Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) (1954)
Main Menu Audio
Trailer-Kurosawa, Yojimbo, Eastern Eye Montage
|Year Of Production||1954|
|Running Time||201:29 (Case: 207)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (100:12)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Akira Kurosawa|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
I've been waiting for Seven Samurai to come to Region 4, but I was still surprised when it showed up. What surprised me was the second line of text across the front cover: "50th Anniversary Edition". It's hard to believe that this magnificent film (pun intended) is 50 years old.
The amazing Akira Kurosawa was 44 years old when he made this. Film theorists with far better credentials than mine have called him the greatest filmmaker of all time, and have nominated this picture as a masterwork. He has inspired generations of filmmakers. When you watch this film you are seeing a genius at work: he co-wrote, directed, and edited this film.
Kurosawa films are renowned for their cross-cultural storylines. This film was remade as a Western; you may have heard of it: The Magnificent Seven? There are other remakes, but none of them were much of a hit (Battle Beyond the Stars, for example) Another of his films, Yojimbo, has been remade as a Western starring Clint Eastwood (Fistful of Dollars), and as a gangster movie starring Bruce Willis (Last Man Standing). Another, The Hidden Fortress, is cited by Lucas and Spielberg as a crucial influence on the original Star Wars.
This film shows a mastery of the technique of "deep focus". Kurosawa will, at times, have everything in focus from the very front of frame, all the way to the characters in the background, and sometimes there will be different things happening at different depths — impressive composition, and interesting to watch.
So what is this film about? Well, remember The Magnificent Seven, and how it had a small Mexican village terrorised by bandits? This film is set five centuries ago, when Japan was torn asunder by civil war. Lawlessness was rife, and bandit gangs roamed the country-side. A small village is being terrorised by a bandit gang. They know that the bandits are coming back when one of them overhears the gang decide to return when the village's barley crop is ripe. Following the advice of the oldest man in the village, Gisaku (Kunimori Todo), they resolve to try and find some samurai to help them. They cannot afford to pay them anything more than food, so the old man suggests "find hungry samurai". This proves difficult, for most samurai are proud, even if they are masterless, and refuse to work for farmers.
The farmers see a shocking sight: a samurai shaving his head. This particular samurai is shaving his head so he can pretend to be a priest, and rescue a boy who is being held hostage. The farmers come to the conclusion that this samurai, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), is perfect for their purpose. It's amusing that the same role in The Magnificent Seven is taken by Yul Brunner (and his shaved head...). Kambei is dubious about taking the job of protecting the village until he is teased for taking the farmers' rice when all they have to eat is millet — his response says that he will earn the rice. The story is familiar: we see the choosing of the rest of the team, their journey to the village, and the defence of the village.
Not everything is the same between this film and The Magnificent Seven. There is no equivalent in this film to the role played by Steve McQueen, nor for Brad Dexter's Harry Luck (who joins the team convinced that there's treasure to be found). In this film, Horst Buckholtz's role of Chico, the kid who is pretending to be a gunfighter, is two different roles, with the kid, Katsushiro (Ko Kimura), and the ebullient wannabe samurai, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune). But there's the highly skilled fighter, Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), whose role parallels James Coburn's Britt. And there's the samurai found chopping firewood, Heiachi (Minoru Chiaki), just like Charles Bronson's O'Reilly.
It amuses me that Toshiro Mifune is playing a character with an assumed name in this film, just as he does in Yojimbo and Sanjuro.
This version of the film is the original director's cut, as first screened in Japan (not the shorter cut that was originally released in English-speaking countries). It is a long film, running well over three hours, yet it never feels long — so much happens, and the film is so beautifully paced, that you never lose interest. It has been cut down in the past to two and a half hours, and reportedly even to as short as two hours, but I'm glad we get the whole film here.
Whether you liked the remakes or not, I urge you to see the Kurosawa originals. No matter how good the remakes are, they fall short of the Kurosawa magic. If you consider yourself a cinephile, or if you just like a good movie, this film belongs in your collection. I look forward to more Kurosawa releases from Eastern Eye.
This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. This film was made in the Academy ratio (1.37:1), so this presentation is quite acceptable.
The film was in a poor state when it came time to transfer it to DVD. Substantial restoration work has been done, and the results are impressive. It's not perfect, but it's probably better than this film has ever looked!
The image is very good. It shows some softness, but that's common on films with no perceptible edge enhancement. Shadow detail is odd; on my main system, which uses a scaler, and runs progressive, the shadow detail is quite good. On a television, running interlaced, shadow detail looks more limited. Film grain is not troubling. There is no trace of low-level noise.
Colour? This film is monochrome, but displays an excellent range of tones from white through to black. The contrast and brightness look very good (unlike the Region 1...).
Even with all the restoration, there are plenty of film artefacts, but they have been reduced to an impressively low level for a 50 year old film. There are small flecks and specks, but surprisingly few (besides, they are less noticeable in black-and-white). There are plenty of vertical scratches, but they are fine, and transitory. There are no reel-change markings. There are a number of occasions when the film bounces a little, suggesting sprocket hole damage.
On a progressive system, there's not much in the way of aliasing, no significant moiré, and only a hint of shimmer. On an interlaced system there's a bit more aliasing, but even here it is mild. There's still no moiré worth noting, and only light shimmer every so often on backgrounds. Some of the night scenes show mosquito noise on backgrounds, especially on an interlaced system. There are no other MPEG artefacts.
The only subtitles are in English, but they are switchable — if you understand Japanese you can turn them off (that's good). They are easy to read, in a nice clean font. They seem well-timed to the dialogue, but I don't understand Japanese to evaluate their accuracy.
The disc is single-sided and dual-layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is hidden inside a silent black frame between scenes (there are several of these, so this doesn't look odd), at 100:12. It is essentially invisible on the players I've tried.
The soundtrack is provided in Japanese and Japanese. One track is Dolby Digital 5.1 448kbps, while the other is Dolby Digital 2.0 (not surround encoded) at 224kbps. I listened to the 5.1 track all the way through, and sampled the 2.0. Both tracks are mono (as was the original), but the 5.1 track sounds better (it has a dedicated centre channel — maybe that's the reason?).
The dialogue is mostly clear (there's distortion every so often, but I gather some of that was deliberate), and I imagine it is easy enough to understand if you understand Japanese. There are no significant audio sync problems (although I find Japanese difficult to judge because I can't readily associate the sounds with mouth shapes).
Fumio Hayasaka is responsible for the music, and it is well thought-out, with themes for all the major players (the samurai, the farmers, the bandits, even some of the individual characters). Some of the music is distinctly Japanese, other parts are more Western-sounding.
The surrounds and subwoofer are not used by either soundtrack. I think the 5.1 soundtrack provides the same signal to each of the front speakers, but it's still mono.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu is static, with music. It's easy to operate.
I always feel guilty calling a single sheet of paper, folded down the middle, a booklet. At least this one has some decent content.
This is a long trailer, in Japanese with English subtitles. It contains spoilers, especially for the ending. It is not in as good shape as the film.
There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This movie has only been released by the Criterion Collection in Region 1. They have released it twice, because there was a problem with an extra that showed an example of the restoration work (that extra was deleted, and the version containing it cannot be purchased new — I have the second version).
This is an interesting comparison. The Criterion disc has a commentary (five points to the R1), but it is not by the director (take off two points) — it's by a film historian and specialist in Japanese cinema, Michael Jeck. It's a good commentary, and he is filled with enthusiasm. He doesn't talk in dry film historian terms — he is an accomplished speaker, and makes his imparting of information both lively and interesting (OK, he can have the two points back again). Unfortunately, this commentary was recorded exclusively for Criterion, so it isn't too surprising that it is not included on the Region 4 disc.
The Criterion disc also has a "booklet" (same size, different content, roughly equivalent).
The Region 4 disc has both a 5.1 and a 2.0 soundtrack, while both the soundtrack and the commentary on the Criterion disc are Dolby Digital 1.0. However, the Region 4 soundtracks both contain mono sound. (no points awarded).
The real crunch comes when comparing the video. The Criterion disc, surprisingly, is harsh and contrasty, in places over-bright, and generally harder on the eyes than the Region 4 (take off twenty points!). I strongly prefer the slightly softer, but clearer, Region 4 transfer, with its more natural contrast and brightness.
This is tough. If all you want is the movie (and a great movie it is), then definitely get the Region 4 disc. If you want to know more about the movie, then get the Criterion disc, but get it in addition to the Region 4.
A magnificent film, by the greatest director, given a very good presentation (considering its age) on DVD.
The video quality is very good.
The audio quality is very good for a mono soundtrack.
The extras are basic, but given the length of the picture, that's not too worrying.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Front Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5|