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514 of 529 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2006
As a huge fan of older films and music, I am very aware of the many attempts of studios and record companies to reissue and re-market a previously released product in a new and improved format. While many of these reissues are often superior to their previously released counterparts, I have never been one to buy into the "upgrades". I feel that you don't need to have the best sound, the crispest picture, or the excess of supplemental materials in order to enjoy a film and have it affect you. In all my years collecting music CD's (particularly jazz) and DVDs, I think I've upgraded no more than three items from my collections.

I had been hearing for a while now about a new version of Seven Samurai coming out on Criterion that was supposed to have a brand new transfer from a recently discovered source that was to be greatly improved from any other previous edition. Being one of the most beloved films of all time (and one of mine as well), this has been creating alot of excitement in the world of film lovers. Being perfectly satisfied with my version of the Seven Samurai DVD from 1998, I had no plans to upgrade, but a side by side comparison on an internet site peaked my curiosity. And yesterday, being at a local retailer, I saw it on the shelf and decided to spring for it.

Let me tell you....if ANY of you are on the fence about this one, particularly those of you who are big fans of this amazing film, I advise you to go for it. The difference between this edition and the previous edition is so drastic that I could not believe my eyes and ears. I have never had this experience with a DVD before, but the improvements in picture and sound quality are SO great that I actually felt like I was watching Seven Samurai for the first time. The clarity of the picture is absolutely amazing. The glorious black and white tones are much richer, but what's most impressive is how nearly all the imperfections, scratches, and blemishes that were so prevalent on the previous edition have been removed. You can tell why this edition took so long to get released....Criterion obviously took alot of time with this one. Their efforts paid off. Also, the sound has been greatly improved as well. Not only have they cleaned up the original mono soundtrack, but they've added a stereo surround track as well. Normally, I cringe at these "new and improved" soundtracks on old films, but this track does not sound artificial at all, but rather more like an enhanced version of the mono track. The stereo surround track together with the gorgeous new picture made for a unique experience watching the film. You are still watching the great Kurosawa classic that you know and love, but at the same time it seems that even more life has been breathed into it. Didn't think that was possible for such a perfect film, but Criterion proved any doubter wrong.

Please keep in mind that I haven't even gotten to the bonus materials, the commentary tracks, nor the very attractive book yet. And there isn't much more that I can say about this amazing film that hasn't already been said. Just based on the presentation of the film itself in this new package from Criterion, I would highly recommend to everybody who loves this film and is thinking about upgrading their version of the film, that you do so. Its beautiful. And remember, this is coming from someone who doesn't generaly care for "upgrades".
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396 of 421 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 1998
Lest anyone be dissuaded from purchasing this masterpiece because they believe it is not presented in its original aspect ratio, it should be known that THE 1:33:1 ASPECT RATIO ON THIS DVD IS CORRECT. Akira Kurosawa did not begin working with the widescreen format until later in the 1950s. Anyone who asserts otherwise is mistaken.
This is a true 5 star films that ANYONE will enjoy. It's particulary recommended to those who would never dream of watching a movie with subtitles. Anyone looking for a great action movie should take a chance on this. Unlike that copy of Armageddon you watched once and is now collecting dust on your shelf, this is something you'll watch again and again. For those who love John Ford-type westerns, The Seven Samurai puts a marvelous spin on that classic genre. Even if you don't like action movies, you'll respond to this movie. It offers genuine human drama with an insight into a different culture and time that becomes increasingly fascinating with repeated viewings.
Of course, it's also recommended to those who already know and love this film. The picture on this DVD is much sharper and crisper than the one you're used to seeing on that worn-out VHS tape. As a bonus, it has a very insightful secondary audio track with commentary from a Japanese film historian that will help you develop a new appreciation for one of your old favorites.
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312 of 333 people found the following review helpful
Akira Kurosawa made "Seven Samurai" because he wanted to make a real "jidai-geki," a real period-film that would present the past as meaningful, while also being an entertaining film. Kurosawa considered "Rashomon," the film rightfully credited with making the West aware of the Japanese cinema, with being neither. But in his attempt to make a truly "realistic" film, Kurosawa redefined the conflict at the heart of Japanese films. Before "Seven Samurai" this conflict was that of love versus duty, where the central character is compelled by fate to sacrifice what he loves in the name of duty. In "Seven Samurai" the focus remains on duty, yet the conflict is now between the real and the pretended. Calling yourself a samurai does not make you one, something proven time and time again in the film, from the test of skill turned deadly between Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) and the tall samurai to the first appearance of Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune), with his stolen pedigree. Like Katshushiro (Ko Kimura), the youngster who wants to learn from the master, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), the audience is educated as to the true nature of the samurai.

For me this film deals with the heroic, albeit in realistic terms. I have shown the film in World Literature classes, after students have read Homer's "Iliad" and as they begin reading Cervantes' "Don Quixote." Within that context, compared to the brutal arrogance of Achilles and the gentle insanity of Quixote, the heroic qualities of the seven samurai become clear. Their inspiration extends to some of the villagers. Manzo (Kamatari Fujiwara) is crazed with fear over the virtue of his daughter, Shino (Keiko Tsushima), and Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) fights to avenge the disgrace of his wife and his precipitating the death of Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki), but it is the comic Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari), who finds within himself the ability to fight, a die a tragic death, who is the true barometer for what the samurai mean to the village. But the greatest tragedy is that despite this most noble effort and the bodies buried in honor at the top of the village cemetery, this has been but a temporary union between the villagers and the samurai. When Kambei declares, "We have lost again," he redefines the battles: it was not to kill all the bandits, it was to find a true place in the world. Yet we should have already known this, for the painful truth was driven home when Kyuzo, the master swordsman, is gunned down from behind. No better proof is needed in this film of the bitter truth that the world is not fair.

Mifune is the maniacal spirit of this film, as the faux-samurai Kikuchiyo, the dancing whirlwind whose emotions overwhelm everything including himself. But it is Shimura as Kambei, who embodies the mentor mentality with a minimum of effort, evoking more by rubbing his hand over his shaved head or giving a single piercing look than by any spoken dialogue. Even in a strong ensemble these performances stand out, for clearly different reasons. To fully appreciate Kurosawa's mastery in "Seven Samurai" you need to watch the film several times to better appreciate the way he constructs scenes, using contrasting images, evocative music and varying the length of cuts to affect tempo. For example, look carefully at how the early scene of the farmers searching the streets for samurai and the later sequence where Katsushiro watches Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo waiting for the bandit scouts to return to their horses. Both of these scenes are superb primers to Kurosawa's style.

For years we had to put with the 160-minute version of the film that was made for export, which was actually called "The Magnificent Seven" until John Strugis's Western remake. Fortunately, "Seven Samurai" has been restored to full 208-minute glory, saved from being a lamentable cinematic tragedy on a par with "Greed," "The Magnificent Ambersons," and "Ivan the Terrible." There is a sense in which "Seven Samurai" is truly my favorite film, because it was the one that instilled in me a love of cinema, of the craft and art of movie making, of compelling me to understand intellectually how Kurosawa was skillfully manipulating my emotions. The final battle sequences, fought and filmed in a torrent of rain, exhausting characters and audience alike with its increasingly relentless tempo, is given its potency because of the human elements that have been established in all that has taken place before hand. "Seven Samurai" is a magnificent film against which the vast majority of epics pale in comparison. Not even Kurosawa scaled these heights ever again.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2000
After many years of only seeing this timeless work on VHS tape, to finally have and to own " The Seven Samurai " on DVD presented in 1:33:1 format, presented by the reknowned Criterion Collection...it is indeed a true pleasure for this film fan. Plus the bonus of the additional audio commentary by the Japanese film historian, Michael Jeck, provides a much deeper insight into the history of the production, it's messages and themes, Akira Kurosawa's directorial style, and the attitudes of Japanese film making in the early 1950's.
From the very first time I watched this film I was spellbound by it's power and glory....Kurosawa painstakingly assembled a team of actors with wonderful synergy and expression that are at the core of this unforgettable tale of hopes & dreams, death & revenge and honor & trust. Kurosawa's explosive and dynamic battle sequences, some filmed in driving rain, are equally balanced within the films context by the sadness and emotion of the heartfelt scenes, such as where Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) reveals his upbringings to the rest of the Samurai.
This moving, provacative and challenging film is an epic that still stands head and shoulders over many others nearly 50 years after it's initial release...and a film that you can watch time and time again, and uncover another gem within it's rich tapestry upon each repeated viewing. I've shown this movie to many friends who were either not interested in older black and white productions...or not keen on subtitled movies...and they have all enjoyed it and remarked how they never knew that they could relish a 50 year old movie so much !!
This film truly belongs in any persons movie collection who considers themselves a true afficiando of cinema...an experience in emotion, energy and vision that will not be forgotten by those who view this wonderful work.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
If there is one title in which many fans of the Criterion Collection have always considered as must-have, must-own, it would be Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film "Seven Samurai". And now Kurosawa's masterpiece receives the Blu-ray treatment! And I can tell you right now, if you are a Kurosawa fan, own a Blu-ray player..."Seven Samurai" is simply a must-own on Blu!

VIDEO:

"Seven Samurai" is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:331. According to the Criterion Collection", the original negative of the film is no longer available, so a duplicate negative was created from the original fine-grain master positive using wetgate processing. This high-definition digital transfer was then created in 2K resolution on a Spirit Datacine from the dupe negative. For the extensive restoration of "Seven Samurai", several different digital hardware and software solutions were utilized to address flicker, instability, dirty, scratches and grain management. Including da Vinci's Revival, Discreet's Fire, Digital vision's ASCII Advanced Scratch and Dirty Concealer, MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean.

I've done quite a bit of comparing between this blu-ray version and the previous two Criterion Collection DVD releases and all I can say is that the "Seven Samurai" on Blu-ray is simply fantastic. This is a remarkable restoration of the original film. I was noticing detail, for example, the flag that Kikuchiyo hung up on top of the house, you can see the threading quite clearly. You can see detail and patterns on the clothing much more clearly as well as detail of the surrounding area (the farming village) from the buildings to the fields as well as the closeups of the character's faces. You can actually see the strands of hair instead of just one big black and gray mesh, you can see strands of hair which was not as visible on the DVD version.

Blacks are nice and deep, whites and gray contrasts are just right. I didn't see any artifacting, massive flickering or even edge enhancement. You do spot some scratches but nothing major. There is also a good amount of grain present in the picture. This is clearly the best looking version of "Seven Samurai" right now and fans of the film will be in awe of how beautiful this film looks! Fantastic!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

According to the Criterion Collection, the surround mix was created from original optical track recordings, original stereo music masters, and original production sound effects masters. The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from an optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation.

Audio is presented in Japanese LPCM 1.0 (mono) and Japanese LPCM 2.0. The package does mention a Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio track but this was mistake on the packaging. But for the most part, audio is quite clear and if there is one thing that fans will notice is the clarity of Fumio Hayasaka's score.

Donald Richie, author of "The Films of Akira Kurosawa" wrote in his book about the differentiation of the music which I noticed much more in this soundtrack. Drums are associated with the bandits, folk-music, flute and percussion with the farmers and a male chorus (low humming) with the samurai. Audio was excellent and I detected no audio problems, hissing or dropouts whatsoever.

Optional English subtitles are included.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"Seven Samurai - THE CRITERION COLLECTION #2' on Blu-ray comes with the following special features presented in HD (1080i):

Disc 1:

* Roundtable Audio Commentary - The following audio commentary is by film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns and Donald Richie. Originally included on the "Seven Samurai" 2006 DVD re-release, the audio commentary features a different scholar taking on about a half hour or more segment of the film and giving their commentary for the film.
* Audio Commentary - Featuring the original audio commentary from the 1999 Criterion Collection DVD release by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck.

DISC 2:

* Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create - (49:10) The making of "Seven Samurai" as part of the Toho Masterworks series "Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create" featuring interviews with Kurosawa's key collaborators, writer Shinobu Hashimoto, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, actors Seiji Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya and more. This is a wonderful documentary for anyone who wants to know how this masterpiece was made. This feature was originally included in the 2006 DVD release but is now presented in 1080i.
* My Life in Cinema: Akira Kurosawa - (1:55:59) Filmed for the Directors Guild of Japan in 1993, this featurette showcases director Akira Kurosawa talking with filmmaker Nagisa Oshima. Two two talk about Kurosawa's life and career. This conversation between the two is very cool, especially if you have followed the careers for both filmmakers! This feature was originally included in the 2006 DVD release but is now presented in 1080i.
* Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences - (55:12) A documentary exclusive for the Criterion Collection, this documentary takes a close look at the history of samurai in Japanese life and art and the influence of the samurai figure in film leading up to Kurosawa's masterpiece. Another awesome documentary featuring Tony Rayns, Donald Richie and David Desser discussing samurai in Japanese films. This feature was originally included in the 2006 DVD release but is now presented in 1080i.
* Trailers and Teaser - Featuring three trailers (3-5 minutes each) and a teaser (:42).
* Galleries - Using your remote, you can view galleries via behind-the-scenes and the film's movie posters.

EXTRAS:

"Seven Samurai" comes with a slipcase and a 60-page booklet. The booklet features essays by Kenneth Turan (The Hours and Times), Peter Cowie (Seven Rode Together), Philip Kemp (A Time of Honor), Peggy Chiao (Kurosawa's Early Influences), Alain Silver (The Rains Came), Stuart Galbraith (A Magnificent Year), A Tribute from Arthur Penn, A Tribute from Sidney Lumet and an interview with Toshiro Mifune (In His Own Words).

Also, the "Seven Samurai" is presented in a digipack case in which both the case and the booklet fits into a slipcase.

JUDGMENT CALL:

Like many fans of the Criterion Collection, I purchased the original "Seven Samurai" when it was released, followed by the DVD re-release and then here I am once again reviewing another magnificent release of the film but this time on Blu-ray.

"Seven Samurai" on Blu-ray has much more detail and clarity than any previous release of the film and for those who are passionate about the film, this is the definitive version to own.

There is no doubt that the Criterion Collection is passionate about Akira Kurosawa and his work. From the various Criterion Collection releases to the eclipse series releases and the AK100 set released earlier this year, Akira Kurosawa is a filmmaker that many people all over the world respect and with the announcement of the Blu-ray release of "Seven Samurai", needless to say, many fans have been waiting patiently and it was definitely worth the wait.

The film exemplifies the magnificence of Kurosawa and here we are with a beautiful release of this film, with the intermissions and not hacked and cut like when it first was released in the US. In Japan, it was uncut. In the US, in 1954, this 207 minute film was reduced to 160 minutes and further cuts were made. And I can't even fathom this film being shortened, as nearly every minutes, every hour of this 207-minute film was important to the story.

But there is so much to love about "Seven Samurai", it's storytelling is well-paced, the characters especially the samurai were well-planned and their scenes were well written, the discussion of strategy was well-thought and planned and the action is well-executed.

Both actors that have worked with Akira Kurosawa in his previous movies, Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune were fantastic! Shimura as Kanbei, the disciplined leader who is aware, always thinking and is very astute when it comes to the samurai way and always practicing caution with his knowledge of strategy and how the farmers can use their surroundings to their advantage. It's one thing for Shimura to shine two-years earlier as Kanji Watanabe in the 1952 film "Ikiru" but in "Seven Samurai", Shimura fit the part as a samurai leader. Convincing and a leader onscreen that wins your respect and you want this man to truly succeed.

Actor Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo is phenomenal. A popular actor in Kurosawa films such as "Drunken Angel", "Stray Dog", "Rashomon", in "Seven Samurai", Mifune masterfully plays the wannabe samurai Kikuchiyo who tries to convince everyone he is a samurai but his public display, awkward, weird, unusual, abrasive and crude at times, shows that he is a man with a kind heart and a man who wants to be with men like Kanbei and earn his respect as one of them. But no matter how unusual Kikuchiyo is....whether he is impulsive, talks a lot, laughs a lot and downright mouthy, this is a character who rises to the occasion. He is a man who does all he can to defend the farmers from the bandits, he is also a man that will earn the respect of his comrades.

Awesome performances by both men but also everyone in this film. The main characters to the supporting characters are well thought of, are well-utilized...and each talent and even the crew braved through cold weather, cold water and gave the best performance onscreen as Kurosawa demanded and expected the best and got the best performance out of them.

As mentioned, the film is 207 minutes long but by no means does the film make you want to look at the clock. I've seen long films before but with "Seven Samurai", I was glued to my seat.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film, "Akira Kurosawa's `The Seven Samurai' (1954) is not only a great film in its own right but the source of a genre that flowed through the rest of the century." (from Roger Ebert, "The Great Movies", pg. 400)

"Seven Samurai" is a wonderful triumph in cinema. Kurosawa's wanting to create a jidaigeki samurai film but wanting to make it real, making it entertaining for the viewer that no matter how long the film is, the viewer is captivated. We know this war with the bandits is not going to go perfectly, some will live and some will die. We watch to see how well the plans of Kanbei are executed, how well prepared the farmers are in defending their home and we see how ruthless and cunning the bandits are and how they also have other weapons such as muskets and bows and arrows to their disposal.

Film critic Pauline Kael wrote about "Seven Samurai" (in her , "It is the Western form carried to apotheosis - a vast celebration of the joys and torments of fighting, seen in a new depth and scale, a brutal imaginative ballet on the nature of strength and weakness." (from Pauline Kael, "For Keeps", pg. 61)

"Seven Samurai" is a battle of underdogs vs. a large group of samurai-turned-bandits and we find ourselves supporting the seven samurai and the farmers in hoping they can become victorious? But with victory comes a price. But it's not about just the battle, it's about the relationships of each characters. The samurai who follow the Bushido way, the farmers who hire the samurai for protection but at the same time, have their own set secrets of what they have done to samurai in the past. The farmer who lives with revenge for the wife that was taken from him, the man who wants to be a samurai but sympathizes with the farmers for a reason. There is so many layers within this film, masterfully pieced together, amazing shots that Kurosawa is known for and like a maestro, manages to make the 207 minutes an incredible cinema experience. The word "masterpiece" can be a bit misused and even overused but there is no doubt, "Seven Samurai" is a Kurosawa masterpiece and a truly a magnificent film.

As for this Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of "Seven Samurai", there will be some who may want to know if it's worth it, especially after purchasing the magnificent 2006 DVD release. While not having any newer special features, you do get the best presentation of the film (and special features) in HD, as well as the two audio commentaries, the three lengthy special features that with special re-release and the booklet as well. This is truly the definitive version of "Seven Samurai", a wonderful HD version of the film and if that matters to you, then "Seven Samurai" on Blu-ray is absolutely worth it.

"Seven Samurai" is Akira Kurosawa's ultimate masterpiece that has been one of the highlight release for the Criterion Collection for more than a decade. It's a film that many cinema fans have in their collection and if you are a cineaste is practically essential to have in your film collection. This Blu-ray release of "Seven Samurai" looks fantastic and is the definitive version to watch and own. Overall, with the film, commentary and lengthy special features, "Seven Samurai" on Blu-ray is a 5-star release and it receives our highest recommendation!
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2006
This short review is on the 2006 edition and not the 1998 edition issue by Criterion. The 2006 edition issued by Criterion proves to be a highly improved version of the Seven Samurai. The first thing you will discovered when watching this edition over the 1998 edition will be the image, vastly improved and enchanced. While its not perfect like what you might see with very recent films, this 2006 issue will probably be close as you can get with the Seven Samurai.

After all these previous reviews, I am not going into the plots and additional praises. A person who buy this DVD knows the quality of the work. I won't be redundent with the usual mantra.

While the 1998 edition only had a screen commentary which proves to be interested and its still with us in the 2006 edtion, the new edition also got more supplements that should please any fan of the film. The two hour "My Life in the Cinema" should proves most educational to any Kurosawa fan and 50 minute "Making" of the Seven Samurai gives a great insight into how the film developed into the masterpiece that it is. Another great supplement titled: "Seven Samurai: Impact and Influences" reflects on the influences this movie had on other directors in other countries as well as what influenced Kurosawa himself while making this film. Once more, this supplement help the buyer gained more insight and understanding of the film and its filmmaker. To those who like film commentary, there also an additional one by various American film scholars.

Finally the DVD come with a booklet that contained various short essays written by American film experts on this film. Toshiro Mifune's essay was included as well that reflect his insight on the film.

While a great set all together in three DVD disks, I only wish Criterion packaged it into a sturdier plastic container as the 1998 verison instead the cardboard container which looked bit on the weak side.

Overall this is a very expensive DVD to buy but in all reality, if you are a fan of the Seven Samurai, buying this DVD should be a no-brainer. The improved soundtrack, improved images and the great supplements make this almost mandatory buy for any real fan of the movie.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2001
This may be one of the most entertaining and ground breaking movies ever made.
As a film, Seven Samurai excels on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. The story's message of honor and self-sacrifice is so simple and timeless, it crosses all cultures and mindsets.
While the scenes themselves are not necessarily quick (the movie runs over 3 hours), the overall pacing is brilliant. Every moment blends effortlessly from relaxed humor to tense excitement to somber introspection. Regardless of the context, the audience always feels as if the film is moving forward towards it's dramatic conclusion.
And as if substance weren't enough, Kurosawa took the meaty screenplay and devised some creative camera work to enhance each scene. Kurosawa's use of slo-mo, for example, has influenced such directors as Peckinpah and Leone. No angle, tracking shot, remote, or still is wasted.
The performances of the actors also deserve special mention. From the clever stage business of Takahashi Shimura's Kambei, to Toshiro Mifune's enthusiastic and spirited performance as black sheep Kikuchiyo, the audience can easily find an character to identify with and follow through the course of the movie. It's not hard to imagine those watching for the first time sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping their favorite samurai will survive the film's final act. My personal fave was the subdued, bad-ass fencer, Kyuzo (played with detatched machismo by Seiji Miyaguchi).
DVD-wise, this film is what most enthusiasts would expect from a Criterion release. Although the extensively restored footage still contains some artifacts and minor flaws, and the dated soundtrack will not bomb your home theater system like a "Dark City" or "Fifth Element" disc will, this is without a doubt the best version of Seven Samurai available and worthy addtion to any film buff's collection.
Highly Recommended
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2007
I bought the first version of the DVD by Criterion about 10 years ago and I wasn't sure about re-buying it a second time cause I always think that if I rebuy a movie the distributor must be laughing at me. But...i really really don't regret it, a classic like this should be seen with this version. I don't like buying twice but this is simply incredible. This version is STUNNING visually, way better than the first one. I owned about 300 DVDs and this is one of my best black and white. I simply rediscover the film it was so great looking, I saw details I didn't see before because of the sharpness of the picture. The sound is also better, no more hissing and cracking like an old record and they give a surround soundtrack too. The extras are great too meaning another audio commentary by 5 experts (very entertaining), a 2 hour interview with Kurosawa discussing many fascinating subjects, a 50 minute documentary on the making and a documentary about the meaning of samurais. Long story short, I started the film in the morning and I finished watching everything in the evening. If you don't know the film rent it first or watch it on TV, but if you know it and want to buy it, go ahead a piece of history is worth 40$ in my mind.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2004
Defining the "best movie ever made" is very subjective, and the hype generated by such praise often gives viewers expectations that a single movie cannot hope to satisfy. Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" is one of the rare movies in that it is universally praised and admired by film scholars and casual views alike. Though I will claim that this is indeed the best movie ever made, it is near the top of my list, and I firmly believe that it deserves every inch of the hype. And it also goes without saying that the Criterion DVD is the only way to go.
Despite the long running time, the story is surprisingly easy to follow. A group of poor villagers, impoverished by constant attacks by bandits, hire a group of ronin samurai to defend their village from the impending attacks. The main character is played by Kurosawa staple Toshiro Mifune, playing the misfit of the samurai group who carries the large sword over his shoulder, and can convey his thoughts without even opening his mouth. Also putting their best feet forward are several prominent Japanese actors of the day, many of whom went on to star in future Kurosawa pictures. The battle scenes, many of which take place towards the latter quarter of the movie, are masterfully choreographed and filmed, despite the low budget of the film. Also ahead of it's time was Kurosawa's camera trickery, such as the fading, the deep focus, and trademark use of weather and lighting conditions to accentuate the mood of the film (he uses heavy rain to signify hard times for the villagers, for example). For great insight into Kurosawa's technique, listen to the commentary track by Japanese film scholar Michael Jeck.
The Criterion DVD is not as full-featured as other Criterion DVDs, but this is probably due to the lack of archival material. The only real extra of note is the aforementioned commentary. It is as informative as DVD commentaries get, though so much information is given that you might be tempted to take notes. Michael Jeck is obviously an expert on the subject of not only Japanese movies, but the culture and history, and he gives plenty of side information on Japanese customs and samurai traditions. Most interesting is how he points out many nuances in Kurosawa's filming style. You will walk away with a new appreciation for the movie after hearing the commentary. On the technical side, the print is better than any previously released, and miles better than the discounted "Region Free" copies floating around. Though there is a bit of grain in the darker shots, for the most part the print is excellent.
"Seven Samurai" is a bona fide classic, and one that deserves all the praise it receives. It never feels dated, and the use of comedy, action, and drama ensures that sitting through the 3 ½ hours is enjoyable, rather than an endurance trial. The Criterion release, with the quality transfer and the excellent commentary, is the best way to experience it. Also recommended from Kurosawa are "Ikiru", "Hidden Fortress", and "Yojimbo", and all are available from Criterion Collection.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2003
To get this out of the way right now, "Seven Samurai", as a film, is a 5-star picture. Provided the audience has an inkling of what they're getting into, this movie can be easily considered one of Akira Kurosawa's best efforts. The expert directing, multi-layered story, and mounds of social commentary make for a film that sits up there with "Citizen Kane" at the top of many critic's "top 10" lists. It's a truly outstanding film, and one that holds up to many repeat viewings and careful analysis.
As an aside, this movie will be quite lost on those raised on modern-day Hollywood films. Anyone going into it expecting a shallow, sword-swinging thrill ride will come away confused (and probably angry) at the "slow" pace, the three-hour runtime, the subtitles, the fact that it's in black and white, the fact that it's not particularly violent, the fact that they talk so much, etc. etc. ad nauseam. I'd figure this would go without saying, but there it is again, just in case: If your idea of a fantastic movie is "The Fast and the Furious", run away right now; what you're looking at now is the movie version of Kryptonite.
Assuming the audience has some depth perception, this becomes THE film to own, and should be a cornerstone in any great DVD collection. Fans will recognize the label of the famous Criterion Collection displayed proudly across the disc case, and under normal circumstances that's indicative of a DVD packed to the gills with extras for the real film fan. The only issue with this disc (and hence the 4-star rating) is that the DVD is VERY slight on the extras, essentially giving you the film and that's it.
Normally, this wouldn't be worth docking a point, given that this is both a very early DVD, and also given that this is the only place to get the genuine, 3+ hour Japanese version of the film. When it was picked up by RKO for it's first U.S. release decades ago, the film had been greatly reduced in length, and there have been various other cuts throughout the years. This version is easily the most complete, and that alone is quite substantial.
In all honesty, it's BECAUSE of the importance of the film that I feel like I got a little cheated with this disc. Were this a film of any lower calibur, I think I'd be fine, but this is SEVEN-FREAKING-SAMURAI we're talking about! If you're a Kurosawa fan, you really, really want to get as much as possible out of this film. As it stands, a real fan is forced to go to external sources on the film (not hard to find) to get all the juicy extra information that compliments it, which really isn't so bad, but the thought of what could have been had this film been released a year or two later on DVD makes me winsome.
What's crucial to point out, however, is that this shortcoming is really in no way the fault of Criterion, who have always had the utmost respect for the films they produce. It's much more a time factor: This is disc #2 in the collection (they're well beyond #200 by this point) and at the time, the special editions as we know them did not exist. Packing the entire film onto a single disc was a feat in and of itself, and taking into account where the technology was at the time, this really is the best the fans could have hoped for: Seven Samurai, uncut, looking and sounding as good as it was ever going to.
So, think of the 4-star rating as a time-adjusted thing. This movie is still required, but know what you're getting so there's no dissapointment.
And Kurosawa fans, take heart: Criterion's putting out a fantastic-looking version of "Ikiru", which is arguably the best Kurosawa film ever, and they're bringing all the fans' expecations to bear. It looks like it's going to be perfect.
In the meantime, Seven Samurai is a no-brainer for any film fan.
It's an honest-to-God classic, and one of the best films ever made.
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