The
economy has gone to hell, but you can still afford to splurge on the
latest in High Definition treats. The CHUD Home Entertainment Team has
taken upon themselves to draft the Top 25 Blu-Rays released in Region A
thus far. From the 1st of December until Christmas, we’ll count down to
the greatest Blu-Ray release of all-time. Join us and marvel at the
treasures of the 1080p set.



LIST POSITION:
#7
TITLE: Seven Samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Yukiko Shimazaki and Kamatari Fujiwara
MSRP: $49.95
RATING: Not Rated
BUY IT AT AMAZON!






 


WHY IT’S ON THE LIST


Criterion revisits one of their first DVD releases with an amazing Blu-Ray. Eliminating the need to switch discs to continue the feature, lazy World Cinema fans rejoiced. The restoration was flawless, as it should be considering how long it was promised. All of the supplemental material from prior releases, plus a few new featurettes are loaded onto the second disc. Hell, it even arrived in time for a Barnes and Noble Criterion Sale. But, what does this mean for you? If you’re Joe Blow 360 with a Kinect shoved halfway up your butt…why do you give a damn about a Japanese film that’s nearly four hours in length?!? ANSWER ME!!!



Most refer to this film as the archetypal action movie. Dumb people call it the non-animated A Bug’s Life. I would like to go on some nostalgic rant about how this was the film that introduced me to Kurosawa, but that’s not true. The first Kurosawa I watched was a laserdisc of The Hidden Fortress. I only watched that because I was on a Star Wars kick and I was wanting to explore the Holy Trilogy’s film origins way back when.

Shimura and Mifune became huge names in Japan after playing off each other so well. Shimura was the quiet leader of the seven, while Mifune got to have fun being the cocky smartass. There’s a moment in the film where Mifune slips into the enemy bandits’ camp and hides out among the men. Initially arriving to steal the bandits’ rifles, he nestles in with the creeps. Playing them off each other, he laughs at what’s to come. Eventually, he gives up the charade and just starts gutting people.

The black humor of the film is lost on a lot of people, as there is just so much extra detail. I’ve talked to quite a number of fans who can draw The Village layout from memory. Kurosawa had made several detailed films before this, but The Seven Samurai took it to a new level. Instead of creating drama, Kurosawa decided to draft a world into creation. The Samurai period drama had never fully attempted this prior to Kurosawa’s innovation and Chambara was never the same.



If there’s one aspect of the film that’s improved by the Blu-Ray release, it has to be the presentation of the finale. When the rain begins to pour during the village fight, this is where prior Home Video releases began to fall apart. On the VHS and laserdisc, there was a ton of damage and noise that nearly blacked out several points of close-up action. Both of Criterion’s DVD releases helped to clean this up, but that came at the loss of detail. While we always continue to strive for the closest replication of theatrical exhibition, I’m left wondering if it’ll take a 4K release to bring us back to Kurosawa’s true vision.

There were quite a number of limitations that Kurosawa had to overcome to create the film. Post WWII Japan was still knee-deep in structural limitations, as most studios were left with older cameras that limited the field of depth. Nevertheless, Kurosawa took what he had and began to play with deep focus to create a style similar to his later widescreen epics. That style of Kurosawa first came to surface with this film, as he began to move further away from character drama to master directing.


The Seven Samurai is iconic cinema, but it’s not an easily accessible vision for the majority of film fans. While some remember seeing Mifune’s berzerker face, they can’t quite place where it originated. The sad state of affairs is only compounded by the fact that if you get a novice to view the film, they’re expecting samurai swordplay. The real meat of the film is found in its statement on human nature and the efforts to push past what’s expected. The Samurai fight because they’re hungry and need purpose.

The
villagers fight for survival. In that way, the film is boiled down to its essential element. A group of people joined together to simply exist as a united front against evil. Sounds rather simple? Well, it is and that’s the best thing about the film. If you can have an open mind and experience the majesty of style, emotion and action…you will feel Kurosawa’s magic.

In
the end, I hope that any potential buyers take a chance on this flick. While Criterion is more expensive than your average Hollywood blockbuster, you have to realize that they’re a smaller company that’s trying to offer up cinematic perfection to the masses. Not every film is going to win you over, but take the time to be open. The closed-viewing pattern of observation tends to kill a lot of young movie fans before they even get started and I have to push you to fight it. Take a chance on something different. If you won’t, well…we’ve got a couple of blockbusters coming up in the list.




WHY DIDN’T IT RANK HIGHER?

The Seven Samurai comes
to Blu-Ray with added clarity during those moments, but there’s a need
for further remastering. Quick bumps throughout the transfer appear and
fade away, while some fans try to play it off. Problems are problems and
they are obstacles to overcome in the future. I can’t really say
anything bad about the supplemental material, as Criterion has gone out
of their way to find anything ever produced about the flick. Sure, there
might be a few odd treasures left out in the wild.

THE BEST SUPPLEMENT

It’s Wonderful to Create was a documentary originally created by TOHO in 1993 and these wonderful treasure troves from Kurosawa’s end of life have become my favorite supplements. Most of the recent Kurosawa releases have contained similar documentaries that allowed Kurosawa and TOHO to look back at some of their biggest hits together. So much can be said for the film scholar riddled commentaries and tons of restoration material, but nothing compares to hearing from Kurosawa in archival footage. If you’re still on the fence about the film after watching it, I’d recommend taking the time to listen to the master.

SCREENSHOTS


He eats tempura and shits lightning.

Let’s play doctor. I’ll grab the leeches, you bring the dishonor to both of our families.

Strange fact that has nothing to do with this image. If you sync Kenny Loggins’ Greatest Hits to this film, it totally matches up. Right now, we’d be somewhere between Danger Zone and Meet Me Halfway.


No matter how much they wept, their tears wouldn’t bring Lt. Frank Drebin back to life.