SEVEN SAMURAI: DVD
In chaotic post civil war 16th century Japan, a small village of farmers who are annually attacked and robbed by bandits, send a delegation to hire a band of seven masterless samurai - mercenaries of the era - to protect them. The small group of peasants has a bit of trouble but manage to find one samurai, Kambei (Takeshi Shimura), willing to fight for no money, no glory - just three meals a day. Kambei is a natural leader and experienced in battle techniques. He begins to recruit more men, but can't manage seven. However, a loud and boastful chap, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), insists he is a samurai and endears himself to the group, making up the numbers. They set off to the village and to start preparations for the inevitable attack from the bandits, after the harvest.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As is well known, Seven Samurai is the seminal 1954 masterwork that was remade by John Sturges in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven in Hollywood, starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steven McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and a bunch of other great ruffians. It's possibly the only remake of a great film that stands up to scrutiny - though it must be emphasised that the remake was not set in 16th century Japan. The Western setting redrew the film's dramatic lines, and that's one reason it worked as a film on its own, not as a copy. That, and the good writing, acting, directing....
But for anyone interested in film, Seven Samurai has been one of the must see films of all time. This 50th anniversary release of the remastered and restored, full length version on DVD is evidence why. The strength of the storytelling is evident from the beginning and neither the 4:3 aspect ratio (then still the norm) nor the black and white cinematography (still powerful) can detract from the film's modestly epic proportions. Modestly epic because it doesn't strain under overblown music of epic traditions, nor does it waste time on wide shots of landscape. Businesslike and peppered with humour, the film's energy is very much alive. But for the occasional declamatory moment from supports, the performances are naturalistic - and engaging.
The film's running time of 207 minutes (on DVD) is a clue to its style: while Kurosawa set out to make a film with spectacular battle scenes not seen before in Japanese cinema, he wasn't foolish enough to abandon the characters and the context. So while the film has three major battles, it is first and foremost a drama about people facing adversity.
The farmers are faced with the fear of marauding bandits, their lives and livelihoods at stake. The samurai are unemployed and hungry, roaming a Japan where their services seem no longer so valuable. They face desperate times; unemployed mercineries have few job prospects.
The wonderful characters at the centre of the film, like Mifune's madcap Kikuchiyo, give the film balance. There is also a short romantic subplot and a good deal of social interaction, so that we are familiar with the place and time.
And when the battles are fought and the dead counted, there is a victorious samurai in front of the graves of his dead comrades in arms, who remarks: 'We're the losers....The farmers are the winners.' It's a poignant bit of socio-political commentary that suddenly gives the film a deeper resonance.
No DVD library should be without this classic.
February 24, 2005
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SEVEN SAMURAI: DVD (PG)
Shichinin no samurai
CAST: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Yoshio Inaba, Seiji Imaguchi, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Kato, Isao Kimura, Keioko Tsushima
PRODUCER: Sojiro Motoki
DIRECTOR: Akira Kurosawa
SCRIPT: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimito, Hideo Ogoni
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Asakazu Nakai
EDITOR: Akira Kurosawa
MUSIC: Fumio Hayasaka
PRODUCTION DESIGN: So Matsuyama
RUNNING TIME: 207 minutes
PRESENTATION: Restored and remastered, original 4:3; English DD 5.1 (Japanese 1.0)
SPECIAL FEATURES: Original theatrical trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Madman (Eastern Eye)
DVD RELEASE: February 11, 2004