Seven Samurai appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. I felt quite impressed by this strong transfer.
Overall sharpness appeared very good. A few slightly soft images cropped up, but those remained infrequent and minor, especially given the movie’s length; only a handful of these elements appeared across 207 minutes, so they left little impact. The majority of the movie offered solid definition. I witnessed no jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes appeared to be absent.
Source flaws remained minor. On a few occasions, thin vertical lines appeared, and a couple of small specks also cropped up, but that was it. The print defects were rare and insubstantial. Blacks looked deep and dark, while contrast and shadows worked well. Low-light situations demonstrated very nice clarity and visibility. The instances of softness and defects almost knocked my grade below “A”-level, but I thought the vast majority of the movie looked so great that the transfer earned its “A-“ mark.
While not as impressive, the monaural soundtrack of Samurai was satisfactory for its age. Speech seemed adequate; the lines were a little thin and reedy, but they were fine given their vintage. Music could be a bit flat, but again, this wasn’t a problem, as the score seemed acceptable overall.
Similar thoughts greeted the effects. Did any one them impress? No – they seemed somewhat lackluster. Again, however, I didn’t expect much more from them, and they seemed reasonably concise. A little background noise materialized throughout the film, but this didn’t cause any distractions. Though this mix remained relentlessly average, it was fine.
Expect a raft of extras from this Criterion release. On Disc One, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns and Donald Richie. This becomes a “tag team” affair, as the participants handle one roughly 40-minute segment each in succession. We go from Prince to Desser to Rayns to Richie to Mellen. They cover historical elements and influences, cast and crew, cinematography, editing and sound, interpretation and themes, and the film’s reception/legacy.
Though the quality of the track varies from one participant to another, we still learn a bunch about the movie here. I like the segments from Prince and Rayns the best, mostly because they offer the most info about the film’s creation; the others tend to strongly favor themes/interpretation, and while I find value in that material, I prefer a balanced approach. Nonetheless, the whole commentary works nicely and offers a good picture of the flick, though I admit the format is a minor disappointment; I think a true panel discussion would’ve been fun.
For the second track, we hear from Japanese film expert Michael Jeck. Originally recorded for an old laserdisc, he delivers a running, screen-specific piece that touches on the same scope of topics found in the other commentary. That’s probably the major problem here, at least if you listen to the newer track first: you’ll already know some of the material. We also get occasional lulls, and sometimes it feels like Jeck simply starts to narrate the film.
That said, Jeck does clearly know his stuff, and he delivers good notes about the flick. I especially like his discussion of Kurosawa’s life and career as well as the reception that greeted Samurai. If I chose only one commentary, I’d stick with the newer piece, but both have worth.
Over on Disc Two, three documentaries lead the charge. Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create goes for 49 minutes, 10 seconds and includes info from director Kurosawa, writer Shinobu Hashimoto, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, filmmaker Hiromichi Horikawa, music director Shin’ichiro Ikebe, lighting technician Mitsuo Kaneko, production designer Yoshiro Muraki, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, sound effects creator Ichiro Minawa, and actors Seiji Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya. “Create” examines the origins and development of Samurai as well as many aspects of the film’s production.
I expect a nearly hour-long documentary to offer good detail, and “Create” clearly does so. It uses all that time well, as it rarely sputters or throws in filler – and by “rarely”, I mean virtually never. We find a tight look at Samurai in this fine program.
Next comes the one-hour, 55-minute and 59-second My Life In Cinema: Akira Kurosawa. Conducted in 1993, this provides an extensive interview with Kurosawa in which he discusses his life and the span of his entire career. No one will call this the most visually engaging presentation, as it consists solely of “talking head” shots of Kurosawa and interviewer/filmmaker Nagisa Oshima.
I don’t regard that as a problem, though, especially since “Life” delivers an awfully rich program. Kurosawa proves open and engaging as an interview subject; he progresses through all the topics with charm and wit. Oshima throws out a slew of good questions and this develops into an excellent interview.
For the final program, we head to Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences. It runs 55 minutes, 12 seconds as it offers remarks from Prince, Mellen, Desser, Rayns, Richie, and film critic Tadao Sato. In separate interviews, they trace historical and cultural elements that had an impact on Samurai as well as aspects of its creation. Inevitably, some of this repeats from the first commentary, but it still provides a solid encapsulation of the components that came into play for Kurosawa.
Under Galleries, we find two separate areas. “Behind the Scenes” (20 images) shows photos from the set, while “Posters” (12) offers ads from around the world. Both are nice, though the allotment of pictures under “Behind the Scenes” seems skimpy.
Some ads finish Disc Two. We find three Trailers and one Teaser.
Like virtually all Criterion releases, this one comes with a nice booklet. Samurai’s 56-page text with essays from film critics/historians Kenneth Turan, Alain Silver, Peter Cowie, Stuart Galbraith IV, Peggy Chiao and Philip Kemp. It also throws in “tributes” from filmmakers Sidney Lumet and Arthur Penn as well as comments from actor Toshiro Mifune. As always, this is a classy, informative collection.
Most lists of the all-time great movies will include Seven Samurai, and for good reason. It offers a powerful, exciting adventure that continues to influence films to this day. This new Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, perfectly adequate audio, and an expansive, engaging set of supplements. This becomes the definitive release of a classic flick.