Samurai 7 Collector’s Edition (Cert 15)
3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 677 minutes approx.
Release Date: November 28th
It is a very brave person who decides to take one of the most celebrated, revered, and influential films of all time and not only turn it into an anime adaptation but also give it a steampunk makeover. That is exactly what Toshifumi Takizawa did to Akira Kurosawa’s magnum opus Seven Samurai.
The setting is a futuristic post-war Japan, which saw the era of the samurai come to an end. Many allowed their bodies to be fused with technology to become dangerous living weapons and now exist as machines. Known as Nobuseri, they have turned to crime as bandits and a group of Nobuseri are terrorising the small village of Kanna, demanding they hand over their crops or suffer the consequences.
With morale at an all time low, and scarce food supplies to feed themselves anything but rice, the village head decrees they need to find samurai willing to defend the village on their behalf. A team consisting of water priestess Kirara, her younger sister Komachi, and a farmer named Rikichi head to the city to find any Samurai who will help them, with only rice as a means of payment.
At first their request is met with derision, or hungry samurai enjoying a free feed before refusing to help. Only young idealistic wannabe Katsushiro and hulking, rambunctious cyborg Kikuchiyo step up at first, with Samurai master Kambei keeping his distance until he is forced to step in when Kirara runs into trouble. Under Kambei’s guidance, the group traverse the city until another three samurai are recruited – street performer Gorobei, craftsman Heihachi, and Shichiroji, an old friend of Kambei’s.
Yes, I know that only makes six samurai so far, the arrival of the seventh is little more complicated, as it pertains to a subplot which becomes the focus of the second half of the series, a storyline unrelated to Kurosawa’s original. The trouble Kirara ran into was Ukyo, the spoiled son of the Magistrate who wants Kirara for his harem. By rescuing her, the Samurai are now marked men in Ukyo’s eyes.
Kyuzo, the seventh samurai, was ember of Ukyo’s squad of mercenary samurai, having had enough of being a puppet for this petulant brat and defects to the side of Kambei and the others. Despite unease of being reliant on a former assassin for the government, Kyuzo’s skill as a swordsman earns his acceptance among the group and the villagers, who are now being trained to fight alongside and as back up to the samurai.
By going the steampunk route Takizawa jazzed up a then 50 year old story – this series was made in 2004 – for younger audiences who may find Kurosawa’s 3 ½ hour epic film a bit of a slog; the irony of course is that this 26-episdoe series runs to over 11 hours! Thankfully, the revised script by Atsuhiro Tomioka keeps much of the original story and its basic principals intact for the first half, which takes in the battle against the bandits, before going wildly off-piste for the second half.
Obviously, the first notable difference is Kikuchiyo being a steampunk cyborg – i.e. he is art mechanical and needs regular servicing but hardly a robot. This character was played in the film by the legendary Toshio Mifune as a headstrong, blustering rogue looking for validation in life; his animated counterpart is loud, gregarious, but warm hearted, ending up earning the adoration of youngster Komachi, who calls him Nunky!
Ukyo is another bespoke creation, assuming the role of antagonist, as the bandits in the film were essentially a faceless collective and conduit for the story’s message of strength in number and the value of brotherhood. A periodic nuisance in the early episodes, his role grows later on to dominate the story, the mission of our heroes having extended beyond protecting Kanna village to the wellbeing of the entire city.
Finally, as you may have noticed, there is a greater female presence in this version and it’s not just for fan service reasons either (although Kirara does wear a slightly skimpy outfit). As the water priestess, Kirara has agency and confidence as a character beyond a damsel in distress, whilst other women are given similarly important roles for many of the male cast a reason to grow.
Reading about these changes may sound like sacrilege to purist admirers of Kurosawa’s cinematic masterpiece, yet it becomes clear this isn’t done to spite the source material or to suggest it needed updating, rather it demonstrates the value of a timeless story and how it can fit into any situation – let’s face it, Hollywood has already re-imagined it with cowboys, aliens, and insects so why can’t anime give it a Steampunk upgrade?
Granted, the sight of average sized men slicing metal airships or giant mecha in half with just their swords is farfetched, yet lest we forget the precedent already set by Geomon of Lupin the Third fame! Anime has seldom played by the rules and not even a respectful adaptation of Kurosawa is going to change that any time soon. That it gets wilder in the second half where steampunk gives way to computer technology is something we just have to deal with.
Previously release as 7-disc DVD set many 20 years ago, this new Blu-ray transfer has been digitally remastered and looks fantastic, breathing new life into it. The colours are bold and striking and the images crisp and clearly defined. Gonzo, who handled the production relied on CGI a lot with this series being a guinea pig for the HD treatment, hence the widescreen picture ratio, and even in this new transfer it looks acceptable.
Samurai 7 may be Kurosawa’s classic story on steroids after dropping acid yet doesn’t stray from taking us on an emotional, action packed journey as we follow a disparate group of people uniting to ward off oppressive forces. Visually engaging, philosophically pertinent, and morally empathetic, it’s samurai Jim, but not as we know it.
English Language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Japanese Language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Episode 1 Commentary
Episode 14 Commentary
Rating – ****
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