labor of making the film, saying “It rained all the time, we didn’t have enough horses. It was just the kind of picture that is impossible to make in this country.” Yet make it they did, and the final product is nothing short of breathless.
Because it’s UNDERCOVER designer Jun Takahashi’s favorite film
Why does the film feature emblazoned across white and black T-shirts in the Supreme x UNDERCOVER collab? Because it’s Jun Takahashi’s favorite film, of course. The designer made the fact public with a short post on Hiroshi Fujiwara’s site Ring of Colour, stating “No wonder how often I watch this magnificent film, I still find it deeply moving.”
Because it’s one of the most remade/referenced movies in cinema history
Besides being directly remade as the Western classic The Magnificent Seven in 1960 (of which there is a modern remake coming to cinemas this week, no less) the premise of Seven Samurai has become the archetype for so many action movies since it’s debut. A basic plot which involves a group of heroes who are gathered and recruited in order to accomplish a set goal might not sound like something new, but it all comes back to this movie.
Another plot device – in which the main hero is introduced to the audience via a dangerous opening sequence, unrelated to the main plot – is believed to have originated from the film, speculated critic Roger Ebert. Another critical examination suggests that it’s one of the most “remade, reworked, referenced” films in cinema history.
Because Kurosawa’s visual style is like no other (except for the directors who’ve since been inspired by him)
Besides being an adept director and co-writer of his movies, Kurosawa was a highly skilled editor who cut most of his own films. Various members of his crew have sung his praises, including Hiroshi Nezu, a long-running production supervisor on his films, who claimed that he was the studio’s “best director… Japan’s best scenarist, and that he is the best editor in the world.” He saw the editing process as the most important part of creating a film, with his focus being on the “flowing quality which a film must have.”
Beyond editing, Kurosawa’s use of movement is heavily praised. From everything including the weather to groups of people, camera tracking and always cutting on characters’ movements, his films are dynamic and arresting, even by today’s standards. He also pioneered the use of multiple camera setups when filming action sequences, in order to ensure he always got the shot. This has become a standard in today’s filming landscape.
Because Kurosawa is your favorite director’s favorite director
Akira Kurosawa is a true filmmaker’s director. By being innovative both technically and in his storytelling, he helped push cinema to new heights. It’s little surprise then that any director worth their salt counts him as one of the true greats – from Bergman, Fellini, Tarkovsky and Herzog, to Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas and Coppola. It’s almost redundant to discuss this point further, however it’s Coppola who said it best: “One thing that distinguishes [him] is that he didn’t make one masterpiece or two masterpieces. He made, you know, eight masterpieces.”
Because lead actor Toshiro Mifune is the original action-hero
Actor Toshiro Mifune is known for his epic 16-strong run of films with Kurosawa, and in some ways he became the face of the director’s brand of cinema. Their partnership spanned across Kurosawa greats including Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Rashomon and more.
While often portraying the role of a samurai – he later acted in Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy and the TV miniseries Shōgun, based on James Clavell’s book – Mifune was an actor with wide range, and at the time Japan’s most famous, especially to foreign audiences. His unique brand of humor, ruggedness, and varied range make him a standout, and certainly one of the first multi-dimensional action heroes.
Because it’s consistently one of the greatest films of all time
Kurosawa knew the film was something big while he was making it. When production was stopped twice for going over budget, he was said to have calmly gone fishing, knowing that the studio had already invested too heavily into the project and would no doubt let him finish it.
Upon release it grossed 268 million yen, and became Japan’s third highest grossing film of 1954. It went on to win a joint Silver Lion award at the 1954 Venice Film Festival, alongside a bevy of other film greats including Fellini’s La Strada, Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff.
It consistently rates highly on film polls, coming in at number one on Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema” list in 2010, and while in its age it’s slipped slowly down to double digits in Sight & Sound‘s critic’s poll of greatest films, it manages to always retain a top 20 position in both the critic’s and director’s polls.
Considering Seven Samurai‘s contribution to filmmaking, alongside Kurosawa’s entire body of work, and just how well it’s held up after 64 years, it’s safe to say it really is one of the all-time greats.
- Seven Samurai Images: Toho Studios
- The Magnificent Seven Image: The Mirisch Company