on 3 March 2004
Clocking in at just under four hours with not a scrap of filler, Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI is every bit as legendary at its enthusiasts would have you believe.
The basic story is extremely simple. In a period of social chaos, a small farming village learns it will once more be attacked by a band of thirty bandits after the harvest. At first the farmers despair, but village elder Gisaku (Kokuten Kodo) recalls that in his childhood a similar village met a similar situation by hiring Samurai to defend them. The villagers accordingly send representatives to the city, where they are able to convince Samurai Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) to undertake the defense.
If the plot sounds familiar, it should: Hollywood would translate it into the extremely popular 1960 western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN--but fine though that film is, it pales beside THE SEVEN SAMURAI, which effectively turns an action film premise into a character study of the first order and endows the story with both tremendous simplicity and artistry. Much of this is due an extraordinary ensemble cast, which includes the celebrated Toshiro Mifune (who would later appear in Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD and YOJIMBO); above this, however, is Kurosawa's remarkable vision that draws upon the visual motif of the circle.
The circle is a powerful presence in SAMURAI. The village is presented as a roughly circular pattern of houses; the farmers meet in circles; in due time the Samurai enter the circle and stand at the center of the circle, directing the defense--and indeed the circle will become the defense, as Shimada works to find means to draw the bandits into the circle and to their doom. The motif will be elaborated: tied to the cycle of seed time, growth time, and harvest; tied to the cycle of life; and ultimately showing the quiet bitterness of life for those who operate outside the circular codes of community: the "Ronin," the Samurai who have no master and no community, and whose lives are not valued by the community except for aid at a moment of crisis.
Shot in simple black and white, as much (if not more) a detailed character and culture study as it is an action film, THE SEVEN SAMURAI is extremely simple and yet extremely subtle, and ultimately one of the most powerful films it has been my pleasure to review. The quality of the Criterion DVD transfer is very good, but by no means flawless--although it survives well, the film has not been digitally restored, and artifacts are frequent. There is little in the way of bonus material, but the commentary by Michael Jeck is quite fine. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
This is one of a small handful of films that transcend the label 'classic' and are essential.
Seven samurais influences are many and varied like so much else that Kurosawa directed. A seemingly simple tale of a roaming band of masterless samurai find fulfilment and destiny when they agree to protect a defenceless village that is being raided by a ruthless band of marauders.
Kurosawa pulled out all the stops as the action builds to a monumental and iconic final showdown fought in pouring rain.
Criterion have already released this earier in their catalogue. It contained the best available print of the film and a fine commentary by film expert Michael Jeck.
That commentary is included once again here, ( a wise move as it's a good one), along with an all new commentary by a group of film historians.Along with the commentaies there are 2 documentaries looking at the making of the film and it's influences that include much input from all involved and together last about 90 minutes.
The sound is still mono but coherent and lively. The print however has been mastered again and is superb, black and white this may be but it looks far better than a 52 year old film has any right to.
You get an awful lot for your money over the 3 discs but there is one inclusion that towers above all else here and that is the brilliant interview 'my life in cinema' where Kurosawa talks to interviewer Nagisa Oshima,(a filmaker himself), about his life and the films he has made. This allows the viewer to audience what is simply the best and most fact packed conversation with the great director available. The 2 hours running time is over before you know it.
Add to this a gallery, trailers and an excellent booklet containing essays by Kurosawas favourite lead Toshiro Mifune, Sidney Lumet and Arthur Penn amongst others and this is an unmissable DVD that no collection is complete without.
If you know and love Seven samurai then don't delay this is essential and if you've never seen this or are not a big fan of foreign language films then put your reservations to one side and take the plunge, you will not be disapponted.
If you enjoy this then try 'Yojimbo' and ' Kagemusha' also by Kurosawa and for a fascinating and detailed insight into Kurosawa and Mifune 'The emperor and the wolf' by Stuart Galbraith IV is very well researched and written.
on 17 January 2014
This short review is about the quality of this BFI release of Seven Samurai, not the actual film which in itself is worthy of five stars. The print used by the BFI for this Blu-ray has not been remastered, there is a lot of damage and scratches inherent in the print and the blacks look very grey.
Extras are lacklustre, an interview and trailer is all you get. If you really want to enjoy this film in Hi-def then purchase the Criterion edition from the USA. It blows the BFI edition out of the water in terms of picture quality and extras, see below:
New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with the original uncompressed monaural soundtrack and an optional DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
Two audio commentaries, one featuring film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie, and the other Japanese film expert Michael Jeck
Fifty-minute documentary on the making of Seven Samurai, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create
My Life in Cinema, a two-hour video conversation from 1993 between directors Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Oshima
Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences, a documentary looking at the samurai traditions and films that helped shape Kurosawa’s masterpiece
Theatrical trailers and teaser
Gallery of rare posters, behind-the scenes photos, and production stills
New and improved English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by Kenneth Turan, Peter Cowie, Philip Kemp, Peggy Chiao, Alain Silver, Stuart Galbraith, Arthur Penn, and Sidney Lumet and an interview with Toshiro Mifune from 1993.
You will need a multi-region player to play the Criterion edition. Here's the amazon link for it:
on 5 July 2002
Every fan of movies should see a Kurosawa, and this is (along with Yojimbo) the most accessible of his many great works. The film is an artistic and technical masterpiece, but above all it is a rousing adventure story, gripping and emotionally involving from the start. The origin of the film lies in an idea for a story Kurosawa had about a samurai who made a tiny mistake and went home and committed suicide. Told this wouldn't work, he and his writing team began researching the 16th century, and became interested in the fact that villagers would hire samurai as night guards to protect them from bandits, the samurai receiving food and lodging in return. This evolved into Seven Samurai, Kurosawa's greatest jidai-geki (period drama), about desperate peasants who turn to professional warriors when bandits repeatedly raid their harvest.
Kurosawa draws fantastic performances from his cast, most notably Takashi Shimura (as the samurai leader Kambei, the living embodiment of the samurai code) and Toshiro Mifune (as the peasant turned warrior, Kikuchiyo), and marshals the elements for an astonishing climactic battle scene in the mud and the rain. This ten-minute sequence has to be seen to be believed; the images have a painterly quality (Kurosawa trained in western-style painting) but are also extremely realistic, perfectly capturing the chaos of the battlefield as figures wade through the mire, hacking at each other. I've heard it remarked that this sequence was in Spielberg's mind when he conceived the Omaha Beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan; and indeed, the use of grainy film stock, the slightly speeded-up movement and fast editing, and the depiction of war as utter chaos all seem rooted in Kurosawa.
A final word: do not be put off by the 190 minute running time or the fact that it is subtitled. Although Kurosawa has the reputation of an auteur, he was also a brilliant and influential storyteller. This is perhaps the most entertaining great movie ever made.
on 15 September 2006
A village constantly terrorised by bandits enlist the aid of Samurais to help them defend their homes.
Not only is this a tale about honour and heroism, but it is a tale of social divide between Samurai (a status of upmost importance and somewhat royalty) and peasant (base class of Japan). We need to be told that what ever family you were born into, that is the profession you would take upon adulthood. So if you were born to a farmer, it would a farmer's life for you. Born into nobility of a Samurai, than a Samurai you would be.
The relationship betweenthe Samurais hired and the peasants I believe is the focal point of the story. From the peasants absolute gratitude for Samurais who would help them for a pittance to gradual resentment of the Samurai presence in the village.
Despite the age of the film, it is arguably one of the best action films ever made.
Shot in Black & White (come on it was 1954 afterall) and in Japanese (with English subtiles), it doesn't diminish the superiority of the film's story, characters and setting.
The superiority of the film is emphasised even more when it was made into the multibox office hit western "The Magnificent Seven" (although in my eyes "Seven Samurai" is still head and shoulders above this remake).
Kurosawa's work are timely classics. From "Hidden Fortress" to later films like "Kagemusha", Kurosawa's depiction of this almost forgotten world are ones to behold.
on 5 August 2001
A 190 minute subtitled film would put most of my friends off no matter what it was about, because any film not in English isnt worth bothering about is it? Especially one that lasts 190 minutes. Well here is more proof that truly talented film-makers have been working outside the US for decades. 7 Samurai is filmed in black and white, subtitled (not dubbed thank god) and lasts over 3 hours. However, I cant think of any other film I've ever seen that makes 190 minutes pass so effortlessly. It is intelligently written, extremely well acted, and beautifully shot. In many respects it is years ahead of its time (this is made in the mid fifties remember), with framing tricks and set pieces on par with anything seen in modern movies. Buy this film for a rainy day, and spend 3 hours or so watching masterful film-making in action. Then tell me that films like "Titanic" are any comparison.
on 26 August 2003
When i first looked at this film i admit i was apprehensive as it was a 1954 black and white film with subtitles, however after watching it you simply canot deny how great this film is. Every character is wonderfully written and acted, you really can see the difference in personality of each an every person in the film and their interactions with one and other. Akira Kurosawa does the samurai legends justice in a sprawling epic far ahead of its time.
For those who dont know much about Japanese history this film is set in the sixteenth century where bandits room the land and samurai (warriors) give there services to the highest bidder, here a farmer overhears some bandits talking about their plains to raid his village when the harvest is ready, fearing the death and destruction the bandits bring the farmers set out to higher samurai with very little money after finding the right samurai for the job they return to the village where the peasants are trained and plans are made for a defense.
This film does not need huge explosions or massivly expensive special effects it is simply a brilliant film and a must see for anyone who knows what a good film is.
on 10 September 2001
This film is a beautiful and strong adventure, based around a village and the samurai they hire to defend themselves against bandits. Both the storyline and the characterisation is strong, and Kurosawa raises many humanistic points from his situations, centering on the need for co-operation and the nature of mob-politics.
Unlike a Hollywood action-adventure film, there is also a classically Japanese undertone of poetic melancholy here, in which the samurai find themselves on the outside and destined to always spend their lives wandering. All of this gives the film the impression of being distilled and purified.
Looking at Kurosawa's whole body of work, this film stands out as the most fully-realised samurai adventure. Arguably, other works such as 'Rashomon', 'Ikiru' ('Living') or 'Throne of blood' are more complex and expressive films.
on 6 May 2014
the good news:
- it's a very beautiful disc-case
- booklet, 12 pages
- Tony Rayns on AK, 49 mins
- you can play the film with the original intermission
- thanks to BR/24fps it's the "full" length of ca. 207 mins
the not so good news:
- the transfer doesn't seem to be art-of-state (the restoration was made by Toho, the BFI only "further" restored it)
it doesn't look nor sound great, rather good DVD-standard
- the subtitles are ok, but there are still many things just not translated, so I wonder how good the existing subtitles really are
on 22 July 2005
There's simply no point in trying to sell this film to some people, as it's in black and white, over 3 hours long, not American, subtitled and hasn't got Vin Diesel in it. However, for those of you who love cinema and its rich history, this film is essential.
The plot is devastatingly simple, being one of sympathy, loyalty and revenge (if you've seen the Magnificient Seven, or maybe even the Three Amigos, then you'll recognise the storyline instantly). A helpless farming community is ravaged by a local warlord, and they enlist the help of seven samurai to help to defend their village.
Each character is wonderfully portrayed, the direction beautiful yet simultaneously action-packed, and the script very well written, with effective dialogue and some dashes of humour from the lovable ronin. Whole books could be written on Kurosawa's impact on the evolution of action films, but why bother reading about it when you can buy this and see for yourself.
An absolute masterclass in film-making.