This is my first film recommendation to you, dear reader, but my copy arrived in the mail on Thursday and the Criterion Collection three-disc reissue of Seven Samurai by writer/director Akira Kurosawa is fresh in my mind. and still spinning in my DVD player.
A poor farming village will be pillaged by bandits when their crops are ready for harvest. They seek out wandering samurai and ronin who will protect them for nothing more than a bowl of rice and regained honor. This sweeping, epic tale explores universal themes like honor, sacrifice, family, identity, and trust with the perfectionist-driven Kurosawa behind it, both as writer and in the director’s chair. Often called his masterpiece, the 1954 film sets many “rules” in combining good filmmaking with good storytelling.
This is the film that inspired the 1970s American film school brats like Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, and especially Lucas. Watch the original Star Wars and the influence will be clear – the way shots are set up to tell story, the character archetypes who mingle in their collective universe, the manner in which a grand story boils down to a handful of strong underlying themes. Seven Samurai is storytelling at it’s best, and we have a lot of strong storytellers because of its existence.
The 207-minute film is presented over two discs, with a third disc containing supplemental material and a booklet featuring essays on the film, including one by star Toshiro Mifune. The set is presented by Criterion, a company known for giving films painstaking detail in the restoration process and loading their discs with worthwhile extras. Basically, Criterion is the Rolls Royce of DVD companies.
This three-disc extravaganza isn’t the first time Criterion has released Seven Samurai. The film was their second release overall, a single disc which I proudly own (yes, I double-dipped on this one), but the picture and sound quality that made that disc so great are blown out of the water by the clarity and amazing quality of the fresh three-disc version. Currently, you can find it on sale at Amazon.com for the low, low price of $27.27. That’s much more than I’ve ever spent on a single film, but it’s also a low price for such a popular Criterion film, and I think it’s a worthwhile price to pay for any young storyteller looking to see a film that not only tells a great story in a powerful way, but has clear influences on modern American filmmaking.