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Seven Samurai - 3 Disc Remastered Edition (Criterion Collection Spine # 2)
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Manufacturer: Criterion
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Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5

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Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audience Rating: Unrated
Binding: DVD
EAN: 0715515019927
Format: Black & White
Label: Criterion
Manufacturer: Criterion
Number Of Items: 3
Publisher: Criterion
Region Code: 1
Release Date: 2006-09-05
Running Time: 207
Studio: Criterion
Theatrical Release Date: 1954-01-01

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Editorial Reviews:

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 complementary critical perspectives. 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 collaboration 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 illustrated 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 Toshiro 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

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: You don't know the meaning of EPIC or cinematic ART until you watch a film like this one...
Comment: You've watched films like The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix and you think they are some of the most brilliant, epic and artistic films you might have seen. But I have a question to ask you, have you seen Seven Samurai?

If you haven't, then you have yet to know the true meanings of EPIC or cinema ART. Do yourself a favor and watch this breath-taking film! The story is rather simple - a village becomes threatened by a swarm of Bandits and the farmers decide to hire Samurai to help defend their village as the Bandits begin their assault. But the depth of the film, is astonishing! What then becomes in the first hour, a great structure of story and character building, when finally the remaining hour is filled with breath-taking action sequences that you've never quite seen before in a movie. Not to mention the fantastic music. This is a movie I can watch over and over, because this is a great example of a REAL movie!

Hands-down one of the greatest films ever made. A true film about honor, bravery and sacrifice.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Surprising Charm In Masterful Epic
Comment: "Charming" is perhaps the last adjective one would expect to hear in connection with an old black-and-white samurai movie. But at every turn, from Gorobei's jesting response to the initial test set for him by Kambei, to Kambei's joking at the expense of the freshly de-flowered Katsushiro before the final battle, this movie shows an easy, earthy, sense of humor. This care, this willingness to psychologize each character, saves this movie from the pitfalls of most "battle epics."

Yet, Kurosawa's technique is not less exalted in the action sequences. If you are familiar with "Ran", or "Throne of Blood," you are aware that he is the master of the big, wide-screen shot of massed cavalry advances. In "Ran," for instance, the battles outside of Hidetora's castle, with the washes of orange and pink, are masterful, painterly filmmaking.

Here, the battle scenes are of a more claustrophobic nature, and all the more dramatic, as a result. The mounted bandits are shown vying at close quarters with the farmer pikemen in a grisly kaleidoscope of straining arms, tendons, hooves, spears, swords. For those who would criticize the action sequences of "Seven Samurai," the following question is in order: which puts more of a demand on the imaginations -- the "suspension of disbelief" -- of its viewers? A slick, cartoony CGI combat sequence (cf, "Star Wars," "The Matrix", "The Hulk"), or sharp-focus photography of actual stuntmen simulating 16th-century combat?

Ultimately, Kurosawa is able to strike a perfect balance between breadth of vision, and sharpness of focus. In doing so, he creates a full, but sharply-detailed universe for the action to unfold in.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: The Peasant and the Sword
Comment: Words fail to praise the action-packed period film that Akira Kurosawa created in 1954 Japan. Two years after the allies released the Japanese from occupation, Kurosawa directed the best film ever, in my opinion, for those that desire evil to be overthrown and justice to prevail. The plight of the peasants is graphically detailed in breath-taking scenes of beauty and poise. Coming to their aid is the most virtuous samurai in film history, ready at a moment to battle the bandits that would rob, rape, and murder the helpless peasantry. The camera angles and positioning are excellent beyond belief, the costumes are real, and the mud is thick for the final battle scene. Any movie fan that doesn't have the recent Criterion Collection Seven Samurai is missing out on a classic. Honor, loyalty, skill, and faith come alive on the screen in 17th century Japan.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Fantastic
Comment: Some films do get better with repeated viewings. Akira Kurosawa's 1954 black and white film Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) is one of them. It was well deserving of winning the 1954 Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion, as well as the two Academy awards it won for Best Art/Set Decoration and Best Costume Design. On a first view it's simply a great action film, but with subsequent viewings the finer points of characterization come through in each moment, seeping into the mind subliminally and purposefully. The story, at nearly three and a half hours in length- including a five minute intermission, is never weighted down with fat, as all of the many subplots bear fruit- so unlike most films made in Hollywood today. It became an international sensation, and the highest grossing Japanese film of its day.
Yes, there are remnants of the stale samurai genre, such as the wise man Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura), and the `boy on the verge of manhood' in Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao `Ko' Kimura), and his romance with farmer Manzo's daughter Shino, but the central human dilemma of the 16th Century farmers who are helpless against the depredations of the bandits, who abound during the civil wars of the era, raises the film above mere clichés. We only see the bandits at the beginning and end of the film. There are about two hours where the meat of the tale takes place, and not a bandit is in sight. How many films do away with their bad guys for so long? How many could afford to? Since we do not know any of the bandits' names, they are more like a singular character, or a sheer force of nature. Why do they keep coming to attack the villagers, even as their forces are successively thinned with each failed raid? They must realize that the once helpless villagers have hired defenders? There is no Darth Vader among the bandits, despite George Lucas's latter-day attempts to cite this film as an influence for his banal and downright puerile Star Wars saga. We also learn that the villagers are neither as poor nor innocent as they portray. There are murderers amongst them, who have killed samurai before. They also seek to lowball and underpay their protectors.... It is a truism that almost all great directors have at least one great collaborator. With Ingmar Bergman it was his cinematographer Sven Nykvist. With Federico Fellini it was his musical scorer, Nino Rota. But with Kurosawa it's not only great stars like Mifune and Shimura, but his co-writers, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni- part of a rotating staff of writers that muted some of Kurosawa's own admitted over the top tendencies in storytelling, and brought the tale down to a human level. Without them the film may have been little more than a greatly stylized genre film, rather than a great film, period.
The cinematography Asakazu Nakai, and score by Fumio Hayasaka are also very good, although this is an actor-driven vehicle. Nakai's deep focus techniques- at the time cutting edge, are every bit as good as those in Citizen Kane. Especially, look at the complexity of the many crowd scenes, where many little stories play out as we watch the foregrounded action of the samurai. Things like this are only gotten on repeated viewings, and with my second viewing I picked up much more than on a first glance, especially while not having to read the subtitles. And look at how jungle twigs seem to leap out at the viewer, as does Mifune's huge phallic sword as he slings it over his shoulder. The whole film was shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, so one wonders what Kurosawa would have done with this film in widescreen.
There's no doubt that Seven Samurai is a great film, and with its length and complexity it will only grow in my estimation as I view it more and more over the years. Of that I'm sure. But, that said, I do not think that it is Kurosawa's best film. I'd still lean toward Ikiru for that honor- for it's simply the more deeply human tale, and Shimura is even better in his role as Watanabe the doomed bureaucrat than as Kambei the indefatigable warrior. However, this is the granddaddy of all great action films, from Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch to even James Cameron's films like Aliens or The Terminator series, as well as a great bildungsroman for Katsushiro. It also struck me, as the film opens to drumbeats, how reminiscent this film's opening is to that of my beloved Godzilla- a film that was released in the same year, with the footfalls of the monster dominating a black screen filled with credits. While Godzilla is nowhere in a league to Seven Samurai as a film, it is the second most influential Japanese film of all time. That both rely on such primal sounds in their openings makes one wonder if there's a connection.
Yet, the thing that Seven Samurai has that few other films do is its incredibly detailed richness. From the bad skull caps the male characters wear, to the ambush tests Kambei devises to recruit his cohorts, to the old woman who goes to kill a hobbled bandit with a farm instrument- to avenge her son's death, and many others; all of these and more make repeated viewing a necessity to truly appreciate this film, for all of these things are non-essential to the basic plot, even as they heighten the realism of this unreal tale. Let me end by stating that Seven Samurai is every bit as good, and great, as its greatest champions claim, and I ask you, how rare a thing is that?

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Truly amazing
Comment: Nothing less than incredible. My fiancee and I loved every minute. Definitely worth sitting down for the whole 3 1/2 hours of this movie.

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