Some film restorations are so stunning that it is easy to get caught up in admiring the handiwork of the restorer. One of my all-time favorite films, METROPOLIS, for example, recently had such a handsome restoration of the print and the sound that one could have devoted an entire review to the technical aspects of the restoration.
Akira Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI (SHICHININ NO SAMURAI) is back with a new print but, to be honest, the restoration is nothing special nor is the quality of the accompanying soundtrack. The reason to see the film on the big screen is the chance to appreciate why viewers worldwide have ranked it as the eighth best film ever made -- as measured by the Internet Movie Data Base, the definitive source of film information. Kurosawa's ability to tell a dramatic and compelling story is superb. His characters have such expressive faces that they act like they are in a silent movie. Actually, THE SEVEN SAMURAI has relatively sparse dialog, letting the visuals tell most of the story.
The re-released version is the original theatrical length of 203 minutes, and not the 141 minute one that we normally see. Is the longer version better? Not really. It's as good as the shorter version, but I'd be hard pressed to say that the extra material improved it, which is exactly the same thing that I said about the longer versions of AMADEUS and DAS BOOT.
If you see THE SEVEN SAMURAI for the first time and get a feeling of déjà vu, don't be surprised. The film has been remade, most notably as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, many times and has been borrowed from many, many other times.
The story concerns a dirt-poor village in sixteenth century Japan. Since the villagers expect to lose their crop to bandits, causing the village to literally starve to death, they decide to hire some samurai to protect them. This is much harder than it might appear for many reasons. They can't pay their protectors and can barely afford to feed them. They have no idea how to choose samurai. And they have no reason to suspect that any self-respecting samurai would risk his life to save a bunch of peasants without any compensation. In short, the villagers' mission appears doomed from the start.
Of course, the villagers do find some men brave and foolish enough to help them. The samurai turn out to be a gregarious group of fighters with bravado to burn. If you grew up watching westerns, you'll feel right at home rooting for these Japanese cowboys as they take on the bad guys. The only things that are missing are black and white cowboy hats. It's all rollicking good fun, and it's an action film with a lot on its mind to share with the viewers along the way.
THE SEVEN SAMURAI runs 3:23. The film is in Japanese with English subtitles. It is not rated but might be PG-13 for violence and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes