SEVEN SAMURAI (CRITERION)
Reviewed March 25th, 2001 by Todd Terwilliger
If there were a set of films that defined the term “classic”, Akira Kurasawa's Seven Samurai would be at the top of this list. It was the greatest film of Japan's greatest filmmaker and its plot set the template for countless films that followed.
A village of farmers is threatened by a band of robbers. Knowing that the robbers will attack as soon as the crops have been harvested, the village begs protection from Samurai. Most of the warriors want nothing to do with the poor farmers but, eventually, they are able to land the services of Kambei (Takashi Shimura). Kambei is able to gather a group of six other samurais to aid the farmers. With harvest coming soon, Kambei and the samurai must to protect the village against an outnumbering foe.
The performances all around are outstanding, especially by Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo, an enigma among the samurai. Bokuzen Hidari, as the farmer Yohei, is the image of pathos and hopelessness.
The performances, as well as the powerful direction by Kurasawa, cannot be fully appreciated without the excellent commentary by Michael Jeck, a Japanese film expert. He is a wellspring of knowledge. Jeck's commentary explains so much, the film seems almost inconceivable without it.
Seven Samurai is presented in its native 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The movie is black and white and the quality of the film varies from scene to scene. For a film this old, the multitude of scratches and specks are forgivable. The picture is clear and sharp. So sharp, it's possible to see the makeup applications on the actors (particularly at the edges of the “shaven” heads).
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital mono. There is some noise but, again, for a source of this age, it is understandable. Overall, dialog is clear. Gunshots and the beating of horses' hooves, are all deep, though obviously not subwoofer pounding. The musical score is well preserved.
For a Criterion title, there is little in the way of extra material beyond the aforementioned commentary. There is only the original U.S. theatrical trailer. The quality of the commentary, however, makes up for the lack in quantity of the extras. As mentioned above, Jeck's scene by scene analysis is priceless.
Seven Samurai is a reference film. As Jeck informs us, it was the first film to feature a group of heroes actively recruited for a task. It was also the high watermark for Kurasawa and his greatest collaborator, the actor Toshiro Mifune. With time, as more and more films emulate its plot and movement, the appreciation for Seven Samurai improves. It is a masterpiece of modern film.
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