DVD Review HTF Review: Seven Samurai (Highly Recommended)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by PatWahlquist, Aug 31, 2006.

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  1. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    [​IMG] - There is a 56 page booklet included, with essays from Arthur Penn, Sydney Lumet and eight other film critics and scholars. A very good appendix to this set.


    Video:
    The picture is correctly framed at 1.33:1 and it is window-boxed. Criterion states this was done to, “…ensure the maximum image is visible on all monitors.” Criterion is good enough to provide us with more information about the transfer itself, so I will pass this along: “The original negative of the film is no longer available, so a new duplicate negative was created with wetgate processing from the original fine-grain master positive. This new high-definition digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit Datacine from the new dupe negative.” The picture was also cleaned of dirt, debris, flicker and instability through several mechanical and computer processes, but there are still very noticeable instances of dirt and debris. The picture does look quite good though, and certainly better than the transfers seen in the trailers. The black and white picture exhibits excellent contrast and very good shadow detail. Grey scale was accurate as well. Both foreground and background detail is good and sharp. Edge enhancement was very minimal and there were no compression artifacts or video noise.

    The video on this new edition is quite literally a night and day difference from Criterion’s previous edition. The previous edition suffers from a less clean master and it has very noticeable video compression noise and artifacts. Edge enhancement comes through on the previous release in the form of very noticeable jagged video lines surrounding every object on the screen. Detail on the original is muddy and blurry at times. The opposite is true for this new release, as it is free from the video noise and compression issues suffered by its predecessor. Detail and sharpness is superb and the picture is free from the shimmering and flicker seen in the original. Kurosawa likes to use close ups of his actors, so you will see a whole new level of detail on the samurai’s shaved heads. The overall picture is much smoother and film like. The original was presented on one DVD-9, whereas the new edition is spread out over two DVD-9’s: that is enough to allow the video the room it needs on the disc to give us this stunning and beautiful presentation, film dirt be damned!


    Audio:
    I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital mono track engaged as this is the way the picture was originally presented. Sound was basically pretty flat and uninteresting as can be expected from big, fat mono. There is also a Dolby Surround track, so I did some spot comparisons only to find a hollow sounding surround field. In the opening, when the bandits are storming the village, it sounds as if you are in a tin can. Since the characters speak with such passion in most scenes, it sounds like the volume levels in this surround track are being pushed to their limits and fringing at the top end. There seems to almost be a cracking on the voices, but I attribute that to the available source elements and the way the film was recorded (or, perhaps, re-mastered), not a fault of the transfer. While it’s not bad by any means, it doesn’t have the clarity of many other DVD releases from this era. The musical score came through in a similar manner but it too is a little flat. While it is interesting to experience the film with the surrounds engaged, I much rather preferred the mono track as it didn’t seem as abusive to the ears as the surround track. LFE’s are not even noticed, with the entire soundtrack staying in the mid range. The mono track seems to be the same one from the previous release.

    As with the video, Criterion notes the following about the soundtrack: “The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from an optical soundtrack print…The new surround mix was created from original optical track recordings, original stereo music masters, and original production sound-effects masters. Audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle.”


    Bonus Material: Since the bonus material is spread over all three discs, I have set up the review the same way.

    Disc One:

    2 audio commentaries: one by film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie, and one by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck: The commentary by Jeck is the same one on the original release, but the other one is brand new. It is a non-stop commentary where the five participants each make comments about different parts of the picture. Each of them contributes information about the making of the picture, the history of the time period, information about the technical aspects of the shoot, and behind the scenes happenings. Both commentaries are well worth the seven hours it may take you to listen to them.

    3 Theatrical Trailers and teaser : The first trailer was the re-release from 1991; the second one is missing the sound as the master no longer existed. The latter one is interesting in that it takes behind the scenes footage of the characters, apparently from screen tests, to introduce them. It then goes on to show behind the scenes on location footage. The third one is more traditional. None of them have really been cleaned up like the feature.

    Gallery of rare posters and behind-the-scenes and production stills: 21 behind the scenes photos, including a great one of the snowed in village from 1954. The Toho doc addresses this problem the crew faced. The posters are from Japan, Poland, Great Britain, the U. S., and Argentina. I am always interested to see how each country modifies the images to suit their marketing needs. For these posters, Mifune’s screaming visage is present on all of them.

    Disc Two:

    Documentary on the making of Seven Samurai (50:00): This documentary was made as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. It features interviews with writer Shinobu Hashimoto, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, and actors Seiji Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya. Kurosawa is also interviewed, and he is in a much more philosophical mood here as opposed to the later interview. We get to see the room where the script was written, as well as the original script and the score book. Of particular interest to me was a visit to the Akira Kurosawa Memorial Museum, leading me to wonder why we don’t have such shrines to our famous directors.

    Disc Three: The Supplements:

    My Life in Cinema (1:55): a video conversation between Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Oshima from 1993, produced by the Directors Guild of Japan. Kurosawa and Oshima talk about: Kurosawa’s childhood, his brief career as a painter, how he began his film career, his time in training at Japanese studios as an assistant director, the history of Toho, Japanese film censors, life during wartime, his creative process, scriptwriting, directing actors, actors he’s directed, musical scoring, and directing in general. This is an outstanding and lengthy interview (with the exception of Oshima’s constant “uh-huh” and “hm”’s in the background) and worth every minute of viewing time.

    Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences (55:08): a new documentary looking at the samurai traditions and films that impacted Kurosawa’s masterpiece. It gives a good beginners background to what comprises a samurai and the differences between samurai film and swordplay films. We also get a discussion on the psyche of the samurai and the ideals that comprise the lifestyle. The participants from the new director’s commentary contribute here as well.


    Conclusions:
    So far for 2006, this is my vote for release of the year. Criterion has labored long and hard on the video and bonus material and we are the benefactors. The movie itself comes in at almost three and a half hours; then, you can spend another eleven plus hours going through the supplements. Oh, yeah, and you get a pretty good movie too! I don’t think it comes as any surprise…

    Highly Recommended!
     
  2. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Saw this film for the first time in either High School or College
    during a film study class. I haven't seen it since, but I have not
    forgotten its impact.

    When I saw Criterion was releasing this Special Edition DVD
    I immediately purchased it. My copy should be here tomorrow.

    Very happy to hear that the release lives up to expectations.

    I expected nothing less from Criterion!
     
  3. PaulP

    PaulP Producer

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    I haven't seen this yet, but can't wait to get my copy. Another nomination from me for DVD of the Year.
     
  4. jim.vaccaro

    jim.vaccaro Second Unit

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    Window boxed? Ugh. I really see no reason to do this, as it sacrifices vertical resolution. Any decent monitor shouldn't overscan enough to make this necessary. How extreme was the window boxing?
     
  5. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    It's minor and I really didn't notice it after a while. Actually, the main reason it was even an issue was that the original release was not done this way, so it was apparent when I was comparing the original release to this one.
     
  6. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Now this is how a double dip should be handled. Pay attention Lucasfilm. This is how to take money from my pocket.
     
  7. Brendon

    Brendon Second Unit

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    I was already planning on buying this as a replacement for my single disc. Now it's even more of a no brainer!

    Well done Criterion and thanks Pat for the excellent review.
     
  8. Eric Emma

    Eric Emma Supporting Actor

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    Just put in the preorder two days ago...
     
  9. Lord Dalek

    Lord Dalek Producer

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    Just to be sure, the Surround track is 4.0 right?
     
  10. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    Yes.
     
  11. James D S

    James D S Screenwriter

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    I'm buying this yesterday!
     
  12. Andrew Chong

    Andrew Chong Supporting Actor

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    Nice review, Pat! It's one of those movies to me that fall in the long-movie-with-unnoticeable-length category of engrossing movies. Nice to hear that this set includes a 56-page book.

    Out of curiosity, are those who speak Japanese in the "Documentary on the making of Seven Samurai" and "My Life in Cinema" dubbed or subtitled?
     
  13. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    Thanks! Everything is subtitled in the extras.
     
  14. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

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    "The video on this new edition is quite literally a night and day difference from Criterion’s previous edition."

    I cant belive how great this looks.

    Thank you Criterion.
     
  15. Chris S

    Chris S Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the review! Picked this up yesterday and the video truly is spectacular compared to the last release. I really wish it wasn't window boxed but its my only complaint on what appears to be (haven't watched everything yet) a perfect Criterion release. I'm still withholding judgement on the subtitles until I get a chance to really sit down with the entire film this weekend.
     
  16. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    Saw the film last night and agree that the video quality is incredible comapred to the previous release. It was like watching the film for the first time all over again.

    As for the new subtitles, I generally do not have a problem with them.

    I listened to the the Dolby Surround soundtrack, and I believe that some of the sound effects are a a bit different from the mono. The sword slashes seemed to have more impact compared to the original. I'll have to compare the two tracks more to be sure.
     
  17. Ryan L. Bisasky

    Ryan L. Bisasky Second Unit

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    how indeed are the subtitles different?
     
  18. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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  20. Adam_WM

    Adam_WM Screenwriter

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    Congrats on the national press Pat and HTF!
     

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