One of the greatest films ever made Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai has influenced the work of director's from George Lucas to Steven Spielberg, and spawned remakes, such as John Sturges acclaimed The Magnificent Seven. With their village raided every year by vicious bandits, a group of peasants hire seven warriors to protect them. Initially met with suspicion the warriors eventually gain the trust of the peasants and they join forces to face the bandits Available for the first time Blu-ray, this special edition includes alternative presentations of the film, a new and exclusive interview with Asian expert Tony Rayns, and the film's original Japanese trailer. Endlessly copied but never surpassed, Seven Samurai is a truly timeless classic
BFI releases Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. The high-definition transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz on a dual-layer disc. The disc is locked for Region B.
I’ve admittedly been sitting on this disc for a while, a few weeks at least, and keep coming back to it, comparing between it and Criterion’s own Blu-ray edition. Both apparently come from a fine-grain master positive, and to me, that should mean the two would have to look fairly similar but when one compares they look staggeringly different from one another, the BFI coming off considerably weaker.
Contrast is the first substantial and noticeable difference. Criterion does manipulate their contrast levels, much to the chagrin of some, and there are times where it doesn’t always look right to my eyes. But the contrast in the BFI presentation can look quite off. Some moments do look better, like some of the daylight village scenes, and some darker sequences deliver more details in the shadows. But this isn’t always the case. Some scenes look severely blown out, with whites coming off far too blinding, and blacks pumped up until they become too deep and opaque, destroying a substantial amount of detail in brighter scenes, details that are clearly visible on Criteiron’s. And then there’s still some darker moments that have more detail in the Criterion, but are completely crushed in the BFI’s.
The biggest grievance I have with the BFI’s transfer, though, is just the overall clarity of the image. It looks fuzzy and blurry, never as crisp as the Criterion presentation. I kept going back to the Criterion transfer trying to see if maybe they did some more digital trickery to give it a sharper look. It’s possible they sharpened the image, but there’s no denying there’s still a higher level of detail in their image. Fine patterns in clothes, pores on skin, details in backgrounds, even the fine scratches remaining in the print, all come through so much better on the Criterion edition. The BFI’s transfer is simply just fuzzy and lacks the fine details found on the other Blu-ray.
Both editions still present a fair share of damage, though the BFI’s might be a little heavier. The most noticeable difference is what you see on the edges of the frame: more wear and tear is visible in these areas on the BFI, and fading can be a bit more of an issue. Fine scratches are there, though oddly I think I found them to come through more clearly on the Criterion version. Most odd, though, is that the two transfers don’t share the same instances of damage, where tram lines or marks seen on the Criterion are not on the BFI’s and vice versa. The BFI edition does also have more frame jumps and pulsating present.
It’s possible BFI took a more hands off approach, which is admirable, but I still can’t believe Criterion could have manipulated an image so much they would have added detail. The Criterion is simply that much sharper, with better definition and fine object detail. The BFI’s presentation is lacking and makes the film actually look older than its age.
Sound also isn’t much better. The lossless mono track is weak and hollow, even more so than Criterion’s. It’s low, lacks anything in the way of fidelity, and presents some noticeable edginess and damage.
BFI only adds one substantial extra, a lengthy 48-minute interview with film scholar Tony Rayns. It’s a general overview of Kurosawa’s early career with a special concentration on Seven Samurai. He then goes over the director’s later years, where it was harder for him to make a film. In there, though, he mixes in some history on Japan’s film industry and its changes throughout Kurosawa’s career. He also talks about other directors and how Kurosawa’s world impact influenced even the likes of Mizoguchi. He covers a lot of material, even offering some good anecdotes (like one about Takeshi Kitano meeting the filmmaker) and sharing a story on how he first saw Seven Samurai (which he almost charmingly seems embarrassed by.) There are some obvious cuts put in place, cutting out some material where Rayns may have gone off-topic (unfortunately the lead-in before these cuts suggest what might have been some interesting material) and it’s, in the end, a long talking head featurette, but Rayns has a lot of material and does manage to keep one’s attention.
The disc then has the original Japanese Theatrical Trailer.
The booklet then features an essay on the film by Philip Kemp, followed by the reprinting of a review for the film that appears in a 1955 issue of Sight & Sound. The booklet then concludes with bios for both Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.
Though Rayns offers some solid value the supplements don’t compare in any way to the rather stacked Criterion release, and just knowing there is so much more out there makes this edition disappointing.
It’s a disappointing release all around. Though I compare it a lot to the region A Criterion release, which clearly outdoes this edition, I’d still be thoroughly disappointed with this release, even if I didn’t have that one as a reference. Despite Rayns best efforts the supplements aren’t wholly satisfying and the transfer is mediocre.