Seven Samurai

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Feb 08, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Akira Kurosawa

Release Date(s)

1954 (October 19, 2010)

Studio(s)

Toho Co., Ltd. (Criterion - Spine #2)

Review

By any standard of reckoning, Seven Samurai is a masterpiece of filmmaking that remains as enjoyable today as it was when first released back in 1954... perhaps even more so, given the luxury of perspective afforded by the passage of time.  Kurosawa is at his most brilliant here, and that’s saying quite a lot.  With its classic story, archetypal characters, abundant action and powerful human drama, this is the one film that every reader of The Digital Bits owes it to himself or herself to see.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition of Seven Samurai takes advantage of the same 2K scan and master created for the previous 3-disc special edition, sourced from a new dupe negative created from the original fine-grain master positive.  Our enthusiasm for its appearance on DVD was high (see review above), but its arrival on Blu-ray is cause for even greater elation.  Simply stated, this presentation is gorgeous – delicately refined, wonderfully nuanced and highly-dimensional.  As with the DVD, the film is offered in its proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and has been windowboxed slightly to allow the maximum visible image to be seen on a wide variety of displays.

Whereas the DVD was a 3-disc set, with the film split over the first two discs, this Blu-ray consolidates the same content on 2 discs, and the film takes up the entirety of Disc One (a BD-50) all by itself, giving picture and sound plenty of room to breathe.  As you’d expect, the result is even more spectacular than it was on DVD.  The 1080p image exhibits breathtaking depth, abundant natural detail in faces, fabric and backgrounds (even in the darkest scenes) and delightfully subtle shadings and degrees of contrast, from deep blacks to a vast array of varying grays.  Light film grain is visible throughout, giving the image just the texture and character that you’d expect from a film of this age, without detracting from the drama.  This Blu-ray image is every bit as good as we could have hoped it would be.  Short of its earliest theatrical screenings, Seven Samurai has likely never looked so good as this.

The original Japanese mono soundtrack has also been remastered to reduce unwanted noise and age-related defects.  One thing to note: The Blu-ray packaging indicates that the audio is LPCM uncompressed mono, with “an optional DTS-HD soundtrack”.  The main audio IS Japanese LPCM mono, but the optional Japanese 2.0 surround mix is LPCM as well – not DTS-HD.  We don’t have a problem with that – uncompressed audio is uncompressed audio.  You should just be aware of the deviation from the specs indicated on the packaging.  Regardless, both tracks are clean and clear, and support the imagery every bit as well as they should.  Obviously, optional subtitles in English are also included.

Beyond the film itself, the set is essentially a 2-disc Blu-ray reproduction of the previous 3-disc special edition.  The packaging is nearly identical to the DVD’s gorgeous case, just in a slightly smaller version.  The set comes in a high-quality paper slipcase featuring the banner of the seven samurai on the front.  Inside this, you’ll find the 2 Blu-rays contained in a fold-out Digipack of similar quality, as well as a reproduction of the same booklet included with the DVD, featuring rare photography and liner notes by several film critics, historians and filmmakers, as well as a reminiscence by Toshirô Mifune.

The audio commentaries included on Disc One with the film feature Michael Jeck (the same track as on Criterion’s original DVD release), as well as a “film scholars roundtable” commentary with David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns and Donald Richie.  All of the remaining content is found on Disc Two, and the good news is that everything from the 3-disc DVD has carried over.  You get the theatrical and teaser trailers, galleries of production photography and poster artwork from around the world, the 50-minute episode of the Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create documentary series on the making of this film, the full 1993 My Life in Cinema: Akira Kurosawa interview with the director, and the 3-part Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences documentary created by Criterion (for the 2006 release) to examine the history of the samurai in Japanese life, and its influence on the making of this film.

Seven Samurai continues to be one of the great film experiences in cinema history.  Criterion’s previous 3-disc DVD was already a triumph for Kurosawa fans and admirers, but this Blu-ray enhances it further by way of the film’s best A/V presentation to date.  Criterion’s high-def upgrade is an absolute gem – a must for any serious film enthusiasts’ video collection.  We sincerely hope that more of Kurosawa’s films follow on Blu-ray from Criterion soon.  In the meantime, this release is simply not to be missed. 

- Bill Hunt

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