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DVD Zone: October 2006

| September 29, 2006 | 0 Comments

SEVEN SAMURAI
The Criterion Collection

Countless films over the years have been dubbed “masterpieces.” From Fritz Lang to John Ford, Peckinpah to Scorsese, all have created what many consider quintessential pieces of filmmaking. Few films, however, actually change the very nature of cinema itself.

Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai has several things that, at first glance, may make mainstream filmgoers leery. It’s long — clocking in past three-and-a-half hours. It’s black and white with subtitles, and it’s thought of as being an “art film” that would only be of interest to hardcore cinephiles and scholars. With the exception of the cinephiles and scholars bit, all of the above are true.

Yet it’s also a brilliantly written look at the nature of honor, class position, and individual ideals. Above all, it’s just a damn good action film. The pacing is so perfectly plotted that you’ll swear the film zips by under two hours. And, the gripping and exhilarating final battle in the rain stands as one of the most perfect action sequences ever committed to film.

The basic premise is deceptively simple: A small village of farmers knows it will be raided by bandits in the coming months. So, the village elder suggests that they hire samurai to protect them. It’s from this that Kurosawa goes deep into the study of human nature as the farmers are suspicious of the samurai, convinced that in the end they will plunder their village in the same way the bandits will, yet opting for the lesser of two evils. The samurai know what the farmers think of them, yet their battle-hardened code of honor trumps their disdain.

Kurosawa assembles his usual troupe of actors, with Takashi Shimura (who would appear in a whopping 22 of Kurosawa’s 30 films) as the leader of the seven, and the great Toshiro Mifune (who would work with Kurosawa 17 times) as the brash samurai wannabe.

This is not the first time Criterion has released Seven Samurai. As a matter of fact, the single-disc version was one of the first films the company ever released. However, they have gone back and remastered and repackaged it, creating a three-disc set that is nothing short of spectacular.

The first half of the film, along with two audio commentaries, trailers, and a poster gallery comprise disc one, while part two and the making-of documentary take place on Disc Two. The third disc comprises a two-hour interview with Kurosawa, and a documentary on the samurai tradition both in Japan and on film.

Criterion scores with one of the best DVD releases ever, of one of the greatest films of all time.

Film: ***** Features: *****

U2: ZOO TV LIVE FROM SYDNEY
Universal

In 1992, U2 embarked on their most ambitious tour yet, the Zoo TV tour. It was to be a spectacular display of technology, with innovations in both sight and sound on display nightly. Some would say they wanted to put on such an extravaganza because they hadn’t toured in awhile and wanted to give the fans their money’s worth. Others might muse, with the steely glint of cynicism in their eye, that the band wanted to put on the kind of splashy spectacle that would make people forget what a steaming pile Zooropa was. We’d never think anything such here, of course.

Live From Sydney remasters the original tapes of the Sydney performances, and the result is a bit oversaturated visually, but it’s only distracting in certain places. Soundwise, the 5.1 mix is acceptable, but not nearly as good as U2: Live In Boston.

The main problem with Live From Sydney is the disc doesn’t really show the band making use of the technology they spent all that cash on. After the first half hour or so, it simply morphs into a standard U2 show. Granted, a standard U2 show is still head and shoulders above most, but if you get a kid a bunch of shiny new doo-hickeys for Christmas, you want to see ’em playing with them, not the box.

A two-disc set (reviewed) is available with bonus tracks from other stops along the tour, two documentaries, and DVD-Rom features.

DVD: *** Features: ***

Also Available . . . If you didn’t get your Takashi Shimura fix with Seven Samurai, make sure to check him out in a vastly different role with the two-disc Gojira: Deluxe Collector’s Edition (Sony Wonder). You know it better as Godzilla, but for the first time the original Japanese version is widely available to the public. The difference between the two is night and day, with the American version inserting Raymond Burr into the film, Shimura’s role all but erased, and the running time slashed by 20 minutes. Being able to see the two side-by-side, you realize what a travesty the American version is.

— Timothy Hiatt

Category: Columns, Monthly

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