A TV station here decided to broadcast "Seven Samurai" with the original japanese soundtrack (it has subtitles in german.) It is running as I write.

During the opening scene in the village, while the villagers are lamenting the attacks by the bandits and arguing about what to do, there is an obnoxiously loud bird chirp that is heard quite a few times. It is so loud that it overrides the discussion (and yelling and arguing) of the villagers.

The bird chirp stops at the point where one of the villagers leaves the group to bow down alone. He then stands up and suggests that they all go and ask the eldest what to do.

Given how loud and intrusive the chirps were, and that they stopped at the very moment when one of the villagers finally acts on his own and a decision is made, I wonder if the loud intrusive chirp was supposed to symbolize something - indecisiveness, or discord, or dissent, or just the whiny nature of the complaints from the villagers.

It is certainly possible there was just an obnoxious bird present during the filming.

But, the film is always discussed as a masterpiece - I would expect such an acclaimed film to not have things left in that could easily be fixed. Sure, Japan shortly after WWII with shortages and low budgets so maybe it wasn't as easy to fix as it would be for other filmmakers of the time.

The bird chirp is so loud and intrusive (and seems to have a different background noise) that I want to say it was inserted intentionally. Scenes since that point do have bird chirps (many outdoor scenes,) but they are not loud or intrusive - they sound like normal sounds from an outdoor scene

A quick google search turns up quite a few treatments of symbolism in the movie, but none of them mention the bird chirps.

So, is there any symbolism to the bird chirps, or did they just leave a really obnoxious bird in the soundtrack?

I ordered the DVD, and watched the whole thing again. The DVD also has the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles.

The obnoxious bird chirps are only in that one scene. They are definitely dubbed in. They seem to occur everytime a new villager starts complaining.

Since I saw it the first time, I had begun to believe I had imagined it. This second viewing has confirmed my first impression, and made certain that something is going on there that I can recognize but don't understand.

  • I think of it in relation to Eisenstein's 'image-sound counterpoint' (with Vsevolod Pudovkin and Grigori Aleksandrov, 'Statement on Sound' c. 1928). Eisenstein held that sounds counter-point to the image would actually have a greater affect on the audience than one's more congruent with the action. There are several scenes in 'Seven Samurai' where there are violent actions with the sound of birds. As well, there's one or two scenes with the peasants in all but hopeless emotional states where the birds are also chirping. Kurosawa used this to great effect in other films, too – wcullen Oct 31 '18 at 5:43
  • @wcullen: Looks like there's something to what you say. If there were a quote or analysis that referred directly to the bird sounds, then that would be the answer. – JRE Oct 31 '18 at 6:19

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