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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Akira Kurosawa
Cast:
Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Yukiko Shimazaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Daisuke Katô, Isao Kimura
Writing Credits:
Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto

Tagline:
The Mighty Warriors Who Became the Seven National Heroes of a Small Town.

Synopsis:
One of the most thrilling movie epics of all time, Seven Samurai tells the story of a sixteenth-century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits. This three-hour ride from Akira Kurosawa - featuring legendary actors Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura - seamlessly weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action, into a rich, evocative, and unforgettable tale of courage and hope.

Box Office:
Budget
$2 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
Japanese Monaural
Japanese Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English (For Selected Supplements)

Runtime: 207 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 10/19/2010

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns and Donald Richie
• Audio Commentary with Japanese Film Expert Michael Jeck
• “Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create” Documentary
• “My Life In Cinema: Akira Kurosawa” Documentary
• “Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences” Documentary
• Galleries
• Trailers and Teaser
• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Seven Samurai: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 12, 2010)

Arguably the most important and influential Japanese film ever made, 1954’s Seven Samurai takes us to the late 16th century. When bandits threaten a village, the inhabitants decide to fight back – in a way.

The villagers know they’re no match for the bandits, so they decide to hire samurai to defend them. A recruiting party initially lands Kambei (Takashi Shimura), an older warrior who’s encountered hardships, and he takes the reins. Kambei works to find the other samurai and lead them against the bandits.

Sound familiar? It should – even if you’ve never seen Samurai, you’ve undoubtedly viewed one of its imitators. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, the basic story of Samurai has been used many, many times. Its most famous remake came via The Magnificent Seven, but it’s also showed up in flicks like Disney’s A Bug’s Life.

The battle sequences still hold up to this day. There aren't huge special effects or a lot of blood - you can't expect that for a film from 1954 - but these scenes are very exciting and well done. The nightmare of filming in mud can only be imagined.

The acting is also splendid. During the movie’s initial release, Toshiro Mifune received flack for his over the top performance, but I never had a problem with it nor do many others. Yes, he’s extravagant, but he's desperate to fit in and impress his new samurai friends, and he is overly excited about going in to battle. I also liked Takashi Shimura a lot for his wise countenance and coolness under fire.

Akira Kurosawa directs the film at a very quick pace. Not once is there a dead spot I can point out, and even with a nearly three and a half hour running time, the movie doesn’t crawl. This allows for great character development as well as very good action sequences. The relationship between the farmers and the samurai is the crux of the movie, I believe. The samurais do not like farmers for the fact farmers kill samurais. And farmers hate samurais for the fact the samurais have done their fair share of looting as well. There are many scenes dealing with this hate and tension between the groups. Kurosawa, though, never once takes sides. Indicating that Kikuchiyo was possibly a farmer once himself adds a nice dramatic twist.

The film would become the standard for future westerns, but the original remains the standard. Seven Samurai continues to entertain and delight many decades after its creation.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio C+/ Bonus A

Seven Samurai appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. I felt quite impressed by this strong transfer.

Overall sharpness appeared very good. A few slightly soft images cropped up, but those remained infrequent and minor, especially given the movie’s length; only a handful of these elements appeared across 207 minutes, so they left little impact. The majority of the movie offered solid definition. I witnessed no jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes appeared to be absent.

Source flaws remained minor. On a few occasions, thin vertical lines appeared, and a couple of small specks also cropped up, but that was it. The print defects were rare and insubstantial. Blacks looked deep and dark, while contrast and shadows worked well. Low-light situations demonstrated very nice clarity and visibility. The instances of softness and defects almost knocked my grade below “A”-level, but I thought the vast majority of the movie looked so great that the transfer earned its “A-“ mark.

While not as impressive, the monaural soundtrack of Samurai was satisfactory for its age. Speech seemed adequate; the lines were a little thin and reedy, but they were fine given their vintage. Music could be a bit flat, but again, this wasn’t a problem, as the score seemed acceptable overall.

Similar thoughts greeted the effects. Did any one them impress? No – they seemed somewhat lackluster. Again, however, I didn’t expect much more from them, and they seemed reasonably concise. A little background noise materialized throughout the film, but this didn’t cause any distractions. Though this mix remained relentlessly average, it was fine.

Expect a raft of extras from this Criterion release. On Disc One, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns and Donald Richie. This becomes a “tag team” affair, as the participants handle one roughly 40-minute segment each in succession. We go from Prince to Desser to Rayns to Richie to Mellen. They cover historical elements and influences, cast and crew, cinematography, editing and sound, interpretation and themes, and the film’s reception/legacy.

Though the quality of the track varies from one participant to another, we still learn a bunch about the movie here. I like the segments from Prince and Rayns the best, mostly because they offer the most info about the film’s creation; the others tend to strongly favor themes/interpretation, and while I find value in that material, I prefer a balanced approach. Nonetheless, the whole commentary works nicely and offers a good picture of the flick, though I admit the format is a minor disappointment; I think a true panel discussion would’ve been fun.

For the second track, we hear from Japanese film expert Michael Jeck. Originally recorded for an old laserdisc, he delivers a running, screen-specific piece that touches on the same scope of topics found in the other commentary. That’s probably the major problem here, at least if you listen to the newer track first: you’ll already know some of the material. We also get occasional lulls, and sometimes it feels like Jeck simply starts to narrate the film.

That said, Jeck does clearly know his stuff, and he delivers good notes about the flick. I especially like his discussion of Kurosawa’s life and career as well as the reception that greeted Samurai. If I chose only one commentary, I’d stick with the newer piece, but both have worth.

Over on Disc Two, three documentaries lead the charge. Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create goes for 49 minutes, 10 seconds and includes info from director Kurosawa, writer Shinobu Hashimoto, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, filmmaker Hiromichi Horikawa, music director Shin’ichiro Ikebe, lighting technician Mitsuo Kaneko, production designer Yoshiro Muraki, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, sound effects creator Ichiro Minawa, and actors Seiji Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya. “Create” examines the origins and development of Samurai as well as many aspects of the film’s production.

I expect a nearly hour-long documentary to offer good detail, and “Create” clearly does so. It uses all that time well, as it rarely sputters or throws in filler – and by “rarely”, I mean virtually never. We find a tight look at Samurai in this fine program.

Next comes the one-hour, 55-minute and 59-second My Life In Cinema: Akira Kurosawa. Conducted in 1993, this provides an extensive interview with Kurosawa in which he discusses his life and the span of his entire career. No one will call this the most visually engaging presentation, as it consists solely of “talking head” shots of Kurosawa and interviewer/filmmaker Nagisa Oshima.

I don’t regard that as a problem, though, especially since “Life” delivers an awfully rich program. Kurosawa proves open and engaging as an interview subject; he progresses through all the topics with charm and wit. Oshima throws out a slew of good questions and this develops into an excellent interview.

For the final program, we head to Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences. It runs 55 minutes, 12 seconds as it offers remarks from Prince, Mellen, Desser, Rayns, Richie, and film critic Tadao Sato. In separate interviews, they trace historical and cultural elements that had an impact on Samurai as well as aspects of its creation. Inevitably, some of this repeats from the first commentary, but it still provides a solid encapsulation of the components that came into play for Kurosawa.

Under Galleries, we find two separate areas. “Behind the Scenes” (20 images) shows photos from the set, while “Posters” (12) offers ads from around the world. Both are nice, though the allotment of pictures under “Behind the Scenes” seems skimpy.

Some ads finish Disc Two. We find three Trailers and one Teaser.

Like virtually all Criterion releases, this one comes with a nice booklet. Samurai’s 56-page text with essays from film critics/historians Kenneth Turan, Alain Silver, Peter Cowie, Stuart Galbraith IV, Peggy Chiao and Philip Kemp. It also throws in “tributes” from filmmakers Sidney Lumet and Arthur Penn as well as comments from actor Toshiro Mifune. As always, this is a classy, informative collection.

Most lists of the all-time great movies will include Seven Samurai, and for good reason. It offers a powerful, exciting adventure that continues to influence films to this day. This new Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, perfectly adequate audio, and an expansive, engaging set of supplements. This becomes the definitive release of a classic flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.9285 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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