Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai

Words by Jack Barron

There is no freedom without wonder. Wonder is the open field. Freedom happens in its slow accumulation, its gradual, inclusive expanse. Isak Dinesen wrote wondrous stories, fables from the era before her own. Hers is the cadence of the story told. You can feel the fire they must have been sitting around or hear the cicada in the breeze. Her memoir, Out of Africa, about her accidental life running a coffee plantation in Africa, is the palpable distillation of wonder. Forget the movie, there is little mention of romantic love here. It is about the landscape and the people—the Kikiyus, Masai and Somalis— and the sense of freedom, even amidst great responsibility, in finding your natural place, if only for a moment. And there is something in her elegance of character and in the elegance of her prose that even in its melancholy seems to point somehow, without trying, to a truer and more graceful way to live.

Maybe it’s truth and grace that I want because there is more per square inch of Seven Samurai than in any film you will ever see. But like Out of Africa, it is a grace deeply rooted in the human. Toshiro Mifune is all fidget and bellow, pure animal id; Takashi Shimada, the leader, is a gentle wound, whose laugh is as sad as it is joyous. In the other samurai and peasants, there is an almost Shakespearean range of complexity and character. As real, vital individuals band together for the collective good, we see again the possibility of a truer and more graceful way.

[Photo collection Cinématèque française]