Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seven Samurai (1954)

It’s the sixtieth anniversary of Akira Kurosawa’s classic action drama that’s inspired everything from Westerns (four MAGNIFICENT SEVEN films) to science fiction (Jimmy T Murakami’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS) to comedy (The ‘Black Seal’ episode of the first series of THE BLACK ADDER). To celebrate this fact, (and the fact it’s their all-time No.1 bestselling title) the BFI are bringing out a remastered version of the film in High Definition on DVD, as well as a limited edition Blu-ray steelbook.
So much has been written about this film over the years that it would be redundant of me to add to what has already been said, but in case you’ve never heard of any of the above movies the basic plot is this: in the rural Japan of the late 1600s a poverty-stricken village is regularly beset by bandits who plunder the meagre harvest the villagers manage to till from the soil of the surrounding area.

        In an attempt to prevent this from happening for the umpteenth time they recruit seven masterless samurai to defend them (the history of how samurai became wanderers in this period is all explained in more detail in the booklet you get with the film). Over the course of the film’s 198 minute running time (yes, you’ll need a cushion) we see how the samurai draw up a plan to defend the village and how the villagers themselves become involved in the ensuing battle.

It’s a testament to the genius of Kurosawa’s film that you come away from watching it feeling its imitators have only skimmed the surface of an immensely profound and ambitious piece of work. The final battle is a grim, mud-splattered and rain-soaked affair, and there’s no sense of respite or resolution for the survivors at the end.

The BFI’s remastering of SEVEN SAMURAI provides us with the opportunity to play the film with or without the original intermission (which occurs at about 1hour 42 minutes in). Oddly, this point isn’t marked as a chapter break. The image is fine, and the subtitles are clear, readable, and well translated. Extras include the aforementioned very useful booklet, a 47 minutes featurette in which Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns discusses The Art of Akira Kurosawa, and there’s a trailer as well. The Blu-ray wasn’t available for review but the DVD looks really pretty good for a film from 1954.

The BFI are releasing Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI on DVD and Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook on 21st April 2014

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