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-Established 1997-

page added: 2/5/10
updated: 9/30/10

The Films of Akira Kurosawa
DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt, Todd Doogan, Adam Jahnke and Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

Akira Kurosawa

If you're a longtime reader of The Digital Bits, you'll likely know that there are few filmmakers we hold in higher regard than the acclaimed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa learned his craft as an apprentice of the legendary Toho studios, working under already established directors in the years leading up to World War II. His first few films were made during the war itself, in the early 1940s, under the strict guidelines of government censors. He would eventually struggle to obtain financing for his last few films, made in the early 1990s. But over the course of his 30-film career, Kurosawa explored issues of individualism and human nature, advanced the visual language of the film medium and pioneered key techniques of cinematography and editing - particularly those of the action film - used by today's directors the world over. Kurosawa's films have inspired (and been referenced by) scores of filmmakers who followed in his footsteps, including the likes of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Takeshi Kitano, Francis Ford Coppola and many, many more.

Criterion's AK100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa Box Set

It's worth noting that Kurosawa didn't like to be considered as an entity separate from his films. In his reluctantly-written, 1983 autobiography, Kurosawa himself says that "...I believe that what pertains only to myself is not interesting enough to record and leave behind me." Certainly, there's no better way to get to know any director than by watching his or her body of work. So it's only appropriate that our friends at Criterion have now delivered the most complete collection of Kurosawa's films ever released on DVD in the United States. Simply put, the long-awaited AK100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa box set is a home video marvel - pure cinematic joy in a box. In our opinion, this stylish, weighty and revealing set deserves a place as one of the treasured jewels of any serious film enthusiast's collection.

Criterion's AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa Box Set

Criterion's AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa Box Set

Beneath the lid of its gorgeous, linen-bound collector's box, AK100 presents a 96-page, photo-filled hardcover book, featuring an introduction and notes on each film by Stephen Price (author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa) and a personal remembrance of the director by Donald Richie (author of The Films of Akira Kurosawa). And beneath the book you'll find no less than 25 elegantly-packaged DVDs, encompassing the lion's share of Kurosawa's filmography, arranged in order of their production. Each film is presented movie-only, with restored digital transfers. Included are Sanshiro Sugata (1943), The Most Beautiful (1944), Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two (1944), The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945), No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), One Wonderful Sunday (1947), Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), Scandal (1950), Rashomon (1951), The Idiot (1951), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), I Live in Fear (1955), Throne of Blood (1957), The Lower Depths (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1963), Red Beard (1965), Dodes'ka-den (1970), Kagemusha (1980) and Madadayo (1993). The first twenty-two films are offered in their original black and white presentation, while the final three are in color. All are available here in their original aspect ratios and the widescreen films enhanced for anamorphic displays. It's worth noting that Sanshiro Sugata, The Most Beautiful, Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail have never been released in authorized DVD editions in the States until now.

[Note: Only missing from Kurosawa's complete filmography are The Quiet Duel (1949), Dersu Uzala (1975), Ran (1985), Dreams (1990) and Rhapsody in August (1991), the U.S. video release rights for which are currently held by other companies.]

Criterion's AK100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa box set (street date 12/8, SRP $399.00 - currently available for $289 on Amazon and $319 on Criterion's online store) is being released in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the director's birth, which occurs on March 23rd, 2010. So to celebrate both that occasion, and this tremendous DVD release, The Digital Bits is presenting our own tribute to Kurosawa. Each Friday, leading up to his 3/23/10 birthday anniversary, we'll offer new reviews of his films including all of those available in this box set. A few of these films have also been released by Criterion separately in more elaborate DVD/BD special editions, so we'll break those out and review them too. Before we finish, we'll even review the most recently available editions of the five films not included here. By the time we're through, we'll have given each film in Kurosawa's oeuvre the attention it deserves. And we think you'll agree with us when we say that Criterion's AK100 represents one of the most important DVD collections the format has seen to date. We can only hope to see all of these films released in this country in high-definition one day (note that Blu-ray editions are being released in Japan, but without English subtitles). In the meantime, it should go without saying that AK100 comes with our highest recommendation. Overall Rating: A

If you're interested in ordering the set for yourself, you can click on the images (and links) above. In the meantime, if you're ready to join us as we journey through the life's work of this master of the cinema, simply select a film from the list below, sit back and enjoy!

Bill Hunt, Todd Doogan, Adam Jahnke & Barrie Maxwell

[Note: For those concerned that the sale price for the box is still too high, we note that at $299, the breakdown is just $12 per film. Nevertheless, keep in mind that more elaborate editions of many of these films are already available individually from Criterion, and we suspect that the four films exclusive to this set will be made available in an Eclipse series DVD collection from Criterion later in 2010.]

Reviews of The Films of Akira Kurosawa:

All titles are DVD unless otherwise noted. (Note: OOP indicates Out of Print)

Sanshiro Sugata (1943) - AK100
The Most Beautiful (1944) - AK100
Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two (1944) - AK100
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945) - AK100
No Regrets for Our Youth (1946) - AK100, Eclipse
One Wonderful Sunday (1947) - AK100, Eclipse
Drunken Angel (1948) - AK100, Criterion
The Quiet Duel (1949) - BCI
Stray Dog (1949) - AK100, Criterion
Scandal (1950) - AK100, Eclipse
Rashomon (1951) - AK100, Criterion
The Idiot (1951) - AK100, Eclipse
Ikiru (1952) - AK100, Criterion
Seven Samurai (1954) - AK100, Criterion, 1st Criterion, Criterion BD
I Live in Fear (1955) - AK100, Eclipse
Throne of Blood (1957) - AK100, Criterion
The Lower Depths (1957) - AK100, Criterion
The Hidden Fortress (1958) - AK100, Criterion
The Bad Sleep Well (1960) - AK100, Criterion
Yojimbo (1961) - AK100, Criterion, Criterion BD, 1st Criterion
Sanjuro (1962) - AK100, Criterion, Criterion BD, 1st Criterion
High and Low (1963) - AK100, Criterion, 1st Criterion
Red Beard (1965) - AK100, Criterion
Dodes'ka-den (1970) - AK100, Criterion
Dersu Uzala (1975) - RUSCICO (Russian import), Kino
Kagemusha (1980) - AK100, Criterion, Criterion BD
Ran (1985) - Criterion (OOP), Wellspring (OOP), Amazon box (OOP), StudioCanal/Lionsgate BD
Dreams (1990) - Warner Bros.
Rhapsody in August (1991) - MGM
Madadayo (1993) - AK100, Wellspring (OOP), Amazon box (OOP)

Also Recommended:

Kurosawa (2001 documentary) - Wellspring (OOP), Amazon box (OOP)
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