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DVD Pick: Seven Samurai Three-Disc Set

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One of the Greatest Movies Ever Made

I've always loved the complexity, visual style, and superb storytelling of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece of world cinema Seven Samurai. But the first time I saw it, I was both puzzled and fascinated by the movie. The acting styles and makeup seemed too theatrical for a film, and I was taken aback that the star, Toshiro Mifune—one of my favorite actors—seemed like such a buffoon most of the time. There were so many characters with unfamiliar names and faces that I had trouble keeping them straight through this three-and-one-half-hour epic. But despite my initial confusion, I knew I wanted to see this film again and again. Repeating viewings of Seven Samurai on DVD over the years have been rewarding. They have deepened my understanding and appreciation of this film, which is one of the greatest ever made.

A DVD Treatment Befitting a Classic of World Cinema

Seven Samurai originally came out on DVD in 1998, and you can find my review of the film elsewhere on this site. But in September, 2006, Criterion Collection released a luxurious three-disc edition of this movie that is far superior to the earlier DVD version. This is one of the best DVDs of the year.

The 2006 DVD edition has better picture and sound quality, and Criterion claims the English subtitles have been improved. The feature film up through the end of intermission is on Disc One of the three-disc set, and the rest is on Disc Two. The running time on Disc One is one hour 52 minutes (including seven minutes of intermission), and the running time on Disc Two is one hour 35 minutes.

The 1998 DVD edition had only one extra of any consequence, a feature-length audio commentary by Michael Jeck. The 2006 edition carries over that commentary and provides several additional bonus materials that enhanced my appreciation and enjoyment of this great movie.

Documentary on the Samurai in Life, Art and Film

One of my favorite extras on the 2006 edition is the 55-minute documentary titled "Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences" on Disc Three. This is a scholarly exploration of the traditions and films that impacted Kurosawa's masterpiece. The documentary primarily takes the form of intercut interviews with five English-speaking scholars (Stephen Prince, Donald Richie, Tony Rayns, David Desser and Joan Mellen) and one Japanese-speaking expert (Tadao Sato). One of many interesting things in this documentary is Rayns' description of Seven Samurai as "a fantasia based on historical sources, modern-day psychological thinking and sword-fight elements."

Making-Of Documentary

On Disc Two of the 2006 edition there's an informative bonus material titled "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create," which is a 49-minute making-of for Seven Samurai that was produced for the Japanese television series Toho Masterworks. This documentary contains interviews with some of the people who worked on the movie, including a screenwriter, the set decorator, the production designer, the script supervisor, the actor who portrayed the firebrand peasant Rikichi and the actor who played the master swordsman Kyuzo. Among the things covered in the documentary are Kurosawa's extensive notes, which state that Kyuzo was to be modeled after the famous historical figure Musashi Miyamoto. The documentary also captures Kurosawa saying, "Cinema is like a public square where people of the world gather."

Continued on the Next Page: More About the DVD Bonus Materials

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