It’s one that I think about periodically when I ponder great filmmaking. Of course, it’s from The Seven Samurai, one of my favorite movies. But it’s not from a famous scene.
Instead, it’s an image from a sequence toward the beginning where a number of farmers are in town to recruit samurai. They’re staying at an inn and discover that most of the rice that they’re subsisting on has been stolen. If I remember correctly, one of the farmers–Rikichi (played magnificently by Yoshio Tsuchiya)–gets angry at his comrade, Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari), who was supposed to watch over it, and throws the last handful at him.
Then comes this great shot, where we see Yohei start to pick up the grains, one by one, from the floor.
Why is this so brilliant? It’s one small, short shot, but the impact is monumental. It tells you everything you need to know about the farmers–that they’re so desperate, poor and hungry that they’ll even try to save a few grains of rice to eat them … the last they have left. They can’t afford to waste any. And director Akira Kurosawa shows this horror by focusing his camera on the floor, as Yohei tries to retrieve the rice.
There may be more famous shots in the movies, but this is one of the few complete ones, an image that gives us all the information we need, plus a haunting picture, without telling us straight out why. No surprise, then, that I think about it often when I muse on all things cinema.
If only more directors would learn from shots such as this, the movies would be a better place.