Kambei enters the shelter smiling, with a new samurai (Shichiroji) following behind him. Kambei tells him that he thought he had died, and they discuss how Shichiroji managed to escape with his life from the last battle they fought together. Kambei looks at the farmers sitting nervously in the corner, and tells Shichiroji that there is a tough battle ahead, with neither reward nor rank at the end, and Shichiroji immediately agrees to help, without any further details. Kambei tells him that this might be the battle that finally kills them, but Shichiroji just grins back at him. In another part of the city, Gorobei is also looking for samurai to join their team. He stops at a market stand and speaks with the man who works there, saying that he cannot find good samurai when he needs them. The man tells him that there is a “poor excuse for a samurai” in his backyard chopping wood to pay for food. Gorobei goes around to the back of the house, and finds the samurai (Heihachi Hayashida) chopping wood with great zeal. Gorobei sits to watch, Heihachi looks at him with suspicion and moves his sword to his other side, further away from Gorobei. As he prepares to chop a piece he asks Gorobei why he is watching. Gorobei tells him that he cuts wood with great relish, Heihachi apologizes if he has offended Gorobei in some way, and Gorobei assures him that he likes the way he cuts wood. Heihachi tells him that it is nothing compared with the way he cuts down men and jokes that he has to run away first because there is no stopping him when he starts cutting. Gorobei asks him, as he is starting to swing at another piece of wood, if he would like to cut down 30 bandits. Heihachi is so startled that he completely misses the block of wood, and turns to look at Gorobei in amazement.
Kambei and Katsushirō approach a crowd of people watching something in a field, and join the crowd to find two samurai preparing bamboo sticks to practice fighting each other. One is quite a bit larger, stronger looking, and more aggressive than the other. They stand many paces apart and commence the fight, which consists mostly of them taking stock of each other and changing their sword positions according to how they plan to fight. As this long, tense moment continues, Kambei and Katsushirō look back and forth between the fighters, which is intercut, in a way that seems to be following their gaze, with medium shots of the fighters. We see that the smaller samurai (Kyuzo) is much more measured and sure of his moves, while the larger samurai seems more focused on simply using his size to intimidate. We see also that Kambei seems more focused on Kyuzo from the start of the fight, but Katsushirō seems unsure of who the better swordsman is, and perhaps focuses on the larger one simply because of his appearance of strength. At one moment, we see Kambei intensely watching Kyuzo and smiling, while Katsushirō watches the larger one. Katsushirō notices Kambei’s gaze and looks confused, then refocuses on Kyuzo to try to figure out what it is that Kambei sees in him. Finally, the larger samurai charges Kyuzo, and in one motion the Kyuzo swings his stick and hits the larger one between the shoulder and the neck. The larger one also lands his stick in the same spot on the Kyuzo, but a second or two later. The larger one calls it a draw, but the Kyuzo says that he won, and if the bamboo sticks were steel swords then the larger one would be dead right now. The larger samurai becomes angry, and challenges him to fight with their swords, but Kyuzo tells him not to throw his life away because he will surely lose. The larger one insists on fighting and draws his sword, prompting Kyuzo to also draw his. As they begin their standoff with the swords, Kambei mutters to Katsushirō that there is no contest. The fight ensues in much the same way as the first fight with the sticks, resulting in the death of the larger one after one maneuver by Kyuzo. The crowd gasps and backs away, and Katsushirō looks horrified.
Kambei and Katsushirō meet Gorobei in the center of town, and Gorobei asks if they had any luck finding more samurai to join them. Kambei tells Gorobei that they let a good swordsman get away and Gorobei replies that the ones that get away always seem better, but Kambei assures him he was one of the best samurai he ever saw. He tells Gorobei that he did tell the great swordsman where they were staying if he does decide to join them. Gorobei tells Kambei that he was able to find one samurai to join them, and that he is a barely mediocre swordsman but has a great spirit. He tells him that the new samurai, Heihachi, is honest and amusing, and will be a treasure in hard times, which pleases Kambei. Kambei then remembers that he did find one samurai, and tells Gorobei that the samurai dressed as a peddler (Shichiroji) was an old, trusted friend of his, and has agreed to join them. When they enter, Shichiroji goes to fetch water and Heihachi introduces himself to Kambei, saying that he is a student of the “Wood-Chop” school. Kambei nods, not understand the joke, while Gorobei cracks up laughing. Later that night, the four samurai (excluding Katsushirō) sit around a fire together, and Kambei says they will need three more samurai. Gorobei, thinking that Katsushirō will fight with them, asks Kambei if he meant they only need two more, but Kambei says that he will not let a child join them, referring to Katsushirō. Katsushirō hears this and runs over, asking to be allowed to join them, but Kambei tells him that he needs to wait and hone his skills. As he tells Katsushirō to train before fighting so that he can live longer, he seems to lose track of his point, and tells Katsushirō that before he knows it, Katsushirō’s hair will turn grey like his own, and he will lose his family and be alone in the world. Kambei rubs his head as he says this, and stares into the fire. The other samurai grow more serious and also stare into the fire sorrowfully, while the anthem of the seven samurai plays slowly and mournfully in the background.
The music takes a more hopeful turn, and Heihachi looks up to find Kyuzo, from the fight that Kambei and Katsushirō witnessed, standing in the back of the room, listening and watching. Kambei does not see him yet, however. Kambei tells Katsushirō that he must go home tomorrow, and Katsushirō runs off, upset. Rikichi approaches Kambei and begs him to let Katsushirō come along with them, and the other samurai agree. Heihachi says that young samurai work harder than older samurai, but only if you treat them as adults. They all laugh and agree to treat him like an adult, then look at Kambei expectantly, but Kambei only rubs his head and seems hesitant. Gorobei says that now they only need two more and Heihachi corrects him, saying they only need one more and gesturing to the back of the room where Kyuzo stands. Kambei stands and asks if Kyuzo has agreed to join them, and he nods. Kambei says they will leave the next day and when Heihachi seems surprised, Kambei explains that they will have to make do with the six of them and do not have time to find another. Katsushirō excitedly rushes over to Kambei, realizing that he has been included in the six, and Kambei tells him to calm down. Right at this moment, one of the men also staying at the inn comes rushing inside, and tells Kambei that he found another samurai, who is very drunk, but who wants to speak with Kambei about joining them and is on his way over. Katsushirō asks Kambei if he should hide behind the door with a stick again to test the newcomer, and Kambei nods and rubs his head. The man from the inn protests, saying that the new samurai is too drunk, but Kambei replies that a true samurai never drinks too much to dull his senses.
As the samurai comes around the corner, we see that it is Kikuchiyo, from earlier in the film. Katsushirō whacks him on the head with the stick and Kikuchiyo falls to his knees, rubbing his head and moaning. He asks who the hell hit him, and the samurai all laugh, except Katsushirō, who seems concerned. Kambei also stops laughing when he recognizes Kikuchiyo. Kikuchiyo chases Katsushirō briefly but stumbles repeatedly because he is so drunk, and then stops when he recognizes Kambei. He is upset that Kambei questioned whether he was a true samurai, and takes out a scroll that he claims is his family tree. He shows it to Kambei but Kambei points out that the scroll says that Kikuchiyo is 13 years old, and all the samurai laugh at him. Kikuchiyo curses the samurai and reaches for his sword, but Kyuzo grabs it first and hands it to Katsushirō, who runs further inside the shelter with it. Kikuchiyo drunkenly chases him and Heihachi joins the commotion, taunting Kikuchiyo and running circles around him. Kikuchiyo trashes the place in his drunken attempts to catch them, finally collapses in some hay, and falls asleep. The next morning, the samurai prepare to leave. Kikuchiyo begs them to let him join them from his bed in the hay, but they laugh and ignore him. Heihachi tosses him the stolen ancestry scroll as he leaves, telling him to “Guard his treasure,” and Kikuchiyo brushes it out of the way, ripping it in the process. Outside, the farmers lead the six samurai out of the city with smiles on their faces.
In the farming village, a young woman washes her hair in a basin. The camera shows her from behind, as if we have snuck up on her. Suddenly, she turns around and looks straight into the camera, with recognition on her face. A cut to a different angle shows that Manzo is the one who has snuck up on her from behind. She asks him what he wants, calls him father, and goes back to washing her hair. His hand is hidden in his kimono and he keeps on staring at her without replying. She stands and nervously asks him what he is looking at, and he pulls out his hidden hand to expose a razor. He tells her to cut off her hair and dress like a man. He says that he is worried about what the samurai will do to her. She refuses and runs away from him, but he chases her outside and around their section of the village. Finally, she stumbles and falls, and he drags her back into his house as many other villagers watch on in horror. In the next scene, many villagers follow behind Mosuke, who tells them that Manzo is a fool. One of them replies that Manzo knows the samurai and their ways, and must have good reason to fear for his daughter. The villager asks Mosuke if he will hide his daughter for him at his house a little way outside the village. Mosuke says that Manzo does not care about the village, only his own daughter, and runs toward Manzo’s house. The villagers follow him. When Mosuke enters, he finds Manzo seated calmly and Shino with her hair cut short, crying on the floor. Mosuke tells Manzo that he has driven the whole village mad by doing this to Shino, and says they need to go see the old man. Mosuke tries to shoo the watching villagers from the windows of the house, but they do not budge.
As the six samurai follow the two farmers down a country path toward their village, Kikuchiyo follows them a little way back. The group stops and looks at him and Heihachi tries to scare him away, picking up a pebble and threatening to throw it in his direction. Kikuchiyo flinches at this, the group laughs and continues walking, and Kikuchiyo continues following them. Later, the group sits on some rocks above a waterfall, resting and eating. A few of them watch Kikuchiyo down below, who strips down to his underwear and wades into the water to try to catch a fish. They all become interested to see if he has any success, and the whole group watches as he slowly submerges and then suddenly emerges with a small fish. He celebrates, and holds it up to them to see, and begins roasting it on the fire. Later the group is walking through the woods and Heihachi turns around to look for Kikuchiyo behind them. Gorobei asks if Heihachi thinks that Kikuchiyo gave up, and Heihachi says that it feels a bit lonely now that Kikuchiyo is gone. They all laugh and continue walking, and Kikuchiyo suddenly jumps out of the woods in front of them, cackling. He gestures, saying “this way,” and walks on ahead. They laugh, and continue after him.
The group approaches the village from one of the hills that overlooks it, and Rikichi excitedly gestures at the village. Kikuchiyo enters the frame and mutters that there is “no way [he is] going to die in that dungheap,” and Heihachi wryly replies that no one asked him to. Rikichi calls out to the village from the hill, and we can see all of the villagers run and hide in their houses down below. As the group soon enters the village, Rikichi calls out again but the streets are deserted and no one replies. He shouts that the samurai have arrived, and yells to the villagers, “what is wrong with you?” Kikuchiyo starts laughing, Heihachi jokes that they are receiving an excellent welcome, and Kambei asks Rikichi what is going on. Rikichi continues yelling out to the empty village and notices Mosuke approaching, and runs up to him. They exchange words that we cannot hear, and Rikichi runs back to the samurai to tell them that they have to go speak to the old man. Heihachi makes fun of the fact that the village has an elder, Kikuchiyo laughs more, and they all go off to the old man’s house. At the mill house, the old man explains that the villagers are afraid of the samurai, and apologizes on behalf of the village for their irrational fears. Kambei asks the old man why the villagers fear them, and the old man shakes his head and closes his eyes as if he is about to start crying when suddenly someone starts banging on the alarm in the center of town. Everyone in the old man’s house becomes alarmed and gets up to go outside. From the center of the village, we see all of the villagers finally emerging from their houses to see what is happening. They fill the center of the village, panicking. The six samurai (excluding Kikuchiyo) who were at the old man’s house sprint to the center of the village and are swarmed by the villagers. They make their way to a platform at the center of the village, and Kambei demands to know where the bandits are coming from. When no one answers, he asks who sounded the alarm. Kikuchiyo calls out that he did, and emerges from off to the side of the village center, hammering on the alarm and laughing. He walks up to the crowd, laughs at them, and makes faces while hammering on the alarm. He points out that they refused to greet the samurai when they arrived, but as soon as they heard the alarm they came rushing out, calling for the samurai and begging for help. He makes a face at the rest of the samurai, who all laugh with him. The old man emerges through the crowd, Kikuchiyo asks him if there’s a problem, and the old man tells him that all is well. Heihachi jokes that Kikuchiyo turned out to be good for something.
That night, Rikichi prepares his house for the samurai to sleep. They ask him where he will stay if they stay in his house, and he says he will sleep in the barn. He tells them there is no horse there because the bandits stole his horse the previous year. Kikuchiyo takes a woman’s kimono off of the wall, tries it on, and jokes that a barn is not so bad with a wife to snuggle with. Rikichi becomes angry, snatches the kimono and yells that he does not have a wife. Kikuchiyo asks him what is wrong, but Rikichi ignores him, crying, and continues working silently. Kikuchiyo calls him a jerk and sits down with the rest of the samurai. Heihachi asks Kikuchiyo what his real name is, and Kikuchiyo says he does not remember anymore and that they can give him a new one that fits. Heihachi says that he can keep Kikuchiyo because it fits him perfectly, and all the samurai laugh at Kikuchiyo, who looks embarrassed.
The next morning, Kambei, Katsushirō, and Gorobei look at a map of the village and begin planning defenses. Gorobei says that if he were attacking he would attack the village from the west, and the group walks to the road that enters the village from the west. Once there, Kambei says that Shichiroji already knows what to do, and will build a wall for them on that road. Just as the three of them are leaving, we see Shichiroji enter from the other side of the road with several villagers carrying more logs to build the wall. Shichiroji also seems to be preparing the men that help him for the fight ahead. He advises them that battles are all about running, and that when you are no longer able to run, you die. Kambei, Katsushirō, and Gorobei next go to the southern side of the village, where Kambei says that they will flood the fields when the barley has been harvested to prevent the bandits from entering on horse. Gorobei wonders if they will have enough time. The three of them walk back through the center of the village, passing Kyuzo, who is training a group of villagers in fighting with sharpened bamboo spears. Katsushirō stops to watch in admiration, and needs to run to catch back up to Kambei and Gorobei. They walk to the stream on the eastern edge of the village, and Kambei says that if they destroy the small bridge there then the bandits will not be able to attack from that direction. Gorobei asks about the houses on the side of the stream outside the village, and Kambei replies that those villagers will have to evacuate their homes. Katsushirō points out that the mill is on that side, where the old man lives, and Gorobei jokes that the old man will not leave his mill quietly. Kambei rubs his head as they walk away.
As they pass through the village again they walk past Heihachi, who also trains a group of villagers. He advises them that they need to be courageous, and that the enemy is also scared of them. The three planning the defenses continue to the north side of the village, and pass Kikuchiyo who also trains his own group of villagers. He makes fun of them for being too scared, and mocks Yohei, which causes the group of children watching to laugh. He jokes to the children that they should pay him to watch the show. He then notices that Yohei carries a spear, and becomes angry. He tells the villagers that he knows they must have hunted down retreating warriors to steal their weapons, and commands them to tell him where the rest of the weapons are. North of the village, Kambei, Katsushirō, and Gorobei continue to plan the defense. Kambei comments that the grove to the north of the village is peaceful, but can be a death trap. As they walk, Katsushirō repeatedly wanders off to pick or smell flowers. Kambei jokes to Gorobei that Katsushirō is still a child and as they walk on, Katsushirō loses them.
Katsushirō walks over a small ridge in the forest and finds a large patch of flowers, where he lies down and stares at the sky. He hears a noise across the stream and Shino comes out of the trees dressed as a boy and carrying a bouquet of flowers. Katsushirō asks her if she is from the village and she nods, but when he asks if she is a girl she nervously shakes her head no. He asks if she is a boy and she nods, so he asks why she is not training in the village. He scolds her for picking flowers instead of training, realizes that he is still holding the flowers he was picking and throws them on the floor, and then tells her to come to him so he can punish her. She does not move, so he starts chasing her. She runs away through the woods but eventually stumbles and Katsushirō catches up and wrestles with her. While they tussle, however, he pulls open her shirt for a second and realizes that she is a woman. He backs away, looking horrified, and she crawls further away and adjusts her clothes. They sit apart in silence, not looking at each other, with embarrassed expressions.
In Rikichi’s house, Kambei continues to plan with the rest of the samurai, excluding Katsushirō and Kikuchiyo. Outside of the house, Kikuchiyo approaches wearing armor, carrying weapons, and forcing Manzo and Yohei to carry weapons with him. Behind them, a large group of villagers follow and watch. Kikuchiyo enters the house and proudly shows off the armor and weapons to Kambei and the rest of the samurai, who immediately become suspicious and angry. Kikuchiyo explains that the armor and weapons were plundered from defeated warriors, but does not understand why this would upset the other samurai. Suddenly, Shichiroji stands up and yells at Kikuchiyo, calling him a bastard and saying that the farmers killed samurai to get the weapons. When Kikuchiyo says he knows that, Shichiroji becomes more angry, grabs Kikuchiyo around the neck, and starts shaking him. Kambei yells at Shichiroji to stop, and explains that one (such as Kikuchiyo) cannot understand why it is so upsetting unless he has been hunted himself. Shichiroji stands and grabs one of the plundered spears, and throws it toward Manzo, who avoids it, sending it flying out the door. Outside, it almost hits Rikichi as he is about to enter his house. He turns and disperses the crowd of villagers who are still gathered outside the house, trying to listen in. Back inside the house, Yohei and Manzo stare at the ground, looking nervous and embarrassed. Kikuchiyo sulks, still wearing the plundered armor, and the rest of the samurai sit silently behind him looking disappointed, angry, or deep in thought. Heihachi mumbles that now he wants to kill all of the villagers.
After a moment Kikuchiyo jumps up, forces a laugh, and addresses the whole group in response to Heihachi. He asks them what they thought the farmers were like in the first place, sarcastically asking if they thought the farmers were “buddhas or something.” He says that farmers are the wiliest creatures on the planet, that they always lie and cheat, and that they always have more food hidden somewhere. He says that they hunt the losing side after a battle and calls them misers, weasels, crybabies, and murderers. He then pauses and turns on the samurai, and asks them who they think made farmers this way. He curses the samurai, and says that in times of war they burn the farmers’ villages, trample their fields, steal their food, work them like slaves, rape women, and kill anyone who resists. He collapses to the floor, crying, and Kambei watches him sympathetically while the other samurai avert their gazes, looking sorrowful and apologetic. Tears well up in Kambei’s eyes, as he asks Kikuchiyo if he was born a farmer. Kikuchiyo stands and runs out the door. He picks up the spear that Shichiroji had thrown out earlier, and runs past the old man and Rikichi as the enter the house. Once inside, the old man asks Kambei what is wrong (having been fetched by Rikichi while everyone was still fighting over the stolen armor and weapons). Kambei rubs his head, smiles, and tells the old man that everything is fine.
On his way back from the forest, Katsushirō comes upon Kikuchiyo in the center of town. Kikuchiyo is still crying and angry, and when he sees Katsushirō smiling at him he shakes his spear to scare him away. He stands and begins walking away, and a large group of children come running after him. He turns and shakes his spear at them as well, causing them to stop and watch as he walks off alone. Later, Kikuchiyo walks into Rikichi’s barn, where Rikichi is preparing to sleep, and tells him that he has decided to sleep in the barn. Rikichi stands to leave, to allow Kikuchiyo to have the barn to himself, and Kikuchiyo scolds Rikichi for being unable to stand up for himself. He tells him to stay and sleep in the barn with him, and they both lie down in the hay. As they fall asleep, Kikuchiyo says that the barn “brings back memories.”
The scenes of Kambei and Gorobei seeking out samurai to join their team are some of the most memorable of the film—Kurosawa is known for his characterizations, and he spends a great deal of time in the first part of film introducing each samurai and their interactions with each other. The first exchange between Kambei and Shichiroji indicates that the two are old friends, and it is immediately clear why: Shichiroji shares a similar serious, but also kind and good-humored, nature as Kambei, and values his moral code above reward or societal honor. Heihachi does not take himself too seriously, and his sense of humor and easy-going demeanor are infectious. Heihachi’s interactions with Gorobei also serve to further characterize Gorobei through some of their similarities—he is clever and playful, and seeks qualities that make for good companions in his allies, rather than simply great swordsmen. Later, when Heihachi jokes in front of Kambei that he is a member of the “Wood-Chop school,” an inside joke intended for Gorobei, we see that their similar demeanors and sense of humor have already endeared them to each other and allowed them to bond. Next, when Kambei and Katsushirō come across Kyuzo fighting another samurai in a field, we are given yet another example of characterization in opposition to other ‘typical’ samurai: Kyuzo is an excellent swordsman and sure of himself, yet he is not boastful or overly prideful, like his opponent. He is intelligent, measured, cautious, and kind, and tries to prevent his opponent from escalating their sparring to a real duel with steel swords. In this scene, the introduction of Kyuzo also helps to further characterize Kambei and Katsushirō; Kambei’s intelligence and understanding of samurai and swordsmanship is drawn out by his recognition that Kyuzo is the superior swordsman before the two fighters even make contact with each other. Meanwhile, Katsushirō’s relative inexperience is highlighted, in contrast to Kambei’s experience, by his inability to assess the fighters based on their preemptive movements, and by his attention to the larger samurai even though he is inferior. We also see Katsushirō’s deference to Kambei and his desire to learn from him when he refocuses on Kyuzo after noticing that Kambei’s gaze is toward Kyuzo.
In the shelter that night, we see the full team of samurai together for the first time, and with it, the completion of the first, characterization-driven segment of the film. We are shown for the first time several group dynamics that emerge when the whole team is together. Kambei continues to show concern and care for his fellow samurai, when he bars Katsushirō from joining their team because he worries that his lack of experience will get him hurt or killed. We see in this scene the respect and deference that the other samurai have for Kambei as not only their leader but also the oldest and most experienced among them. However, we also see their ability to speak frankly with each other as equals when they disagree, including when they disagree with Kambei, which we are shown to demonstrate the intellect, thoughtfulness, and mutual respect within the group. Kambei rubs his head, a signal that he is concerned or considering a tough problem, tying this action to his concern for the safety and well-being of others—this type of concern will be the context in which he rubs his head most often throughout the film, rather than while facing other problems (such as purely strategic concerns). Additionally, we of course again see Katsushirō’s immaturity in his excitement and begging of Kambei, and we learn a great deal about Kambei’s backstory, which helps us to understand his serious and compassionate demeanor, as well as the other samurai’s and the viewers’ respect for him. When Kyuzo is introduced to the group, he is mostly characterized by his silence—he enters the room but says nothing until he is spoken to, and even when Kambei directly asks him if he will join them, he only nods. We saw, during his earlier duel, his unflinching nature and the seriousness with which he takes swordsmanship and the title of samurai, and his quiet seriousness among the group fits in with these traits and will be his typical behavior throughout the film.
Kikuchiyo’s introduction to the group is given the most screen time, and he is characterized in the most detail. Though Kambei is the leader of the group, and all seven of the samurai, as well as some villagers, can be considered the protagonists of the film, Kikuchiyo’s character development becomes a central focus of the film, making him our leading protagonist in many ways and a classic anti-hero. In particular, his unheroic qualities are drawn out in comparison to the other samurai, and this first scene in which he meets the rest of the group sets up this comparison. Kambei even introduces this idea before Kikuchiyo enters, when he says that a “true samurai” would not drink enough to dull his senses. This idea of a ‘true samurai’ is particularly important, because it gets at some of the underlying themes of stratified social class and honor. Earlier, Kambei had questioned whether Kikuchiyo was a samurai, and from what we know of Kambei’s values, the audience understands his judgement to be based on Kikuchiyo’s disrespectful and prideful demeanor. His comment about a ‘true samurai’ not drinking enough to dull his senses is similarly not about the social hierarchy or being born into a samurai family, but rather, is about swordsmanship and behaving with the seriousness of a real warrior. Kikuchiyo, however, is fixated on the bloodline aspect of being a samurai, and even stole or bought a fake ancestry scroll after Kambei’s earlier insult, with the hope of showing it to him and proving that he is a real samurai. Such a scroll, even if it were real, would not convince Kambei that Kikuchiyo is a true samurai—he has not been interested in any of the other samurai’s background or history, only their skill and grace—and Kikuchiyo’s obsession with this form of proof only makes Kambei think even less of him. Heihachi will turn Kikuchiyo’s ancestry lie into a running joke throughout the film, calling him “Lord Kikuchiyo,” which makes fun of him for lying about his ancestry and status, but also diminishes the weight and importance of ancestry. Overall, he believes that good samurai transcend such arbitrary, trivial, or petty ideas of status. Meanwhile, Kikuchiyo’s fixation on status and anger at Kambei’s question also foreshadows the revelation that Kikuchiyo was not actually born into the samurai class, and is ashamed of his upbringing.
Additionally, several dynamics between Kikuchiyo and the other samurai emerge in this scene, which are important throughout the film, especially to character development later on. Heihachi particularly pokes fun at Kikuchiyo, and will continue do this throughout the film, but we soon find out that it comes from a place of affection; though Heihachi’s mockery often seems to upset Kikuchiyo, he is distraught when Heihachi dies, suggesting that some kind of bond does form throughout the film. We also see the beginning of animosity between Kikuchiyo and Katsushirō, which will similarly continue throughout much of the film until Kikuchiyo unexpectedly becomes protective of Katsushirō in the final battle, indicating some character growth. These early dynamics, and Kikuchiyo’s poor behavior more generally, set him in opposition to the other good samurai, as someone with the wrong motives and questionable morals, so that his development and heroism in the end are particularly striking and significant.
The introduction of Shino, as she washes her hair in in the village, marks the transition to a new major conflict within the film; while the first hour of the film was dominated by the difficulties of putting together the samurai team, the next portion of the film will mostly deal with the difficulty of the samurai’s integration into the village. Kurosawa marks this transition clearly with a dramatic change in the tone of the background music, as well as the sudden and unusual way that we first approach Shino. The camera angle and timing are invasive—we have snuck up on her from behind while she is engaged in a private act of self-care. The progression of shots also helps contribute to this feeling of invasiveness, as the first shot opens on her from the outside through the door of her house, and then cuts to a closer shot from the same angle inside house, as if we started watching her from outside and then entered the house. Her sudden realization that there is someone behind her, subsequent turn, and the way that she stares into the camera are unsettling, and break the fourth wall of the film in a way—it feels as if she has caught the camera watching her. However, the sudden cut to another angle showing Manzo, her father, standing where the camera would have been resolves this by visually explaining that we were watching her from his point of view. This in turn, because of the uneasy feeling of sneaking up on Shino, generates a sense that Manzo has something sinister planned, which we soon discover is to cut Shino’s hair against her will and make her dress as a boy.
During the tense scene between Shino and her father inside their house, the dramatic chase that ensues is built up to by remarkably still frames. Throughout the film, and Kurosawa’s work in general, scenes are dominated by motion. He is known for his elegant use of motion, whether profilmic movement (happening in front of the camera by individuals, crowds, weather, smoke, etc.) or by the camera’s movements, to draw viewers’ eyes to certain things within the scene and to maintain a visually stimulating picture. Before particularly dramatic events, however, he sometimes reduces this motion, thereby building suspense by the contrast from most other scenes. Additionally, the only things that really do move during the build-up to the chase are the razor, which Manzo pulls out of his shirt, and Shino’s hair, as she holds it out of her face, drawing us to the subjects of the conflict. When this tension explodes into the chase, we see a massive amount of movement, as the characters run through the house and eventually outside, while the camera, instead of cutting to a different shot even once, tracks them steadily through a series of complicated camera movements, until Shino finally trips and falls on the ground outside, bringing the movement to an end. Once they walk off screen, the final shot again is devoid of movement just before cutting away, holding steady on a group of villagers that stand and watch. This progression, and the long and complicated tracking shot during the chase, are typical of Kurosawa’s photography, and we will see similar techniques employed throughout. In fact, the previous scene among the samurai at the inn in the larger town: an unusually still frame precedes Kikuchiyo’s drunken chase of Katsushirō and Heihachi through the room, which is then shown with a long, uncut, tracking shot that heightens the profilmic movement of the samurai.
Mosuke’s conversation with many of the villagers, and then with Manzo, about Manzo’s cutting of Shino’s hair, provide a key piece of exposition just before the samurai arrive. Despite desperately needing the help of the samurai, the village has been thrown into disarray by their imminent arrival. This characterizes the villagers as a group fearful of everything, but understandably so—poor, weak, and low in the social structure, they have few means to protect themselves, and even fear being taken advantage of by those that come to help them. Though viewers may be sympathetic to their fears, we are shown that rumor, which spreads through the village rapidly, can be a problem when the samurai arrive to find no one there to greet them. Additionally, Manzo’s individual action is portrayed in such a way as to elicit anger and disgust with him for such a cruel decision about his daughter. It aligns the audience against the villagers who act out of fear, and with the samurai for the upcoming conflict between the villagers and the samurai. Though this conflict comes to a head when the samurai find no one there to greet them, and is then partially resolved when Kikuchiyo sounds a false alarm and scolds the villagers, the problem of integrating the village and the samurai continues throughout the rest of the film. We will find that many villagers act in opposition to samurai values out of fear or selfishness, for example: when the samurai find out that the villagers had been killing retreating warriors; when Mosuke tries to desert with the other people who live across the stream; when several individuals try to abandon their posts as the attacks begin; and when Manzo beats Shino for sleeping with Katsushirō. In each case, the samurai must impress their values upon the villagers. However, though the samurai’s values are often implied to be morally superior to those of the villagers, we are also shown in many cases that the samurai lack a sympathetic understanding of why the villagers behave the ways they do, and how their values have come from a particularly difficult life. The old man first explains this when the samurai arrive, and Kikuchiyo articulates it quite well in his climactic defense of the villagers’ past of hunting retreating warriors. We see this fundamental conflict of the two groups not understanding each other in small ways as well, such as Rikichi’s anger every time someone jokes that he needs to get a wife—the samurai do not fully understand the hardships that he has faced, and cannot fathom why this would make him so angry.
The preparation montage that begins the day after the samurai arrive provides a fairly straightforward rising action, with two key scenes. The first is the meeting of Katsushirō and Shino, which will culminate in one of the major conflicts between the villagers and the samurai. First, we see Katsushirō behaving particularly immaturely—he is out on his first real mission or battle, but gets distracted by the flowers in the woods the way a child might. Though we recognize it as immature in the given situation, Kurosawa films it in such a way as to generate an understanding of or an identification with Katsushirō’s romanticisation of the forest: he directs our perspective toward the flowering trees, the massive flower beds, and the trees blowing in the wind in a way that aligns our view of the forest with Katsushirō’s. This allows us to appreciate what might otherwise appear as immaturity as a romantic inclination that we all possess to some degree, which excuses his relationship with Shino, or even causes the audience to root for the success of their relationship. This creates an interesting ambiguity in the morality of his relationship with her. The other samurai consider it wrong to pursue one of the farm girls, either because they are tasked with their protection or because of the social hierarchy, and doing so is a betrayal of the village’s trust; at the same time, Shino’s own father has already betrayed her trust, and Katsushirō’s relatively innocent romanticism seems unharmful in comparison.
The second key part of the preparation montage is the revelation that the villagers had been killing retreating warriors for their armor and weapons, and the argument between Kikuchiyo and the other samurai that ensues. This is the climax of the conflict between the farmers’ moral perspective of the world and that of the samurai, as well as the climax of the issue of Kikuchiyo’s background and samurai status. The viewer is immediately sympathetic with the samurai when they become angry upon discovering that the villagers were hunting warriors, especially when Shichiroji snaps at Kikuchiyo that he could not understand unless he had been hunted. Kikuchiyo’s perspective at first seems quite unsympathetic, as he is focused only on the material utility of the armor and weapons, and seems not to understand why the others would not be happy to have such necessary items. However, Kikuchiyo’s impassioned defense of the farmers provides a well-articulated argument that the life of the farmer is too different from that of the samurai to hold them to the samurai’s sense of morality without considering circumstances. He does not excuse the murders that the farmers carried out, but he points out their miserable living conditions and difficult lives, asking the samurai to understand where those decisions came from. More than that, he points out that the samurai class, in particular, is to blame for the plight of the farmers, for oppressing them and destroying their livelihood in times of war. Though the viewers trust the moral fiber of the samurai present—and are not intended to think that they in particular would rape, steal, and kill resistors as Kikuchiyo describes—we are familiar with the idea that immoral samurai are common, having encountered less virtuous samurai in the city earlier in the film. Kambei’s sympathetic response, and his question about whether Kikuchiyo was born a farmer, confirms the audience’s suspicion of this fact, and demonstrates Kambei’s transcendence of the ‘by-birth’ social hierarchy that determines whether one is samurai: he does not ask Kikuchiyo if he “is a farmer,” but rather, if he was “born a farmer,” indicating that he can change his position despite his birth, and that Kambei and the others will not hold him to his born status. Though Heihachi continues to joke about “Lord Kikuchiyo,” it serves to diminish the importance of birth status, and he is still treated by them as a samurai, albeit one with much to learn.