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Seven Samurai on the Big Screen

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    cocoskyavitch

    Despite having a low fever, and the dregs of an annoying cold, I dragged myself out to see one of the truly great films on the Big Screen-how could I pass up the chance? New subtitles, and a gorgeous transfer of the myriad silvers, whites, blacks and greys of Seven Samurai! Good sound-make that great-I heard things that I had not noticed on the little screen-and being with the mixed bag of Ann Arborites (Japanese, hipsters, film geeks, students and local color-there’s one guy who just stepped out of the Simpsons-I think he is comic book guy-he always sits near the front) was wonderful.

    The audience laughed UPROARIOUSLY when Katsushiro brandished his flowering branch at Shino. They seemed to really appreciate the humor and warmth of the film. I think the love story (which, on some viewings I find a bit stilted) with this audience really was quite lovely and true-seeming. It was their gracious reception that made it so.

    I couldn’t tell-I always get a chill when the old woman goes after the bandit with a rake for revenge-but I think the audience didn’t feel the shock of the violence and horror as I did. I didn’t feel any ripples of recoil in reaction to the scene-but, I didn’t take a poll-this is a subjective comment only.

    I believe they found the village elder both alarming and humorous in turns. They all laughed at “find hungry samurai” and they all seemed quiet and a bit abashed on first confronting his wizened face. When Mifune asks the old man if he has a problem, the audience erupted in spontaneous laughter. So, they were sympathetic.

    They were so sympathetic that the puzzling comments by some critics of the past that disdained the “low” peasants seemed unfounded. I think the audience took to heart Mosuke’s confrontation with the sight of his burning home, and Rikichi’s confession that the woman in the bandit’s den was his wife.

    How do you feel when Katsushiro cries out over the body of Kyuzo? I always find it braces me…I was in shock the first time, but the crying of Katsushiro brings my senses back, and I can watch Mifune. It has the opposite effect one might expect-I don’t dissolve in the loss, and commisserate with Katsushiro.

    It seemed the audience felt similarly. There were no tears (I used to cry all the time at the end) but the audience leaving seemed energized in the way that great film can energize. Some were talking about the film.

    Being a Kurosawa Geek has some advantages. When the fellow introducing the film at Lorch Hall as part of the “Kurosawa Re-Viewed” retrospective at U of M, said he hadn’t seen the film in 15 years, but that it was long, and there might be an intermission, I could pipe up authoratiatively “Yes, there is an intermission”. The fellow didn’t quite believe me-the girl playing with her i-pad in the audience-but of course I was right, and there was just enough time to open some crinkly-wrapped throat lozenges and quiet my stifled coughs.

    Yes, despite the fever, it was a treat to see one of my favorite films-one I esteem so highly and love so deeply, and a great portion of the pleasure was seeing it with an appreciative audience!

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for the report, Coco! It’s great to hear that the audience reacted to the film!

    How many were you in the audience, and was it anywhere near a full house? Was the person introducing the film good? Did they mention what print it was — a film print, or off the upcoming blu-ray?

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    cocoskyavitch

    This was a real, live film print, Vili! So nice! It was magical, actually…

    For me “7” is one of those films that starts having its own internal memory life after I’ve done watching. Seven Samurai got really good this time. From October 8th until today, the scenes in the inlet at the edge of the forest where the bandits gallop in…became clearer and I could start to smell the leaves on the ground, and the dust.

    Also the scene at the bandit’s hideout was much more clear, rich, believable. Absolutely fantastic, relaly., Funny thing-Mifune on the big screen had a smaller presence than on the small. Why would that be? Very off about viewing in different formats, and memory.

    Pretty good house-maybe 150-200? (Small auditorium in the Japanese Language Center at U of M) not perfectly full but close. I’m seeing Hidden Fortress this Friday. Letcha know how it goes! And, no, the fellow introducting the film surely could have had more knowledge, passion, interest. But that’s allright. He seemed nice enough. If we all in this forum could view then have drinks after and discuss….now that would be awesome!!!!

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    Vili Maunula

    If we all in this forum could view then have drinks after and discuss….now that would be awesome!!!!

    Now, that would indeed be something!

    My wife just translated Rashomon (or revised her earlier translation of it) and will be dubbing it tomorrow for a film club in Budapest. (Neither of us is a big fan of single-voice dubs, or any dubs to begin with, but at least she’s paid for it.) Unfortunately, I can’t make the time to attend the screening, for it would be interesting to see how the audience reacts to it. The guy running the film club is also generally pretty good with his introductions.

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    lawless

    It would be wonderful to be able to get together to watch any of Kurosawa’s movies and to discuss it and socialize afterward. Unfortunately, reality intrudes.

    I’ve seen Seven Samurai on the big screen, but it was a long time ago. It might even have been my second viewing of the movie. Obviously, it was not as good technically as the version Coco saw.

    As for commentary on Kurosawa films: I saw The Hidden Fortress for the first time at a local movie theater where it was being shown as part of the film festival sponsored by the local arts council, and the man who introduced it, while pleasant and enthusiastic enough, was not familiar with the period in which the film was set. I could not help but (gently, I hope) correct him. 🙄

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    lawless

    Coco – I just reread your initial post, and wanted to add that I still tear up at these points in the film:

    -When Kambei changes his mind and accepts the farmer’s request.

    -When Heihachi dies and during his subsequent funeral.

    -At Kikuchiyo’s death.

    -The final shot of the four samurai graves as the closing music swells.

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    cocoskyavitch

    lawless, I am feeling ya! Just simply reading your words brings back emotion so strong, I get chills.

    And, Kambei accepting the bowl of rice is one of the best uses of framing and staging I have ever seen on film. Kudos to Asakazu Nakai (Ran, Dersu Uzala and others…!).

    Meaning through light, framing, perspective and blocking the image. Think about the unforgettable images in the film: Heihachi’s funeral, Kikuchiyo’s death, the final battle scene, the final shot of the samurai graves….all images that convey heartrending poetic meaning! Really a triumph! Happily, still one of the top 10 films of all time!

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    lawless

    Seven Samurai is my favorite film of all time. Odd, since there are very few women in it, but I like it for its combination of individualism and societal sweep, and generally only men had agency in society, not women. When we discuss Seven Samurai again, I plan to start a thread on Shino and Katsushiro. I do not see their relationship as a typical romance, as I think for Shino it was a provisional relationship that she had every intention of ending if they survived — as she did. So the samurai’s and Rikichi’s take on it — that the two of them are in love — doesn’t ring true to me.

    I agree, the framing and editing really makes the film and goes a long way to making these shots moving. .

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    cocoskyavitch

    lawless,I cannot wait to hear your take on the relationship between Shino and Katsushiro!

    I think that women can be “in love” and aware that a relationship has a tiny shelf life at the same time! Oh, this conversation will be rich!

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    Ugetsu

    I can only hope I get to see it on the big screen. I just watched the Criterion version last night (unfortunately not the blu-ray version, I can’t get it to run on my pc), but the ‘standard’ version is amazing, its a revelation in its quality. I once thought that the only flaw in Seven Samurai was that the cinematography isn’t as good as in Rashomon or Yojimbo – I now see that it is, its just that the versions I’ve seen (the BFI edition) just isn’t up to quality. I was transfixed by some of the night time scenes, the lighting is perfect. Every time I watch this film I fall even more in love with it.

    Incidentally, it seems the Weinsteins are doing a remake – set in Thailand of all places.

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    Vili Maunula

    Just this morning, I was wondering what ever happened to the Weinstein project, as there haven’t been updates for over a year, after a rather steady stream of rumours between 2006 and 2008. (The news article you link to is also from 2008.) I think the Weinstein Company has been having quite severe financial problems these past two years, so could it be that the project is cancelled or at least shelved?

    Well, I guess we still have Irvine Welsh’s soccer adaptation to… err.. look forward to. Or do we? I don’t actually remember hearing anything about it either since last spring.

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    Ugetsu

    Ah, I hadn’t realised that it had been floating around at the time. Funnily enough, a while back I was wondering what a contemporary remake would look like, and the best idea I could come up with was the idea of some mercenaries getting hauled in to protect some South American village from bandits. I suppose Thailand has a similar situation (I just saw the Cannes winner Uncle Boonmee Remembers his Past Lives last week and it refers to the type of guerrilla warfare that has been endemic in the north for decades). It would also be a very cool reason to have Tony Jaa in a big budget movie 😉

    On the subject of Seven Samurai, the Criterion version has a very different subtitle translation – it seems much better than on my BFI copy. Is this a new translation or are there a few different versions around?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ugetsu, Criterion has two versions of Seven Samurai-I have both-and the most recent version was digitally remastered-very good looking, and has subtle differences in subtitles . The most recent release is filled with commentaries, and extras, including a booklet.

    The earlier Criterion version is quite acceptable too.Speaking of which, there are some nice commentaries on the Criterion site on Kurosawa’s work-I hadn’t read the Donald Richie until today, though written in 2009 ;

    http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1323-remembering-kurosawa

    The big-screen version I saw was a …”fresh 35mm print”…according to the press for the film series, and it was glorious, although the subtitles seemed different from either Criterion Collection dvd. Film is just light is shining through a membrane then bouncing off a reflective screen. It’s just the physciality of it that makes the experience much more of a shadow puppet show-and, for me, more affecting. And, there’s no denying scale…and the communal experience. It was a wonderful viewing for me of a film I love more than just about any I’ve ever seen.

    lawless makes the point that women don’t figure much in the film, except for Shino. And for those of us who love it, it must be that the universality of Kurosawa’s vision of humanity makes gender irrelevant to the appreciation of the film. I am astonished over and again by the delicacy of small nuances of emotion, the deep understanding of character, and compassion- all the action films and buddy films ever after seem like footnotes to this great work that stands unique among all films for me.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Criterion has two versions of Seven Samurai-I have both-and the most recent version was digitally remastered-very good looking, and has subtle differences in subtitles .

    The difference in subtitles between the BFI version and the Criterion version is huge – its an entirely different translation (and interestingly, there is far more ‘dialogue’ in the Criterion version). I’m assuming the BFI version is much older – if the Criterion version is correct, then the BFI one is much more bowdlerised. Although from a few ‘politically correct’ changes (the commentary notes a word that apparently translates directly as ‘bitch’ is ignored) I would assume that the Criterion version is a more modern American-English translation. I’ve no idea the origin of the BFI ones. But the Criterion one is definitely a richer, clearer translation. Whether its more accurate, I’m not qualified to say.

    Lawless

    When we discuss Seven Samurai again, I plan to start a thread on Shino and Katsushiro. I do not see their relationship as a typical romance, as I think for Shino it was a provisional relationship that she had every intention of ending if they survived — as she did. So the samurai’s and Rikichi’s take on it — that the two of them are in love — doesn’t ring true to me.

    I’d love to hear your take on this. I agree with you that the relationship is richer and more complex than is usually assumed (Mellon describes Shino as more a force of peasant sexuality than a real character). In the documentary attached to the Criterion version it says that the script called for Shino’s eyes ‘to shine like a bird of prey’ in the final scene where she walks past Katsushiro on the way to the fields.

    Coco

    I am astonished over and again by the delicacy of small nuances of emotion, the deep understanding of character, and compassion- all the action films and buddy films ever after seem like footnotes to this great work that stands unique among all films for me.

    Having absorbed myself in the film while snowed in last weekend, I can only agree wholeheartedly.

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    Vili Maunula

    The BFI and Criterion versions indeed have different subtitles, and I think that this is not only true of Seven Samurai but other films as well. And as Coco pointed out, the new Criterion Seven Samurai has different subtitles than the old one.

    It’s actually a little strange that translations and translators aren’t more prominently discussed in connection with film releases. Or with other arts, for that matter. There is so much to lose if one has the wrong translator for the wrong text.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    It’s actually a little strange that translations and translators aren’t more prominently discussed in connection with film releases. Or with other arts, for that matter. There is so much to lose if one has the wrong translator for the wrong text.

    Indeed – I’ve often been frustrated with what seems to be poor subtitling in Japanese films. I went to an Ozu film a couple of years ago with a Japanese friend – she was chuckling away at times, saying ‘oh, thats really funny, the subtitles make it seem very boring’. I suspect there is a lot in the films that those of us without fluent Japanese (or in my case, any Japanese) are missing.

    If I have time over the weekend I’ll do a bit of a comparison of scenes.

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    Fabien

    Well, I am not new to the “traduttore, traditore” principle, but I must admit that I was not really aware of its reality in cinema before the last few years, when I tried to clutch hold of original versions.

    The last time it stroke me was in Tsotsi (south-african township struggling story), where native languages meet local languages derived from European ones and a so-called english which seems more to be a local language derived from english. (Rich and interesting encounter.)

    If one had to rely only on subtitles, one would totally miss the point, and I, for sure, missed a lot of things.

    I have yet to acquire Eclipse editions of The most beautiful and The men who tread… but I hope that the comparison with the chinese editions will be interesting.

    Would you happen to have more details on the “bitch” ignored part, Ugetsu? Without watching the film again, I can’t remember when it could take place.

    As for Coco‘s big screen experience, it’s amazing and I long for such an experience, but my only similar thing was a private (little) screening with friends of Seven samurai and the reaction was mostly sleepy. 😮

    (Sadly, most of the fictional and documentary production gets people used to short duration attention.)

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    Ugetsu

    Fabien

    Would you happen to have more details on the “bitch” ignored part, Ugetsu? Without watching the film again, I can’t remember when it could take place.

    I’ll check later the exact time, but it is the harvest scene where all the village women appear to the surprise of the samurai – its just after the interval. It is spoken by Mifune (of course!).

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hey, Vili and Ugetsu…I found a Kurosawa site with a funny bit on the Bo-Ying translations of Kurosawa films: http://www.kurosawamovies.com/comparisons.htm#boyingsubs

    Having some Bo-Ying titles myself (including Throne of Blood!) I agree heartily..they’re sometimes completely baffling and often “chucklesome”!

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    Vili Maunula

    A nice find, Coco! It’s always great to see new Kurosawa websites.

    I think that I now want a t-shirt that has the words “It’s not easy to go to Country Joe” printed on it.

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    Ugetsu

    I’ve just done a very quick comparison between the Criterion and BFI versions – there are very significant differences. The BFI version is given as 190 minutes, while Criterion is 207. I think 5 minutes of the 207 minutes are interval. I haven’t run them side by side, but even the title sequence is different (much shorter) in the BFI version.

    The subtitling is totally different. For example, in the opening scene, the BFI version goes:

    “We’ll raid this village”

    ‘No, we took their rice last year”

    “We’ll come back when they harvest their barley”.

    Criterion gives the following:

    “Take this village too!”

    “Take it, Take it!”

    “We took their rice last fall, they’ll have nothing left”.

    “Very well, we’ll come back when the barley is harvested”.

    In the harvesting scene, where Kikuchiyo sees all the girls, BFI has him say:

    “Who would have thought there were so many girls here?”

    “Where have you been hiding all these girls”

    “I can cut faster than you, see, I am friendly!”

    In Criterion:

    “Hot Damn!”

    “Look at all those girls!”

    “Where did you keep all these girls?”

    “You devil!”

    “Hey, lend me your scythe”

    “I’ll cut it three times your rate”

    “In return, lets be nice and friendly, eh?”

    I find the Criterion version far better. It seems to make more sense in lots of scenes, its quite a lot earthier and more colloquial (always American colloquialisms). I think it also catches the rhythm of the film much better.

    And of course, the restoration by Criterion is superb – it is more than enough for anyone in Region 1 to invest in it (and the means to play it of course).

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