Two of Akira Kurosawa’s greatest films — which, by extension, means they’re also two of the greatest films ever made, period — have been digitally restored in ultra-high-definition 4K from the original materials.
Kotaku reports that Toho is converting all of Seven Samurai’s original 30,000 frames to digital, and restoring the image quality by removing scratches and replacing damaged frames. (The article includes several comparisons between the original and restored versions.) The 4K version of Seven Samurai will play in Japanese theatres this October, and will be followed by a 4K restoration of Ikiru, another great Kurosawa film (read my review).
Meanwhile, The Playlist reports that the 4K restoration of Kurosawa’s Ran — Kurosawa’s retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in 16th century Japan — will have a limited release here in the States followed by a U.K. release. The restored version, which played at last year’s Cannes festival, was taken from the original negatives, meaning this is about as good as Ran will have ever looked.
Both films are classics in every sense of the word, and are filled with shots and images — e.g., the battle in the rainstorm in Seven Samurai, Tatsuya Nakadai emerging from the burning castle in Ran — that rank among the most iconic in all of film history. I still remember the first time I watched Ran (albeit, on my little TV at home) and finishing the film with a very clear sense that I had just watched a masterpiece; nobody ever made epic films quite like Kurosawa did at the height of his powers.
Related: If you want to understand what made his films so remarkable, then a good place to start is Tony Zhao’s breakdown of Kurosawa’s filmmaking style and techniques.