Reviews: Schindler’s List and Shichinin no Samurai

Schindler’s List
Seven Samurai
Pretty Face
Russian Dolls
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Onegin
Ju on (The Grudge)

I’ve work and study to do, but if this list isn’t attempted, I’ll be needing to watch these films again!

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I finally saw Schindler’s List about…a month ago now, about a month after I read and reviewed the book. What can one say? SL is widely regarded as Steven Spielberg’s greatest achievement in film (although the performance he coaxed out of Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun takes the cake for me), and with good reason: it’s a stark and unflinching portrayal of the horrors experienced by Jews during the Holocaust, not overly sentimental as some of his other films.

As I mentioned in my book review, Oscar Schindler really was a remarkable man, and his story is one that deserved to be told…but it is not his alone, it also belongs to the thousand souls he saved, along with their descendents, a number greater than the Jews remaining in Poland. Their faith in God working though this man, and the support they later gave him (not depicted in the film) balance Schindler’s work. All these characters are brought to life by the actors – with, as usual, an Englishman and an Irishman standing in for ‘foreigners’, Germans, but that’s besides the point. However, the brilliance of this film belongs to Steven Spielberg.

There is very little about the film to fault. The decision to Thomas Keneally’s ‘semi-biography’ of Oscar Schindler in black and white, although arguably an obvious choice, was a masterstroke. Where it really strikes a chord is the scene of ‘the little girl in a red coat’, described so vividly in the book, and captured just about perfectly on film, the red colour, representing so many things, standing out. Many experiences recalled for the book were cut, but those that remained functioned well to convey the emotions of fear and despair, hope and relief, and even frustration. The film emphasised just how dangerous Schindler’s actions were, the slightest mistake would have had him condemned for treason and his charges sent to their deaths, conveying the gravity of the war for the persecuted and their supporters. Keneally seemed to gloss over Schindler’s moments of weaknesses, generally depicting him as a man in control, with a solution for every possible problem, even when thrown into prison. Where I felt Spielberg went overboard was at the end, where Oscar broke down and wept for not saving more people…but maybe it happened – I wouldn’t know if the emotions at the end of the war would have brought down even his walls. But the final touch was perfect. 

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Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai七人の侍) is one of the most famous Japanese films ever made. It tells of seven samurai (…duh!), in an era of selfishness and prejudice, coming to help a town besieged by bandits.

Whilst it really is an excellent action film with great characterisation, there are a couple of factors that made it difficult for me to grasp in one sitting. At 3.5 hours, with me watching on a weeknight with far too many other distractions, I paused it more times than I would have liked (though far less than with Apocalypse Now…), and the inevitable romance factor, based around the farmers’ fears that the samurai would ‘take’ their daughters, still annoyed me, even if it was instrumental in the depiction of class differences. It was also difficult to catch the names of all the characters, despite the subtitles (they mumble!). The recommendation is to watch it several times – and to read some of the literature on it, and see a few other films for a comparison.

Nevertheless, there was much to appreciate. The characters are well developed, their motivations and experiences round them out so well that the battles, wherein some will inevitably fall, contain no small amount of tension. The battle scenes, realistically showing waves of attacks and corresponding defense, and the weariness that must fall upon the defenders, no matter how much they want to defend the village, match those of many modern films. I had no problems with the other production values such as music and editing – although I must admit that I’m no authority on any of that anyway. What struck me most however, was how little it seemed to be an ‘idealised’ picture of the samurai. Unlike the more recent Tom Cruise picture, which I would say depicts the samurai in a very positive light, the title characters each have their own flaws, and the samurai community, depicted at a time when they were becoming mercenaries for hire, are far from the ideal of ‘those who serve’ at the start. (Given that they are meant to be serving the shogun rather than peasants, it is, however, understandable.) But the peasants are not one-dimensional either. Class differences are brought out in their fears, pleas and lies, and the ending, not particularly happy for all, leaves the viewer to consider for him/herself what the film wants audiences to comtemplate.

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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