Charity comes up frequently in the film, especially in the first part. The farmer's offer of rice to samurai in exchange for work is considered a charity, and for this reason, many samurai refuse (the hierarchy dictated that they should not take charity from those below them in the class system). However, it is really the farmers who are seeking and eventually receive charity from benevolent samurai—with the exception of Heihachi and perhaps Kikuchiyo, it seems that the samurai do not join because they need the food but rather because they consider it a kind and honorable thing to do for the poor, weak farmers. This comes out most clearly when Katsushiro gives money to the farmers to buy rice to feed the samurai, thereby setting up a situation in which one of the samurai, and not the farmers, is paying for the others' service.
Top knot and head rub (symbol)
We are introduced to Kambei Shimada as he is cutting his top knot and a priest is shaving his head. The top knot is an important status marker of the samurai, and cutting one’s hair symbolizes the act of giving up one’s social position. Kambei does this without hesitation when he is told a child is in danger of being killed by a bandit that has kidnapped him. From this introduction we begin to understand Kambei’s character and the lengths he is willing to go to in order to serve justice and what is right. Throughout the rest of the film we see Kambei rubbing his head where his knot used to be. It becomes a symbol of his moral compass and the personal responsibility he feels to protect others—he rubs it when he ponders difficult questions that might gravely affect others.
“The fish that gets away looks bigger than it really is” (allegory)
When Kambei laments that he let a good swordsman get away, Gorobei assures him that the "they say the fish that gets away looks bigger than it really is." He means by this that perhaps the swordsman (Kyuzo) looked even better once Kambei knew that he could not get him to join them. Kambei and Gorobei often speak in such allegorical platitudes throughout the film.
Kikuchiyo's Sword (symbol)
Kikuchiyo carries a samurai sword that is much to large for him, and is even comical in its awkwardness. It symbolizes his clumsy and awkward attempts to fit in as a samurai, and his focus on the wrong things, like materiality and his birth status instead of an internal moral compass and humility.
Hopelessness and death (motif)
The idea that hopelessness is as good as death recurs throughout the early parts of the film. In the first scene, the crying woman and other villagers suggest that they are better off dead and should just kill themselves, and this is repeated by men in the larger town as well. The farmers feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness for much of the film, but it is their hope that keeps them alive and eventually victorious.
Seven Samurai Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Seven Samurai is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.