Tagged: nobushi, seven samurai, sound
29 September 2020
Hi. I’m working on an analysis of the sound and music in the first ten minutes of Seven Samurai.
I have some questions, and I would be very grateful if someone can help me with some of them.
1) Where can I learn something about the technical conditions of recording, sound editing and mixing in this film? (Or, at least, in general in Toho c.1954?)
2) Does someone know which kind of bird is the one we hear during the peasant’s conference (04:40-07:28 in the Criterion edition)?
3) Does someone know some strict translation of the words at the end of the credits? The Criterion subtitles say: “During the Civil Wars, an endless cycle of conflict left the countryside overrun by bandits. Peaceable folk lived in terror of the thunder of approaching hooves…” Donald Richie’s translation doens’t have the allusion to “hooves”: “The Sengoku Period was a time of civil wars; it was a lawless era and in the country the farmers were at the mercy of bands of brigands.” However, I can see what I think is “hoof” (ひづめ, in the second card, top of column at the right).It’s important por my purposes to know if indeed that is an allusion to the sound of the hooves in the text.
4) Is a nobushi necessarily someone born in the samurai class? Or a nobushi can be anyone who takes weapons?
3 October 2020
Well, I found the songbird: it’s a Japanese bush warbler, Horornis diphone, known as the “Japanese nightingale”.
4 October 2020
Thanks for the questions Guilherme, as well as checking back to provide the answer about the bird! Sorry that it’s taken a while to get back to you.
I don’t actually think there is a single source in English that extensively covers Kurosawa’s filmmaking from a technical perspective. I’m afraid it’s more of a collection of scattered anecdotes here and there. Perhaps the best source could be the “It is Wonderful to Create” documentary series, episodes of which can be found on many of Criterion’s releases.
Patrick, who writes for Toho Kingdom and frequents these here forums, might know sources with information about Toho practices in general. Maybe he can help more.
The text at the end of the opening titles reads:
I think it would literally (and clumsily) translate into something like “The Age of Warring States… The war and the thundering of hooves of the roaming warriors created by the war were the terror of law-abiding people. At that time…”
So yes, “ひづめ” should indeed be hoof/hooves there.
I think nobushi (野武士) refers to non-samurai warriors, but I really don’t know for sure. One of our regulars, Ugetsu, is pretty much our resident history buff, maybe he might know?
5 October 2020
I’m afraid most of those questions are beyond my knowledge base! I’ve always been curious about the technical side of Japanese film making, as in some regards it seems to have been even ahead of the best of the US and Europe at the time, but I’ve not found any reliable sources on it. Given how isolated Japan was in the 1930’s and 1940’s, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d developed their own quite unique ways of doing things. Sometimes within the studios I think that there were innovations which never became widely known as they were kept in-house. I remember years ago watching a documentary about Disney – modern animators were curious to know how some of the effects in Bambi and Snow White were achieved, they couldn’t replicate them (I think one such effect was a sort of fine mist over a pond). They brought old animators out of retirement, only to find that they couldn’t remember! Apparently it’s still a mystery as to how they achieved some of the effects.
The linguistic issues are beyond my knowledge I’m afraid – 野武士 is I think like Ronin, but I don’t know the difference between the terms, and my Japanese dictionary is silent on the subject, but presumably it translates as ‘field warrior’. At a guess from the context, it means regular armoured footsoldiers, similar to European pikemen – as in the later stage many non-Samurai became armed and effective and trained. Just as happened in Europe, the distinction between warrior castes and regular trained soldiers became less distinct as high quality weapons got cheaper and so more widely available. Japan just lagged Europe in finding that elite warrior castes lost their power as industrial processes democratised access to the most effective weapons, but it was essentially the same process.
One of the things that has always impressed me about Kurosawa is that he did have quite a strong and subtle grasp of history and the nature of combat. Youtube is full of some very informative video’s pointing out historical errors in movies – only very rarely are Kurosawa’s films caught out with really important inaccuracies, and then its usually very justified for cinematic reasons (especially in Throne of Blood). Kurosawa realised I think that quite subtle distinctions in changes in military weapons and usage could have quite profound historical impacts so he was very careful in his choices. Most directors just pick and choose whatever weapons look cool.
Sorry, just another thought – I’m possibly showing my scarce to non-existent translation skills here, but could 野武士の横行 be translated as ‘deserters’? (implying that they are deserters from the main army, not ronin strictly speaking).
10 October 2020
Thanks, Vili and Ugetsu, you’re contributions are very useful to me.
11 October 2020
On the subject of sound equipment used on Seven Samurai … I’m afraid I don’t have specific insights, but my understanding is that Toho’s recording and mixing technology at the time was fairly primitive. When the studio produced Godzilla that same year in 1954, the filmmakers had only four optical recording audio tracks to work with — one for principal dialogue, one for ambient background noises and mechanical sound effects, one for the monster sound effects, and one for the musical score. Godzilla was the 3rd most expensive film Toho produced that year, so I would imagine the equipment supplied for Kurosawa’s film wasn’t much better. But I cannot be sure.
Japan’s technological development in films has historically been behind the United States, but the studios were indeed very innovative in coming up with solutions. When Shochiku’s Shiro Kido saw The Jazz Singer (1927) on a business trip overseas, he wanted his company to get into the business of making talkies. And since he could not afford the Vitaphone system used on The Jazz Singer, he commissioned engineering brothers Takeo and Haruo Dobashi to develop a sound system of their own, which paved the way for Heinosuke Gosho’s phenomenally popular talkie The Neighbor’s Wife and Mine (1931). In late 1932, Photo Chemical Laboratory was building a soundstage for talkies, and the J.O. Studio was known in Feb. 1933 as the first “talkie-only” studio in Japan. (And of course, both of those companies were part of the merge that became Toho.) And as I think many people know, the reason why Ozu held off on making sound films was in part because he didn’t think sound was necessary — but mainly because he wanted to give his cinematographer a chance to develop his own sound-on-film system.
In other cases, however, innovation wasn’t quite enough and it became necessary for Japanese filmmakers to simply adopt western technology. For example, the Japanese had experimented with their own brands of color photography a number of times in the ’40s and early ’50s, but it wasn’t until Daiei’s Masaichi Nagata imported Eastmancolor for Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell (1953) that Japanese color photography achieved anything of note. When Toho saw the success that Daiei had with Gate of Hell, they promptly adopted Eastmancolor as well, for Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, the second most expensive film Toho produced in 1954.
To further demonstrate color film’s slow path to success in Japan: in 1951, Shochiku produced a film called Carmen Comes Home, directed by Keisuke Kinoshita, which is often referred to as Japan’s first color film. In actuality, there are two versions of this particular movie, as Kinoshita shot the film twice — once with a color camera, once with a black-and-white camera. And while the color version is more accessible today, it was the black-and-white version that was most widely seen when the film first came out. If I remember correctly, Shochiku only struck 11 prints of the color version when the film was new.
15 October 2020
This info about Godzilla is very useful, and all the other data is very, very interesting.
What is the source of this information about Godzilla? Can you recommend me some bibliography or website? Or is it a personal research of yours?
I would like to quote the source, besides thank you all in my work.
And another thing: this quote by Kurosawa that appears in many editions of Bordwell and Thompson’s Film Art: “The most exciting moment is the moment when I add the sound. . . . At this moment, I tremble.” Does someone know where it comes from?
The info about the sound technology used in Godzilla came from Steve Ryfle’s 1998 book Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G.” If you need to know citation info for your research, the publisher was ECW Press, located in Toronto, Canada; and that specific info came from pages 32-33.
I’ve seen that quote from Kurosawa before, but I’m afraid I have no idea where it came from.
16 October 2020
Great, Patrick! Thank you very much.
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