Filmnerd Attack, Film at 11

After Return of the King, I found myself unable to face another 3 1/2 hour plus movie; apparently I’m getting old. Luckily, Seven Samurai comes with a pre-planned, even necessary intermission, which provides a good place to break for the night and return for the second half.

As I said earlier, I think it’s been five years or more since I’ve watched Seven Samurai, extraordinary enough as it’s a movie I’ve singled out for most of my life as not only my favorite, but also my choice for Greatest Movie Ever Made. Some will agree, some won’t, but most film freaks will at least place it in the top ten.

When my family moved to Bryan, Texas in the early 70s and I started discovering the marvels of PBS, Seven Samurai was one of the first subtitled foreign films I’d ever seen. As I recall, the year previous I had been captivated by a series showing classics of the silent screen, which showed Orphans of the Storm, The Thief of Baghdad and Hunchback of Notre Dame. The next year was World Cinema, and I was exposed to Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, M, and Grand Illusion. Educational channel, indeed.

Back in the 80s, Houston’s River Oaks Theater was still a single-screen repertory house, given to themed double features; it broke with its usual two-and-three day runs to give over two weeks to Seven Samurai, and I was there four or five times, each time dragging a new person with me.

I was one of those guys with a laserdic player. I still have the laserdiscs, in fact. First one I bought? You guessed it. Criterion Collection, too, though I didn’t go for the ultra-deluxe CAV version with the $99.99 price tag.

My Criterion DVD went for a third of that. Ah, these times, these times.

This latest viewing brought home to me just how spoiled I have become. Criterion tracks down the best elements it can for its discs, but this print could really use some clean-up. Even more churlishly, I miss the old subtitles of the Janus print I saw in the 70s and the 80s, even though they had at least one subtitle in a disastrously wrong place. The translation was more formal, but…

Okay, best example. The Samurai and the villagers are preparing for the final battle with the bandits. In the town square, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), the false samurai who has finally been accepted by the others, is sticking all the swords taken from dead bandits into the central mound. The day before, his recklessness led to the death of several villagers and one of the samurai. When asked what he is doing, Kikuchiyo replies – in the 70s – “Today I must kill many.”

Today, he replies, “Can’t kill a lot with just one sword!”

Both work. The more modern version actually sounds like the Kikuchiyo we’ve seen all through the movie – bluff, sarcastic, trying too hard. The old version, though spoke reams about an essential change in the character, finally taking responsibility and a desire for atonement.

What a minor, minor cavil, though. There is a reason this movie is considered a classic, and why it keeps getting ripped off. I hear there is a remake in the works. The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars and A Bug’s Life (and, yes, Message from Space) at least had the decency to place the conceit in different venues, thus proving its viability and durability. A remake… well, insert all the Internet cliches you usually see at these junctures, ’cause I ain’t gonna be watching it, and I’m not going to waste any time coming up with a semi-clever version of “this is going to suck”.

Then, it would almost certainly have to be better than:

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