Akira Kurosawa directed thirty films over fifty years, from 1943 to 1993. Sixteen of those, from 1948 to 1965, featured Toshiro Mifune. That era, including Ikiru (in which Mifune did not appear), is generally considered Kurosawa's best. From 1958 through 1965, he made six films in the the widescreen, anamorphic format, called "Tohoscope," with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. These movies probably represent the peak of his cinematic creativity, in which he displayed the broadest range of skills. Although it should be noted that his two most famous movies, Rashomon and Seven Samurai, were made before the widescreen era.All seventeen films in that era were filmed in black-and-white.
He made six films before Mifune (1943-47), and seven afterwards (1970-93). His seven later films, all made in color, include two great films, Kagemusha and Ran, but Kurosawa was missing many of his regular film-making team (writers, cinematographers, musicians) as well as Mifune and other familiar actors.
The DVD set notes is almost complete, missing two films. A few others lack English subtitles. And quite a few have rather poor image quality. The quality/subtitle issues are noted.
The Grade is simply my own personal ranking, probably influenced by the order in which I saw the films. I saw Yojimbo before Sanjuro, and it made a deeper impact on me. Almost all of his movies from 1950 through 1965 were excellent; the differences are quite narrow. I marked "n.a." all those that I haven't seen all the way through.
aka Judo Saga
All 6 DVDs are barely passable/unacceptable.
The English subtitles are very poorly translated, in parts nonsensical.
The image quality is poor, blurry with lots of 'ghosting,'
Any dark nighttime scenes are very hard to see.
|1944||The Most Beautiful||1.33:1||D||Ichiban utsukushiku|
|1945||Sanshiro Sugata Part II
aka Judo Saga 2
|1.33:1||D||Zoku Sugata Sanshiro|
|The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail||1.33:1||D||Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi|
|1946||No Regrets for Our Youth||1.33:1||C||Waga seishun ni kuinashi|
|1947||One Wonderful Sunday||1.33:1||C||Subarashiki nichiyo-bi|
|1948||Drunken Angel||1.33:1||C+||only Fr/Chin subtitles, 2 discs, decent image||Yoidore tenshi|
|1949||The Quiet Duel||1.33:1||n.a.||only Chin subtitles, decent image||Shizukanaru ketto|
poor Eng. subtitles, decent image quality
Eng. subtitles okay, decent image
|Rashomon||1.33:1||A+||good sound, Eng. subtitles, and image||Rasho-mon|
|1951||The Idiot||1.33:1||C+||disc will play on Xbox 360, but not on my laptop,
good image, good Eng. subtitles
aka To Live
|1.33:1||A+||ok, poor Eng. subtitles, decent image||Ikiru|
|1954||Seven Samurai||1.33:1||A+||high quality,
Criterion Coll., 3 discs
|Shichinin no samurai|
|1955||I Live in Fear
aka Record of a Living Being
poor Eng. subtitles, good image, 2 discs
|Ikimono no kiroku|
|1957||Throne of Blood
aka Spider Web Castle
|1.33:1||B+||high quality, Criterion Coll.||Kumonosu-jo-|
|The Lower Depths||1.33:1||A||Criterion Collection, good image and Eng. subtitles||Donzoko|
|1958||The Hidden Fortress||2.35:1||B||barely passable,
poor Eng. subtitles, poor image
|Kakushi toride no san akunin|
|1960||The Bad Sleep Well||2.35:1||B||ok,
poor Eng. subtitles, good image
|Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru|
aka The Bodyguard
|2.35:1||A||high quality, Criterion Coll.||Yo-jinbo-|
|1962||Sanjuro||2.35:1||B-||high quality, Criterion Coll.||Tsubaki Sanju-ro-|
|1963||High and Low
aka Heaven and Hell
|2.35:1||B+||Not included||Tengoku to jigoku|
|1965||Red Beard||2.35:1||A||okay quality||Akahige|
|1975||Dersu Uzala||2.35:1||n.a.||only Fr/Chin subtitles, 2 discs||Derusu Uza-ra|
aka The Shadow Warrior
|1.85:1||B-||good Eng. subtitles, good image||Kagemusha|
|1985||Ran||1.85:1||A-||only Fr/Chin subtitles, very good image||Ran|
aka Akira Kurosawa's Dreams
|1.85:1||C||good Eng. subtitles, good image||Yume|
|1991||Rhapsody in August||1.85:1||n.a.||good Eng. subtitles, good image||Hachigatsu no rapusodi-
aka Hachigatsu no kyo-shikyoku
aka Not Yet
|1.85:1||n.a.||good Eng. subtitles, good image||Ma-dadayo|
This process requires a few steps, and may not be worth it, but for anyone with more patience for a little techie stuff than with lousy, pidgin-English subtitles, it may be worth it. I refer to the 33-DVD set that I bought on eBay, a nearly complete Kurosawa collection, but with many poorly subtitled films.
The website, Subscene.com has tens of thousands of subtitle files, uploaded by users, including most of Kurosawa's films. The quality of the subtitles is good (i.e. fluent accurate English), or at least the subtitles for Ikiru were very good. (I have not checked other movies yet.) So, you can download the subtitle file for almost any poorly-subtitled Kurosawa DVD that you might have.
But ... but ... but ... You need a media player capable of playing back a DVD simultaneously with the appropriate subtitle file. As of May, 2009, they recommended VLC player, but I'd check Subscene for their current recommendation. VLC Player was easy to download, install, and run. It was clear how to launch the DVD and the separate subtitle file.
Oops. The DVD and the subtitle file were out of sync, in the case of my specific DVD and the specific downloaded subtitle file, they were 17 seconds off. You need another piece of software to fix this. I opted for the simple Time Adjuster program which permits you to adjust a particular subtitle file backwards or forwards by X seconds. Obviously this adjustment would be specific to the DVD and the file. That's a little clunky, and there was a more elegant, flexible program, but it was too complicated for me. Again, I'd check Subscene for their current approach to the time adjustment issue.
It's all a bit of a rigamarole, but not terribly complicated.