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  Specs
  • Full Frame
  • Dual Layer ( )
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  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English
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  • 4 Theatrical trailer

Kurosawa: Seven Samurai

Madman Cinema/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 201 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
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Well, in all honesty I was both looking forward to and dreading Seven Samurai. Looking forward because I was keen to see this classic action movie now in its fiftieth year (in 2004) and dreading because it runs for 201 minutes and I couldnít see how an old film could be so long and stay interesting.

Well, once begun, the film just kept on going and was great. There are some cool fighting scenes and plenty of Sun Tzuís Art of War discussions and theories bandied about, but mostly this film is about the people inside the story and this makes it incredibly interesting. Director Akira Kurosawa has created a film with stories within stories, long seemingly empty shots, extended scenes where shorter ones would have suited fine and action shots that could have been more tightly edited, but it doesnít matter. Somehow this film works at the epic length in which it is delivered. True enough, there are moments where things perhaps get a little bit tedious, but overall this is just a great film telling a great story.

It is sometime within the feudal era of Japan, circa late 16th century. A small village, learning it will be ransacked by a vicious band or marauders when the barley is ripe, sets off to hire Ronin, or masterless Samurai, to defend it. After a week or two, they put together a group of six and head off for the village, even though there is to be little reward but three meals a day. A prospective Samurai in Kikuchiyo, a wild and reckless boy, follows until he proves himself in battle and becomes the seventh Samurai of the title.

"Iíve got nothing out of fightingÖ Iím alone in the world."

The Samurai prepare the villagers and train them to fight and before long the marauders show up and the battle begins in earnest. Meanwhile, a villagerís daughter, Shino, has fallen for the most boyish of the Samurai and their love blooms regardless of her fatherís wishes. But does it stand strong enough to survive the battle ahead?

If this all sounds familiar, it may be because you are thinking of another classic, The Magnificent Seven. Seven Samurai was adapted by Hollywood and Americanised for the western audience into The Magnificent Seven. This wasnít the only Akira Kurosawa film taken across the sea to America and converted into a western, either. Rashomon and Yojimbo were both made into American films, The Outrage and A Fistful of Dollars respectively.

Hailed by all and sundry as one of the greatest action films of all time, I feel I need to concur a little. I was just astounded by how amazing the film action itself is, as well as the genuinely heartfelt human drama unfurling beneath. The action is full on and while there arenít broad spurting gashes and buckets of claret as we see in some Japanese animť, it is nonetheless exciting and retains a simple PG rating. This is a great film for a wet father and son Sunday afternoon with a mild love story within to maybe help sweeten the deal and get mum involved as well.

  Video
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Okay, bear in mind this film is 50 years old. The print is in black and white and in 4:3, but that doesnít really matter. There are some truly beautifully framed shots in here and there are plenty of sweeping vistas that donít seem to need a widescreen delivery. As far as artefacts go, unfortunately the film is a battlefield littered with corpses, but the DVD creators have certainly done everything they can to restore it. What remains is a fairly clean print but with deep injuries like scratches and such they canít scrub away. That being said, the film is still fine and most likely looks as good as it ever could.

Contrasts in black and white are fine for the most part with night shots being clear and well lit with what little detail about in the shadows clearly evident. Early in the film, blacks seem to fluctuate according to the light source in the shot, but this irons itself out fairly quickly. Probably the most unfortunate aspect of the transfer is in the film wobbles and jitters, particularly during the reel changes. I could only detect two really evident transfer artefacts at 1:46:00 where a line of pixellation vertically halves the screen for a frame or two, and in occasional macro blocking of some darker solids like tree trunks. Finally the layer change occurred at 1:40:11 between scenes, as far as I could tell and didnít affect anything.

  Audio
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All kudos to the authors at Madman/Eastern Eye/AV Channel for taking the original mono track and turning it into a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround affair. Unfortunately, this doesnít do much more than the mono would have and doesnít really make use of the surrounds to any great extent. So too, the subwoofer remains mute for most of the film. Opportunities for both abound, but alas, no. Dialogue is of course entirely in Japanese, but it sounds like Japanese sounds and therefore fine. (The subtitles are also good and contain their share of laughs).

Musically this film is awesome. Fumio Hayasakaís score lends every possible emotive context it can to the story, ably supporting even the most mundane of transactions between characters. Herein are deep rolling orchestral movements and dramatic choral dirges (which no doubt inspired many of the Star Wars filmís choral subscorings) right through to comedic and humourous accompaniments. A beautiful and magnificent score that perfectly suits the film.

  Extras
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Although it looks like more on the case, itís actually not. Herein are a bunch of trailers for various other Eastern Eye titles. Thereís the original trailer for Seven Samurai, but this is severely degraded with appalling sound and contains plenty of spoilers, so watch it afterward. It also contains some of those funny expressions people used to use to sell films back then. My favourite: A flaming love in the shadow of death!

There then follows, with trailers for Kirosawa, a film documentary of the man and his work, Yojimbo and a montage of other titles in the Eastern Eye collection including Bichunmoo, The Eye, Avalon, Bangkok Dangerous, Seven Samurai, Internal Affairs and Princess Blade.

Inside the case of the DVD you will find a small four page booklet containing a very interesting introduction by David Stratton of The Movie Show with some nice facts about the time, the man (Akira Kurosawa) and the film.

  Overall  
Contract

For anyone who loves classic cinema, classic action or martial arts action, this is the film to see it in. Plenty of gung-ho action scenes, well described and individual characters and pretty photography add up to making this film a definite classic. Thankfully we donít see any Shintaro-like leaping backwards into the trees, but what we do get is some awesome visuals as the two tribes go to war. Stuntwork is brilliant, the final sequence of battle in the tumultuous rain is astounding and overall this is just pure cinema. Classic stuff that still rocks.


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      And I quote...
    "This films kicks feudal arse!"
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Teac DVD-990
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Subwoofer:
          Akai
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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