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Delueze’s Cinema 1 and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai

by Jih-Fei Cheng

By Alex Chase and Jih-Fei Cheng

In Cinema 1, Deleuze divides the action-image into the large form, SAS, which moves from the situation to the transformed situation via the action, and the small form, ASA, which moves from the action to the transformed action via the situation.  For Deleuze, Kurosawa is emblematic of the large form:  “the action in itself is a duel of forces, a series of duels: duel with the milieu, with the others, with itself…This is the set of the action-image, or at least its first form.  It constitutes the organic representation, which seems to be endowed with breath or respiration.” (142).  In this scene, the undulations of respiration become apparent; the rhythm of the camera is established as it moves laterally.  “Kurosawa is one of the greatest film-makers of rain: in The Seven Samurai a dense rain falls while the bandits, caught in a trap, gallop on horseback from one end of the village to the other and back again.  The camera angle often forms a flattened image, which brings out the constant lateral movements” (188).  Deleuze claims that Kurosawa has an affinity with Dostoevsky in that both are interested in the “givens of a question which is hidden in the situation, wrapped up in the situation and which the hero must extract in order to be able to act, in order to be able to respond to the situation” (189).  This constitutes an expansion of the large form.  Kurosawa “goes beyond the situation towards a question and raises the givens to the status of givens of the question, no longer of the situation” (189).  The question in The Seven Samurai is not merely whether the village can be defended or not; what is at stake is the status of samurai, at that particular moment in history.  “And the response, which comes with the question, once it is finally reached, will be that the samurai have become shadows who no longer have a place, either with the rich or with the poor (the peasants have been the true victors)” (191).  Deleuze posits Kurosawa as a metaphysician, “What counts in this form of the extraction of an any-question-whatever, its intensity rather than its content, its givens rather than its object, which make it, in any event, into a sphinx’s question, a sorceress’s question” (189).

For Deleuze, “Cutting [découpage] is the determination of the shot, and the shot, the determination of the movement which is established in the closed system, between elements of parts of the set. (18)”  The movement perforates the system while mobilizing sections for the whole to change.  That opening is a necessary condition for a change that functions in duration, altering the set, and allowing for a qualitative modification in/of the whole.  According to Deleuze, directors retain signature “great movements” that “resonate within a signed image.” (21)  What Deleuze found in Kurowasa’s work was a persistent image that allowed for wholeness as a dynamic of the film whilst changes happened through movement on the set to qualitatively change the whole.  “In many of his films, Kurosawa has a signature which resembles a fictitious Japanese character: a thick vertical stroke goes down the screen from top to bottom whilst two thinner lateral movements cross it from left to right and right to left; such a complex movement relates to the whole of the film, as we will see, to a way of conceiving the whole of a film.” (21)

Seven Samurai and Deleuze

a clip from Kurosawa Akira's Seven Samurai that Deleuze mentioned in his writing

from Seven Samurai (1954)
Creator: Kurosawa Akira
Posted by Chang Choi