In 1954, Japan's Toho studio made three films that achieved enduring international success. The first was Akira Kurosawa's “Seven Samurai,” which shows up within the top 10 of nearly every international critics' poll. The second was “Gojira,” later to be known as “Godzilla,” very likely the best known Japanese film of all time. And the third won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, despite which you're unlikely to have heard of it, unless you're a samurai film buff.
That film was Hiroshi Inagaki's “Musashi Miyamoto,” which — together with its two sequels — is usually referred to as “The Samurai Trilogy.” The iconic Toshiro Mifune plays the title character, a real 17-century warrior, whose career — which also included calligraphy, poetry and spiritual pursuits — has become the stuff of legend.
When Criterion put out its first DVD release of the trilogy back in 1998, it probably looked great to an audience just being weaned from VHS. The new edition — from restored prints — is so vastly superior that it reveals the sad truth about its predecessor.
Color balance, definition and brightness look completely different from before. There can be little doubt that the new version is much closer to what was intended.
"The Samurai Trilogy" (Criterion, Blu-ray, 2 discs, $69.95; DVD, three discs, $59.95)
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times