In town, the farmers have trouble finding a masterless samurai (ronin) willing to fight for them in exchange for food. One ronin finds their offer offensive – as many if not most would.
A thief has taken a child hostage, and in the town a middle-aged graying samurai drifter plans to save the child. He has his head shaved in order to look like a monk. The mother of the child gives the samurai two rice cakes and he offers them to the thief at the door of the little house occupied by the thief. Skilled at violence, after tossing the thief the rice cakes he rushes in, kills that thief and rescues the child. Villagers watching are impressed. The samurai walks away and is followed by a few of the farmers looking for help. Eventually this samurai accepts their offer. He is the central character in the movie – Kambei – a calm man who prefers to walk away from a fight. He says, "I may have seen my share of battle, but always on the losing side. “That about sums me up.” In having had his head shaved for the sake rescuing the child, he had removed the samurai's symbol of status: his knot of hair on the back of his head. Kambei represents a man willing to ignore status in order to serve common human decency.
Kambei leads a search for other drifting samurai to join him. He collects an assortment of six who join his circle of experienced and skilled warriors. Another character is a clownish, impulsive figure, Kikuchiyo, who says "Damn right!" when asked if he is a samurai, to which the relaxed and laconic Kambei responds simply, "I wonder." But the samurai with the farmers can use another man, and Kikuchiyo becomes the seventh samurai.
Some of the farmers have helmets and armor that they give to Kikuchiyo, and he shows the equipment to Kambei and the other samurai who are sitting together in a farmer's barn. The samurai appear unenthusiastic and perhaps offended. It is assumed that farmers had stolen the equipment from samurai they had murdered when the samurai were found in moments of weakness.
Kikuchiyo defends the peasants:
What did you think these farmers were? Buddhas or something? Don't make me laugh. There's no creature on earth more wily than a farmer. Ask him for rice, barley, anything, and he'll say "We're all out." But they have it. They have everything. Dig under the floor boards. If it's not there, try the barn. You'll find plenty: jars of rice, salt, beans, sake. Go up to the mountains. They have hidden fields. They kowtow and lie, playing innocent. You name it, they'll cheat you on it. After the battle, farmers hunt down the losers with their spears. Farmers are misers, weasels and cry babies. They're mean, stupid and murderers. But tell me this: who turned them into such monsters? You did! You samurai did. In war you burn their villages, trample their fields, steal their food, work them like slaves, rape their women and kill them if they resist. What do you expect them to do? What the hell are farmers supposed to do?
Without hostility, Kambei asks,
"You’re a farmer’s son, aren’t you?"
Kikuchiyo dashes out and decides to bed down away from the samurai. He disturbs a farmer sleeping alone, telling the farmer that the other samurai cramp his style. The farmer treats Kikuchiyo as an authority figure and starts to leave the building to Kikuchiyo. Kikuchiyo pulls him back and tells him its his property, that he has a right to it and that he should not surrender it.
In the passing days, Kikuchiyo joins the other samurai in preparing the community to defend itself against the return of the bandits. Kikuchiyo is not experienced in the samurai's disciplines of Bushido. He enthusiastically readies farmer men to handle spears in military formation, while ridiculing them.
Kikuchiyo is not as learned as the other samurai about warfare. He lacks their calm. But he will demonstrate one aspect of the Bushido code of conduct: being not afraid to die in battle.
The movie continues to be about people behaving within a group setting. Kambei is not the lone hero of an American western, riding into the story to stand up for what is right. American western movies deified a lone and moral man against the mob. In Seven Samurai, despite the history of hostility between samurai and farmer, the seven samurai have chosen to work together to defeat the bandits. And Kambei tells the farmers something other than a message of mythical Western frontier individualism:
"You are all in one boat. Cooperation will be demanded. Without it – thinking about oneself rather than the group – will destroy the group."
The question in the movie remains whether the farmers will be able to maintain the product of their labors – their rice and millet. Rice and millet feed people, but rice is the most valued – taking longer and more labor to grow. Rice is not only food for bandits and everyone else; in the 1500s and beyond it is money.
Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved