RESTORING THE SEVEN SAMURAI
Arguably one of the most influential movies of all time, The Seven Samurai made news recently with the announcement of a painstaking new restoration of the ambitious epic. Kurosawa’s films have influenced western film makers for decades. The Magnificent Seven (1960) was a western remake, Sergio Leone was said to have remade Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars (Bruce Willis’ Last Man Standing also lays claim to being a remake to the same title) while George Lucas also acknowledged that Star Wars borrowed heavily from 1958’s Hidden Fortress.
Restoration was completed by Toho Cinemas through sourcing original 35mm master copies, as remarkably the original negative has been lost to time, a not un-common problem when it comes to classics of magnitude. Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi tale Metropolis, although one of the most famous films of all time, was until only recently restored completely after a complete print (not negative) was found. Film stock itself was highly combustible (Kodak didn’t introduce it’s ‘Safety Film’ until 1948, some six years prior to Seven Samurai’s release) and it is believed it could very well have been discarded. A film like Seven Samurai, being shown continually since its release at film festivals and retrospectives over the last 60 years, has resulted in the last remaining 35mm prints becoming worse for wear.
A tell tale of the deterioration of the original prints was the washed out nature of the black and white image. Many prints had seen there shadow and mid tones loose their contrast, resulting in certain scenes appearing an almost white-grey. Although some eagle eye film purists will possibly decry the contrast levels, it becomes apparent that in order to save sequences, there will be sacrifice to some shadow detail to preserve usable, deep contrast.
In an attempt to restore the image to a condition as close as possible to it’s first viewing in 1954, each frame was scanned for 4K output and went through the tedious frame by frame process of clean up, resulting in over half a million frames requiring work. The soundtrack also needed special attention to retain crisp dialogue. The aforementioned changes that bring the original contrast levels back are performed meticulously, and within the best possible range to the original B&W film stock, a dynamic range that is not obtainable by modern DCP output.
But the result is truly spectacular, affording audiences the first chance to see Kurosawa’s legendary adventure in a watchable format for the first time in many years. Kurosawa’s long time assistant, Teruyo Nogami, was pleased with the results after seeing the new transfers. “I was so excited. I wanted to show them to Mr Kurosawa. He would be so proud,” Nogami said.
The final roll out of the new restoration will premiere in Japanese Cinemas this October.