New Emissary

No. 1: Seven Samurai

It’s hardly contestable. This samurai movie by an iconic Japanese director tops our list.

Japanese Cinema Series
Most Influential:
Seven Samurai
(Shichinin no Samurai), 1954

Interestingly, Ishiro Honda, the director of Godzilla, actually worked for the legendary Akira Kurosawa as an assistant director starting in 1949, (intermittently) spanning a period of over four decades. And although at one point their respective hits (Honda’s Godzilla and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) went head-to-head for Best Film award at the Japanese Academy awards, it was Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, about a misfit gang of 16th century hard-on-their-luck samurai who band together to protect a village from savage bandits, that took the top prize—and rightfully so.

Consistently a feature on ‘best film’ lists, Seven Samurai has time and time again been described as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. One of the first Japanese films to gain enduring critical acclaim and recognition internationally, Kurosawa’s masterpiece has inspired everything from the US hit western The Magnificent Seven to India’s Sholay, the nation’s biggest movie to date still, since its release back in 1975. It currently ranks number 15 on the Internet Movie Database’s 250 top movies of all time list—a major feat for a foreign movie over half a century old.

Seven Samurai is also known to have inspired some the most prominent of American directors including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. And Italian director Federico Fellini, who of all of Kurosawa’s films saw just this one, was still impressed enough to have then called the director ‘the greatest living example of what an author of the cinema should be.’

Roger Ebert asserted once that not only is Seven Samurai a ‘great film in its own right,’ that it would go on to be ‘the source of a genre that would flow through the rest of the century.’

Aaron Gerow, a professor of Asian and film studies at Yale University, told me that Seven Samurai was so powerful a work that it actually shaped his future when he saw it for the first time as a young child: ‘When Japanese ask me why I study Japanese film, an easy answer is to say I saw Shichinin no Samurai when I was eight and that it has stayed with me.’

Michael Raine, a professor of Japanese cinema at the University of Chicago, concurred (with a true expert’s take), telling me that he too considers Seven Samurai—‘the supreme example of the Toho action cinema….[a] genre developed during WWII on the model of John Ford’s Stagecoach and was then re-imported to the rest of the world through films like Sholay in India, the spaghetti westerns in Italy, and the Lucas / Spielberg movie brats in the USA’—the most influential Japanese film of all time.