Symbolism and Legacy in Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai'

Categories: Samurai

Japanese cinematographic masterpiece is appealing to all audiences, regardless of culture and age. The film winning Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, as well as its Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design. “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa is a story about the heroism, sacrifice, and tragedy. One of the biggest, most solely influential movies ever made.

In 1954 Akira Kurosawa directed “Seven Samurai,” an action film patterned after the Hollywood western but with a distinct Japanese historical context: the cowboys from the American version are in Kurosawa’s film sixteenth-century, honor-bound warriors.

A historical figure from a glorious past, the honorable samurai, stood in stark contrast to the average postwar Japanese citizen’s routine humiliations under American occupation after the war and his or her concessions to a growing Westernization in modern Japanese culture.

A group of villagers seeks mercenaries to protect a small farming village from attacks against the bandits, who return annually to steal their crops.

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Common sense tells the farmers that this is a fool’s errand, as they have nothing but food with which to pay the soldiers, who despise the farmers as an inferior class and are not likely to feel sympathy for them. Although, the farmers meet up with a truly extraordinary ronin who is true to the Bushido code and he assembles a crew of five other samurais plus the would-be warrior. Using a strategy planned by the seven samurais, the farmers defend the village successfully.

One of the central symbols of the film is a warrior Kikuchiyo, played by Toshiro Mifune.

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Kikuchiyo was born as a farmer but determined to be a samurai; he was an infant who also was rescued from the destruction of war. The “Seven Samurai,” in the spirit of the influences from the American occupation, supports Kikuciyo and mocks the feudal worldview proclaiming impossibility of legitimate upward mobility. Here, the director visually depicts a metaphoric dimension via burning waterwheel. The burning wheel reflects a modern vision of a full circle of Sengoku warfare in which farmer’s son, can mature into a warrior who saves another child as he was once saved.

Another crucial symbol is rice. The war complicates growing rice or maintaining of any harvest, rice becomes a central medium of exchange during the war-torn Sengoku period, as it was again in post World War II Japan when thousands died of starvation in the cities. People without money would trade their rice ration cards as a medium of exchange. Kurosawa tapped into the recent memories of the Japanese through his use of rice in the movie. But he also involved the mythic role of rice as a sacred grain that has been part of traditional Japanese culture. So, when Kambei receives a bowl of rice from the farmers, and Kurosawa frames a close-up of his hand holding the offering, the director makes a powerful statement about the samurai’s sense of honor.

All film is about the meaning of war. To the fighter, it is not only their life, but also a kind of pastime and means of proving their honor. To the villagers, it means torment and oppression. The samurai may be disgusted by the breach of the warrior’s code when the villagers kill a supine prisoner, but the rage displayed by the farmers towards one of their tormentors shows how distanced the soldiers can be from the realities of war. The echoes can be felt all the way to one of Kurosawa’s films – “Rhapsody in August,” about the legacy of Nagasaki. The “Seven Samurai” from any and all of its shallow imitations.


  1. By. “Seven Samurai Summary.” GradeSaver: Getting You the Grade, .
  2. “Seven Samurai.” Seven Samurai :: Essays Papers, .
  3. Shmoop Editorial Team. “Seven Samurai Plot Summary.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008, .
Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Symbolism and Legacy in Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai'. (2018, Feb 15). Retrieved from

Symbolism and Legacy in Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' essay
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