How does Kurosawa use environmental movement to enhance his shots?
Throughout the film, wind, rain, and smoke are used to enhance the profilmic motion captured in many shots, in order to create more dynamic images and draw the viewer’s attention to certain details. We see this environmental motion applied often in otherwise-still frames in order to maintain a dynamism that draws the viewer around the scene, rather than idling during a long still scene. For example, during Heihachi’s funeral, there are long periods of stillness, but strong winds blow smoke across the frame. Additionally, we often see these environmental elements used to strengthen the movement of our characters by contrast—in this same scene, the smoke blows almost horizontally across the frame, making Kikuchiyo’s (and then the whole village’s) motion of sitting down, a vertical movement, more powerful. We see this same contrast used often with rain, as the vertically falling rain creates texturally interesting grids with the horizontal motion in fight scenes, or as Kyuzo draws a sword horizontally in front of him while practicing.
How might we classify Kikuchiyo's character in the film?
We can classify Kikuchiyo as an antihero. When he is first introduced, and for much of the film, he embodies many of the problems with the samurai class—he is selfish, proud, arrogant, class-obsessed, and disrespectful to others. In these ways, he is characterized in opposition to the samurai who we come to respect throughout the film and whose morality we tend to agree with, such as Kambei and Gorobei. However, over the course of the film we develop an understanding of why he behaves this way, and can sympathize with him because of his difficult past and his desire for acceptance. His character is allowed the most development over the course of the film, and though it is an ensemble cast, he is the central character in many ways (or at least his development takes a very central role). In the end, he finally redeems himself with a heroic act, despite the fact that his character traits have been notably unheroic throughout the film.
How does Kikuchiyo resolve a major conflict during his time in the peasant farming village?
Kikuchiyo becomes the bridge between two cultures that are vastly different in Japan during the Sengoku period. Samurai and farmers did not mix classes. An important scene is when Kikuchiyo finds the samurai armor hidden in the village by the farmers, and the rest of the samurai become upset. Kikuchiyo then explains that they killed the samurai because of a complicated history between farmers and samurai that has caused deep hardship for the farmers. It is a cycle, and each side holds the other responsible, hating them for their ways without and taking into account their own culpability. Because Kikuchiyo was born a farmer and now poses as a samurai, he is able to understand and explain the good and bad things about each social class. His outburst at the samurai as he explains both sides of the issue begins to resolve the major conflict of the samurai and villagers failing to understand each other and appreciate each other's choices, and the tension arising from that.
Seven Samurai critiques the rigid social hierarchy of the Sengoku period in Japan: assess the validity of this statement.
From very early on in the film, strict adherence to the social hierarchy is contrasted with the audience’s understanding of what is morally right in given situations. The samurai who refuse to help the farmers are portrayed as mean, nasty people—the first one we meet throws Rikichi on the ground and insults him in response to his request for help. Further, these types of attitudes are also associated with the laborers staying in the same inn as the villagers in the big town, who are, both verbally and physically, portrayed as vile, contemptible people. Finally, Kikuchiyo, who we are meant to sympathize with and consider a hero in the end (despite his mistakes) was born a peasant but saves the day while acting as a samurai, a clear assertion that one should be able to move up social classes if they act honorably.
Explain Shino and Katsushiro’s relationship by the last scene of the film. What are some possible reasons their relationship has come to an end?
There are several different possible interpretations of the last scene between the film’s young lovers, and explanations for why their relationship has come to an end. The most obvious way to understand this final scene is that Katsushiro and Shino have come to feel overwhelming shame after the public shaming they received from Manzo and the ensuing awkward confrontation in front of the entire village and the other samurai. Evidence for this reading can be found in the lingering shot of the two of them alone and separate in the rain after the public confrontation, and by their staring at each other before Shino turns to continue helping with the rice planting (if we read that stare as ‘longing’).
However, it could also be argued that the incident the night before drove a wedge between them because Katushsiro refused to stand up for Shino and allowed her to shamed and beaten by her father without doing anything to protect her. She earlier had urged Katsushiro to “act like a samurai,” meaning have sex with her, but she likely also considers protecting her (and the defenseless in general) from abuses another samurai-like act. When they are left alone in the rain, she remains on the ground weeping, while Katsushiro stands off to the side, ashamed perhaps of this failure to protect her. In the final scene, she is the one who turns away first while he continues to stare at her longingly, which may support the idea that he has lost her favor in this way.
Finally, it may also be that there was never any real connection between them, and they only found each other because of the circumstances into which they had been thrown. Shino was looking for an outlet for expressing her sexuality following particular repression by her father, and Katsushiro was swept up by the excitement of his first adventure, which made everything seem more romantic and urgent. This is supported by their failures to understand each other at various times, like when Shino urges him to act like a samurai—she thinks of him in light of her expectations of him, but not from a place of actual understanding of his character. This explanation may also be supported by the fact that they finally consummate their affair only when they think they will die the next day, as the gravity of their situation pushes them closer together and their relationship further. One detail that does seem to work against this theory, however, is their shared sense of compassion when they together give up their food to feed the old woman who has lost her whole family.