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A Japanese farming village, constantly besieged and pillaged by an army of bandits, recruits seven independent samurai to defend it.
For more about Seven Samurai and the Seven Samurai Blu-ray release, see the Seven Samurai Blu-ray Review
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Toshirô Mifune, Yoshio Inaba, Seiji Miyaguchi, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Kato
Director: Akira Kurosawa
» See full cast & crew
Seven Samurai Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, October 2, 2010
Winner of Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" (1954) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features included with this release are: audio commentary with popular scholars and critics David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie; audio commentary with Japanese film expert Michael Jack; the documentary "Akira Kurosawa - It Is Wonderful to Create"; video interview with Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Oshima; the documentary "Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences"; trailers and teaser; and galleries with production stills and posters. The Blu-ray release of "Seven Samurai" is also complimented by a 60-page illustrated booklet containing essays and writings from renowned film critics and film directors. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
I thought for a long time how to approach Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. When one is asked to critique a film of this magnitude, one naturally feels uneasy. After all, what is it that one could write about Seven Samurai that has not already been written? Everyone knows the story, everyone has seen images from the film, and everyone knows how influential the film has been for generations of different directors.
In the booklet provided with this splendid Blu-ray release there is a wonderful tribute written by the great American director Sidney Lumet. In it, he points out that nature always plays an important role in Kurosawa's films, and suggests that in a way it completes their characters. I believe that Lumet is right. No other classic Japanese director, aside from perhaps Kenji Mizoguchi, understood and treated nature quite like Kurosawa did.
In Seven Samurai nature is once again a force to be reckoned with. The villagers are poor, weak and disillusioned men who have struggled with it for years. They need someone to help them get rid of the bandits who have been terrorizing their village but all that they could offer is three meals per day. Nature has not been kind to the villagers, and they know it.
Interestingly enough, the samurai who agree to help are also poor, weak and disillusioned men. The way they carry themselves suggests otherwise, but the longer Kurosawa's camera follows them, the easier it is to see that like the villagers they are men who have struggled a lot (in fact, Kikuchiyo, the samurai played by Toshiro Mifune, was born a peasant). Some of these men have been unemployed for years, wandering alone through the countryside, looking for someone to hire them and a place to call home.
Yet even though there are all these poor and disillusioned characters who do not seem particularly optimistic about their future, Seven Samurai is arguably Kurosawa's most inspirational film. The bonds that form between the villagers and the samurai, their willingness to stand united and fight the bandits, as well as their determination to resist nature's strange desire to punish them yet again (the final battle in the film takes place during a torrential rainstorm) are indeed impossible not to admire.
Modern films about heroes could never be as moving and engrossing as Seven Samurai. And there are a number of reasons why. First, because like the samurai in Kurosawa's film, most heroes these days are struggling or unemployed - this is the age of the superheroes. Second, because modern moviegoers do not have the patience to befriend film characters. It takes time to get to know someone and trust him (which is why Seven Samurai runs at 207 minutes), and nowadays everyone is in a rush. Third, because few directors still have the desire and stamina to be inventive and original. Most are cheaters, some rather good but still cheaters, with an endless arsenal of CGI effects.
I envy those of you who are going to experience Kurosawa's Seven Samurai for the first time. I first saw it many years ago at a place where foreign films were rarely screened. Most were also routinely censored. Times are different now and a lot of the films my generation could only dream about seeing are just a mouse-click away - which is why I strongly encourage you to take advantage of Criterion's wonderful Blu-ray release of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. It is a real treasure.
Seven Samurai Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"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. For the extensive restoration of Seven Samurai, several different digital hardware and software solutions were utilized to address flicker, instability, dirt, scratches, and grain management, including da Vinci's Revival, Discreet Fire, Digital Vision's ASCIII Advanced Scratch and Dirt Concealer, MTI's DRS, and Pixel Farm's PFClean.
Telecine supervisor: Lee Kline.
Telecine colorist: Joe Gawler/Technicolor, New York."
This is an exceptionally strong high-definition transfer. A lot of work has gone into the restoration of Seven Samurai, and it definitely shows - a lot of the daylight scenes, for instance, look quite remarkable; clarity and contrast levels are without a doubt the best I have ever seen. Furthermore, many of the close-ups which traditionally have been very problematic now look fresh and healthy. The color-scheme is also better balanced; the blacks are richer while the variety of grays and whites are pleasingly stable. Edge-enhancement is not a serious issue of concern; neither is macroblocking. I noticed some mild background flicker popping up here and there, as well as a few frame transition issues, but both are obviously inherited. Some minor flecks and scratches are also present, but again, due to a variety of different source limitations they have been retained. Specific noise and grain reductions have been applied, but the film's grain structure is very much intact. Lastly, I did not see any serious compression artifacts while projecting the film. All in all, I feel confident in stating that this release will be referred to as the definitive presentation of Mr. Kurosawa's Seven Samurai for a very long time. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Seven Samurai Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese LPCM 1.0 (Mono) and Japanese LPCM 2.0 (the back cover of the disc incorrectly states that a Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is included). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The surround mix was created from original optical track recordings, original 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 Audio Cube's integrated audio workstation."
The audio treatment is as impressive as the video treatment, if not more. The Japanese LPCM 1.0 track boasts a variety of strong dynamics allowing Fumio Hayasaka's legendary score to shine. Due to the fact that a number of different sources have been used to assemble a complete soundtrack, there are some inconsistencies, mostly in terms of dynamic progression; however, there are no pitch related issues to report in this review. The dialog is pleasingly stable, clean, and easy to follow. Also, aside from inherited minor background hiss, there are no problematic cracks, pops, or dropouts. Lastly, the English translation is excellent.
I tested a few selected scenes with the Japanese LPCM 2.0 track, and specifically scenes where Fumio Hayasaka's score is prominent. There are some marginal advantages pertaining to low and mid range dynamics, specifically with the woodwinds, but I prefer the more organic spectrum of dynamics the LPCM 1.0 track houses. The dialog is equally stable, clean, and easy to follow.
Seven Samurai Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Scholars' Roundtable - a fascinating commentary with popular scholars and critics David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie discussing the history of Seven Samurai, its landmark status, the impact the film and Mr. Kurosawa's work have had on generations of different filmmakers, etc. The comments provided by the scholars and critics were recorded between 2005 and 2006. In English, not subtitled.
Michael Jeck - an audio commentary with Japanese film expert Michael Jack, which was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 1988. Most viewers are probably already familiar with it since it appeared on Criterion's SDVD release of Seven Samurai. In English, not subtitled.
Akira Kurosawa - It Is Wonderful to Create - a documentary on the making of Seven Samurai, part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create, featuring interviews with various Kurosawa collaborators, including writer Masayuki Yui, screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, director Hiromichi Horikawa, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, lighting technician Mitsuo Kaneko, actors Seiki Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (50 min, 1080i).
My Life in Cinema: Akira Kurosawa - a lengthy video interview, filmed for the Directors Guild of Japan in 1993, featuring Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Oshima. The two legendary directors discuss Kurosawa's life, career and legacy. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (116 min, 1080i).
Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences - a very good documentary, recorded exclusively for Criterion, focusing on the important role the samurai occupy in Japanese history, art, and cinema. With comments by various scholars and critics, including Tony Rayns, Donald Richie, and David Desser. In English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (56 min, 1080i).
Trailers and Teaser - In Japanese, with optional English subtitles.
-- Trailer 1 - In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (5 min, 1080i).
-- Trailer 2 - Without sound. (3 min, 1080i).
-- Trailer 3 - In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (3 min, 1080i).
-- Teaser - In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (1 min, 1080i).
-- Behind the scenes - (B&W, 1080p).
-- Posters - Japanese, Polish, British, U.S., Argentine. (Color, 1080p).
Booklet - 60-page illustrated booklet containing Kenneth Turan's essay "The Hours and Times"; Peter Cowie's essay "Seven Rode Together"; Philip Kemp's essay "A Time of Honor"; Peggy Chiao's essay "Kurosawa's Early Influences"; Alain Silver's essay "The Rains Came"; Stuart Galbraith's essay "A Magnificent Year"; a tribute from Arthur Penn; a tribute from Sidney Lumet; and Toshiro Mifune: In His Own Words.
Seven Samurai Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A lot of work has gone into the restoration of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and it clearly shows! Criterion's Blu-ray release of this enormously influential film is fantastic. Not only is this the best presentation of Seven Samurai I have ever seen, but the supplemental features included with it are also of the highest caliber. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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