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The Criterion Collection
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Feudal Japanese villagers hire seven warriors to defend them from 40 mounted bandits. Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Hailed as the greatest film in the history of Japanese cinema, Seven Samurai is director Akira Kurosawa's undisputed masterpiece. Arguably the greatest of all jidai-gecki (or historical swordplay films), Kurosawa's classic 1954 action drama has never been surpassed in terms of sheer power of emotion, kinetic energy, and dynamic character development. The story is set during the civil unrest of 16th-century Japan, as the cowering residents of a small farming village are seeking protection against seasonal attacks by a band of marauding bandits. Offering mere handfuls of rice as payment, they hire seven unemployed "ronin" (masterless samurai), including a boastful swordsman (Toshiro Mifune) who is actually a peasant farmer's son, desperately seeking glory, acceptance, and revenge against those who destroyed his family. Led by the calmly strategic Kambei (Takashi Shimura, star of Kurosawa's previous classic, Ikiru), the samurai form mutual bonds of honor and respect, but remain distant from the villagers, knowing that their assignment may prove to be fatal.
Kurosawa masterfully composed his shots to emphasize these group dynamics, and Seven Samurai is a textbook study of the director's signature techniques, including extensive use of telephoto lenses to compress action, delineate character relationships, and intensify motion. While the climactic battle against raiding thieves remains one of the most breathtaking sequences ever filmed, Seven Samurai is most triumphant as a peerless example of character development, requiring all of its 2-hour, 37-minute running time to illuminate every essential detail of villagers and samurai alike, including an abundance of humor as Kambei's defense plan unfolds. In terms of its overall impact, Seven Samurai spawned dozens of copycat films (notably the American Western remake The Magnificent Seven) and cannot be adequately summarized by even the most comprehensive synopsis; it must be seen to be fully appreciated, and the Criterion Collection's 2006 DVD reissue is an essential addition to any definitive home-video library. --Jeff Shannon
On the DVDs
According to the accompanying booklet, "the picture has been slightly window-boxed (in correct original 1.33:1 aspect ratio) to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors." The two-disc format was necessary "to maintain optimal image quality throughout the compression process," with dual-layered DVD-9's encoded "at the highest possible bit rate for the quantity of material included." The picture and sound quality are simply amazing compared to Criterion's one-disc release from 1998. The all-new, fully restored high-definition digital transfer takes full advantage of HD's clarity and crispness, resulting in picture detail far surpassing the previous DVD. This also applies to the soundtrack, presented in optional Dolby surround in addition to the remastered original mono track. The new transfer "was mastered in 2k resolution from a duplicate negative created with wetgate processing from the original fine-grain master positive" (the film's original negative is no longer available), and "several different digital hardware and software solutions were utilized for flicker, instability, dirt, scratch, and grain management."
The complete 207-minute film is accompanied by two full-length commentary tracks, including a new track combining the critical insights of film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Price (author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa), Tony Rayns, and the dean of Japanese film experts, Donald Richie (author of The Films of Akira Kurosawa). Each scholar is given approximately 40 minutes of film-time, and their commentaries represent a unique opportunity to appreciate Seven Samurai from distinct yet complem\ entary critical perspectives. The commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck (from Criterion's original 1988 laserdisc release) The commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck (from Criterion's original 1988 laserdisc release) remains useful as a thorough analysis of Seven Samurai, primarily in terms of visual composition.
The 50-minute "making of" documentary, from Japan's 2002 Toho Masterworks TV series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create emphasizes Kurosawa's colla boration with co-screenwriters Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni, including production footage, crewmember interviews, and a reverent visit to the rural inn where Seven Samurai was written over a six-week period of intense seclusion. The two-hour "My Life in Cinema" interview with Kurosawa was recorded in 1993, with fellow filmmaker Nagisa Oshima serving as a gentle admirer, colleague, and well-informed historian of Kurosawa's career. "Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences" is a richly informative documentary that places Kurosawa's classic in both historical and cinematic context, examining its place in the jidai-gecki (swordplay) genre, its accurate depiction of samurai codes and traditions, and its stature as the prototype for many films that followed. The lavishly illustra ted 58-page booklet includes eight brief essays on various aspects of Seven Samurai, each written by noted film scholars or film directors (including Arthur Penn and Sidney Lumet). Also included is a reminiscence by the great actor T oshiro Mifune, excerpted from a conversation recorded in 1993. Taken as a whole, the remastered three-disc Seven Samurai ranks as one of the finest DVD sets ever released. --Jeff Shannon
Stills from Seven Samurai - 3 Disc Remastered Edition (Click for larger image)
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Top customer reviews
It was nice to see it again, this time with my wife who had not seen it before.
We will probably watch "The Magnificent Seven" this weekend and compare it to the Kurosawa film. I always liked Yule Brenner in the American western inspired by this magnificent movie.
I noticed this time that the film was made in 1954, nine years after the Japanese surrendered in WWII. I wonder what impression this movie made at the time.
The theme of unemployed Samurai taking on a job to defend a village of farmer peasants for food may have reflected the mood in Japan at the time. There is a kind of nobility that comes across as the Samurai gather, plan, defend, and finally defeat the bandits that threaten the peasants. It is moving to watch the drama unfold.
A great film. Perhaps one of the greatest.
But if you imagine a Kurosawa film made by Hitchcock or Bergman, it will also enable you to see what makes Kurosawa so special. In this timeless tale of struggles between the weak and the powerful, Kurosawa gives us a situation utterly dynamic. Everything is in motion. The wind is blowing. The rain is not just falling but drenching everything. And Toshiro Mifune is hypermanic.
Intense realism in a true jidai-geki, or historical film, was the goal of Kurosawa when he set out to make Seven Samurai, a film in which desperate villagers enlist the services of ronin, or masterless samurai, to protect them from a group of returning bandits. Throughout the film, from beginning to end, you feel this story could really have happened, and yet at the remove of history, you can see that these people and these struggles are similar to our own.
Kurosawa is a consummate artist -- his eye for beautifully framed and dynamic shots is breathtaking, and it's awesome to be able to rewatch scenes using a dvd player, or easily skip ahead to a particular scene, or view the spectacular action sequences in slow motion or at a drop-gorgeous standstill. Kurosawa seems to effortlessly incorporate compelling narrative with universal themes -- while making a stunning visual masterpiece. And there is humor too. Kurosawa also wanted to make entertaining films, and he succeeded.
Hitchcock said that fiilming in black-and-white had achieved such a level of artistry that it was a shame color became a possibility (and indeed he chose to film Psycho in b&w even though color had become commonplace at the time); you won't find a better composed or lit black-and-white film than Seven Samurai.
All of the actors are terrific, but Toshiro Mifune is transcendant as the buffoon with a story that is revealed layer by layer throughout the film. He is the embodiment of comedy and tragedy, and Mifune's talents are on display and such a joy to watch.
The film is nearly three-and-a-half hours long, but at the end of it you will be sorry it's over. Watch it again while listening to the excellent 1988 commentary track by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck, who does a masterful voiceover, discussing the film's production, Kurosawa's technique and biography, film history and theory, Mifune's style, actors careers and lives, musical themes, and a host of other interesting details. You'll learn that Kambei, the inspirational samurai leader, is played by Takashi Shimura, who also played the head scientist in Godzilla; that when the studio shut down production -- twice -- because it was running over budget, Kurosawa went fishing, confident that the studio was in too deep to cancel the project; that Kurosawa was the first director to show a film in which a team is assembled for a mission, or that shows an attacking horde as it rises on the horizon. It will make you want to watch the film a third time. But what a tragedy not to have a director's commentary track!
Seven Samurai will change the way you think about film, and this Criterion Collection print is crisp and clean and sounds beautiful. There is also a trailer and a handy index to the commentary. The enclosed pamphlet includes a short but interesting undated essay by film critic Davd Ehrenstein. If you are at all interested in expanding your appreciation of film, you must see this brilliant tale of life and virtue as told by a genius at visual storytelling. If you want to learn more about non-Western film, this should be one of the first seven that you see. And if you already have seen the film but love it dearly, you should get this print; it's very clean and the commentary track will add to your enjoyment.
HOWEVER - it was a great experience and if you're a fan of this movie or have only ever seen the Magnificent Seven, I would definitely say that this is a movie and an excellent edition to purchase.
The blu-ray does have the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (more of a rectangle than 4:3 tv's, but not as wide as modern HDTVs). Also included are a very nice book with a variety of information, notes, and MIFUNE "in his own words," etc., plus a second disc of extras.
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