DVD Title
Seven Samurai
International Title
Seven Samurai
DVD Length Original Length
207 Minutes 207 Minutes
Company Year of Manufacture
Criterion 2006
Language Subtitles
Japanese English
Region Number of Discs
1 3
Aspect Ratio Sound
1.33:1 1.0 Mono, 4.0 Surround
Extras
. Menus (English)
. Chapters (16/13)
. Trailers: Seven Samurai (Teaser, 3 Theatrical)
. Commentary with "Scholar's Roundtable" (English)
. Commentary with Michael Jeck (English)
. Toho Masterworks: Seven Samurai (49 minutes)
. My Life in Cinema: Akira Kurosawa (116 minutes)
. Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences (55 minutes)
. Production Gallery (Behind the Scenes and Posters)
. 56 page book on the film found in the case
Captures
Review

Eight years and one month after Criterion first released Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai in 1998, making history for being the first Toho DVD to hit the market, the company does the title true justice in this new, magnificent three disc set dedicated to one of cinema's greatest achievements. No questions asked, this is the definitive DVD release of this amazing film and also one of the best region 1 DVDs out there of a Toho film. The quality across the board is impressive, from beautifully restored video and audio presentations to over three hours of extra content, this is the release Kurosawa fans have been waiting for!


 Video:

Having purchased Toho's region 2 Seven Samurai disc, I was expecting a similar video transfer from this release. What I got was something completely different, though, as Criterion has painstakingly restored this aging film. Of course, I wouldn't say that this was the best restoration of a movie on the DVD format, that title probably goes to Kino Video for Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis, but this is far and away the best the 1954 movie has ever looked on home video. Light flickering? Gone. The sometimes nauseatingly shaky credits? Completely fixed. I was honestly floored when the opening scene of the bandits came up and the sequence wasn't plagued by huge amounts of scratches and grain as it has been in every previous presentation of the film I have seen. According to the documentation of this release, Criterion went to great efforts to restore this masterpiece, and their work has paid off in spades. Yes, scratches and grain are still present, but now in such small quantities that they do little to hinder the video quality as they have on releases past.

This also leads to the compression techniques used for the film. Like Toho's release, Criterion has opted to split the three hour film across two discs. Granted, it's not nearly as convenient for viewing as their 1998 release that placed it on a single DVD; however, this does allow for a much larger bit rate per second for the film. On account of this, the difference is night and day between this release and the 1998 DVD, as this one is devoid of artifacting and other obvious signs of compression. For example, compare this shot off the new release and the same one from the 1998 disc.

In terms of sharpness, though, the Toho release clearly has the best offering around. A direct comparison of a scene in this release versus that same scene on the region 2 clearly portrays how rich in detail Toho's offering is. However, due to the excessive print damage found on the Japanese DVD release, this one's video still runs circles around it without contest.

Seven Samurai is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or full screen. However, the video presentation is "window-boxed", which is done to compensate for some older TVs that might crop the image, but is annoying when viewed on a DVD-R drive as the black border will be visible around the image.


 Audio: Star Rating

Seven Samurai features two audio tracks in Japanese. The first is a one channel mono track, which is the original format of the feature, and the second is a four channel Dolby Surround presentation of the audio. Of the two, the mono will probably be the clear favorite. It's far from a perfect audio presentation, for example the dialogue is a little rough in parts, but it's still quite good for this 52 year old film. The surround track is interesting; better composed than the ones found on Toho's region 2 release with obvious care shown in its creation. Still, it just doesn't sound as natural as the original mono version, although it's still great to have for those with sound systems to support it.

The audio can be accompanied with, removable, English subtitles.


 Extras:

Simply astounding. The level of extras in this set is really something to behold as Criterion truly shows their commitment to Japanese's most renowned production. In total, there are over 220 minutes of supplemental material across these three discs, along with tons of production stills, trailers, shots of posters from all over the world, two different commentary tracks and a small book with numerous essays and pictures from the film.

The standout feature here is the Toho Masterworks video, which was taken from Toho's region 2 release (although is now presented, naturally, with removable English subtitles). For those unfamiliar with the Masterworks, they are a series of documentaries done by Toho that explore, in great detail, aspects of the film through interviews with various cast and crew members involved in the production. As one has come to expect from the series, the documentary is also edited together in a great fashion that makes it interesting from beginning to end, as it changes from interview to interview in a fluid manner while also inter-splicing stills and photos into the footage. This feature is located on the second disc in the set.

Another great extra found in this set is a 113 minute interview called "My Life in Cinema" that was done with Kurosawa while in his home back in 1993. The lengthy segment, produced by the Directors Guild of Japan, is also broken into 19 chapters, with an index to the listing for easier viewing. Overall, the interview doesn't cover aspects of this film much, but is more of an incredibly detailed and informative first person account of the life of Japan's most recognized director. Definitely a treat for any fans of Kurosawa.

Next up is an "Origin and Influences" video that was done exclusively for this set, and is located on the third disc with the "My Life in Cinema" feature. The near hour long extra is filmed in a widescreen aspect ratio (Anamorphic as well) and features accounts from various scholars, both English and Japanese speaking, who cover the "samurai" genre before Seven Samurai and finally aspects of the movie itself. The feature is a little slow at the start, but really pays off as it progresses.

Following this are the two commentary tracks, including the original one done with Michael Jeck for Criterion's 1998 release of Seven Samurai and a freshly commissioned one with a variety of film scholars. Of the two, the original Jeck one tends to be superior, although both are very informative and work well to provide a wealth of background on the three hour production.

After this, there are a variety of extras located on the first disc in the set, which include a huge array of behind the scenes production stills along with a poster gallery that covers initial and reissues of the film all over the world. A collection of four trailers is also located here. This is one less than the region 2 from Toho, but the rare promo is included (although still with no audio) that should be of interest to most.

Finally, this set also comes with a small 56 page book that features tons of production stills, information on the restoration of the film for this release, and essays from a variety of sources including author Stuart Galbraith and producer/film critic Peggy Chiao.


 Overview:

Bottom line, Criterion had the task of convincing buyers to shell out $35-50 for this set of an earlier released film to DVD, and they have passed with flying colors. Anyone who loves this movie should do them self the favor of picking up this set, as it's such a vast improvement over earlier releases and Criterion has truly gone the extra mile in their excellent restoration of this aged classic.

- Anthony Romero  
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