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It's only right that you use the word "transcends" in your concluding paragraph, Jonathan, because that is precisely what "Seven Samurai" is -- transcendent -- and for the exact reason you so eloquently expound on: it's an action film that is driven almost exclusively by its characters. The action sequences -- great as they are -- are really only a small part of the story. It's the interplay of personalities that truly powers "Seven Samurai." How many hundreds, if not thousands, of large-cast action films have fallen flat because they failed to take the time to explore the natures of the characters who populated them? Almost any Michael Bay film, for instance, leaps to mind here while, conversely, those that more thoroughly plumb the makeup of the players ("The Great Escape," "The Lord of the Rings," "Lawrence of Arabia" or even the American remake of "Seven Samurai," "The Magnificent Seven") linger fondly in memory.
Jonathan and Steve, I agree with your praise of the well-drawn characters in Seven Samurai. With the amount of time spent with each character, the final action sequence was significant, with the action was not the sole reason for this movie to exist. Instead, Kurosawa gives us captivating characters and a setting that feels so real it's ridiculous, creating this setting by guiding us through a pedestrian but essential map of the town.I would have to say the final scene is my favorite. By using sparse dialogue to close the movie, Kurosawa demonstrates why he is so often cited as a filmmaker's filmmaker. The young samurai's wordless and physically simple actions is a complex story all its own, allowing for interpretation while avoiding meaningless ambiguity. Overall, an engrossing close for a film that absorbs you like hardly any other.