Directed by Akira Kurosawa, a village of farmers, threatened by returning bandits, hires seven samurai to defend them.
In the early 16th century Japan is undergoing civil wars. A band of armed men ride up to a village but decide to wait until their grain has been harvested and leave. A man overheard them, and at a meeting the villagers discuss their danger. One man suggests they make spears and kill the bandits. A farmer prefers to give up their crops and hope they don’t starve. They go to speak to Granddad (Kokuten Kodo) by the mill. He says they will hire samurai and must find hungry samurai who will work for food.
During rain they notice the crop is ripe. A bun vendor tries to sell left-over buns for rice, but no one will buy. A man says he was defeated because he was hungry. A farmer asks another if he will offer his daughter.
Villagers learn a thief is in the barn and has kidnapped a child. Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) shaves his head and takes food to the child and the thief. The spirited Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) and the villagers follow and watch. The thief comes out and falls down dead, followed by Kambei and the child. Kikuchiyo jumps up and down. Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao Kimura) kneels and asks to be Kambei’s disciple. Kambei asks him to walk with him but rejects him as too young. Kikuchiyo says he is a samurai, but Kambei and Katsushiro walk away. Kambei says defense is more difficult, and they will need seven samurai. Kambei is tired of fighting. A farmer cries, and others laugh. Kambei accepts rice from the farmers who are living on millet.
Manzo (Kamatari Fujiwara) returns to the village and says seven are coming. Kambei instructs Katsushiro in fighting. A man comes in and fends off an attack by Katsushiro, but Kambei fails to recruit him. Shichiroji (Daisuke Katô) agrees to join Kambei. Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari) says the rice is gone, and Katsushiro gives them money. Kambei comes back with his friend Gorobei Katayami (Yoshio Inaba). Shichiroji looks for samurai and finds one chopping wood. He asks if he wants to kill bandits.
People watch two samurai fight with sticks. Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) disagrees it was a tie, and they fight with swords. Kyuzo, who believed he won, kills the other. Kambei says he said no. Heihachi Hayashida (Minoru Chiaki) tells Kambei he is a fencer. Kambei says Katsushiro is too young and tells him to leave. Others persuade him to take him, and Katsushiro is happy. The expert swordsman Kyuzo has come. A man says he found a samurai. As drunk Kikuchiyo comes in, Katsushiro hits him with a stick. Kikuchiyo says he is a real samurai, but he is very drunk, acts wildly, and falls asleep.
Manzo tells his daughter Shino (Keiko Tsushima) to cut her hair short and dress like a boy, but she tries to run away. Villagers are angry that Manzo is only worried about his daughter. On the road Kikuchiyo follows the eight men. They watch him bathe and catch a fish and cook it. They arrive at the village which seems deserted. Yohei and Manzo take them to Granddad, who says the famers are foolish because they are scared. An alarm is heard, and villagers run into the street. The samurai come running, and Kambei calms them down. Kikuchiyo makes fun of the villagers. Granddad says it is all right, and the samurai accept Kikuchiyo as the seventh.
Kambei shows a map of the village. He plans to flood the field after the harvest and destroy a bridge. Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo train villagers to fight. Katsushiro lies down on flowers. Shino appears and answers she is a boy. He runs after her and learns she is a girl. Kikuchiyo brings armor to Kambei from dead samurai. Kikuchiyo says he wants to kill the farmers and criticizes them. Then he blames the samurai for exploiting them. Kambei asks if he is a farmer’s son. Kikuchiyo goes out. He sleeps in the barn with the owner.
On a rainy day Kyuzo practices outside and sees Katsushiro take rice to Shino, but she takes it to a Granny, who wants to die. Children ask for rice, and the samurai give them rice balls. The samurai say three houses must be abandoned. They plan to harvest in three days. Some men want to defend their own houses, but Kambei makes them get back in line with their spears. He says twenty houses can be saved, but not the three outlying houses.
During the harvesting Kikuchiyo asks where the girls were hiding. Gorobei tells Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) to marry, and he gets upset. Kambei and Gorobei find Kikuchiyo sleeping on guard duty and warn him. Villagers dig to make a moat. Kikuchiyo gets on a horse and rides but falls off. Katsushiro and Shino sit in the flowers and talk. Three horsemen are seen, and Kambei is told. Word spreads that bandits are coming. Kikuchiyo is loud, and the bandits see them. Kyuzo says he will kill them. Katsushiro watches as Kyuzo kills two bandits, and Kikuchiyo captures one. They get information from the prisoner.
Kikuchiyo has trouble riding Yohei’s horse but catches up with the other three. He, Kyuzo, Heihachi, and Rikichi see the bandits asleep in their fort. A woman sees a fire spreading. The four let the women come out and kill some men and then retreat. Rikichi sees his wife go in the burning building, and the others stop him.
At a burial mound Rikichi mourns with others. Kikuchiyo runs and gets their banner. Many horsemen come over the hill, but they stop at the fence. Katsushiro tells Kambei he saw twenty to the north and thirteen to the south and three guns. Kambei sends a group to the south. Gorobei shoots a man in the moat with an arrow. Kambei sends men to the north, where a gap was left. A family goes to save Granddad in the mill. Shichiroji has men cheer. Kikuchiyo goes out to meet the horsemen, hears a shot, and runs back. The three outlying houses are in flames, and villagers get upset. Kikuchiyo asks about the family and runs in the river to the mill and takes the child from the mother, who faints and is carried by Kambei. Kikuchiyo says he was like the baby.
At night Kikuchiyo scares some bandits away and kills one. Villagers kill bandits with spears. Manzo is wounded by a gun and is carried back. Rikichi kills a bandit. Katsushiro holds up a dummy soldier, and shots are fired. Kambei explains how they will trap them. Kyuzo goes out and brings back a gun, saying he killed two.
In the morning horsemen attack and are killed by spears and swords as they let only a few in at a time. Katsushiro admires Kyuzo. Kikuchiyo runs in the woods and climbs a tree. He sees two bandits shot by guns. Their leader calls them cowards. Kikuchiyo talks to a bandit with a gun and kills him with his sword. Bandits chase him, and he shoots at them. Kambei blames him for leaving his post. Kambei orders Kyuzo and Gorobei to guard the road. Kyuzo kills a horseman. After a battle the horsemen retreat. Horsemen charge and shoot arrows. Kambei says two got through. Yohei is shot with an arrow. A horseman is surrounded and killed. Shichiroji’s body is carried on spears.
At night Kambei says thirteen bandits are left. He gives orders for the final battle. Manzo is told to go home to his daughter. Katsushiro sees Shino, who says they will probably die. They embrace in the straw. Manzo looks for Shino. Kambei gives sake to Kikuchiyo. Manzo finds Shino and beats her until Kambei stops him. Manzo says his daughter was seduced. Shino is sobbing, and it starts raining.
In the morning rain Kambei says Katsushiro is now a full-fledged man, and the men laugh. The remaining horsemen attack with swords. Kambei uses a bow to kill bandits with arrows. Horsemen are pushed off the horses and killed. They run to the east, and bandits capture some women. Kyuzo is shot with a gun. Kikuchiyo is also shot with a gun, kills the man, and dies. Kambei tells Gorobei that they have survived again.
On a sunny day the villagers plant rice and play music. Kambei, Gorobei, and Katsushiro look at four grave mounds with swords in them. Katsushiro sees Shino go to plant rice. Kambei says they are defeated again, and the farmers won.
This drama depicts a violent time in Japan when only unemployed samurai can help farmers protect themselves from roving bandits. The samurai have a good leader who makes sure that they have good cooperation and teamwork in order to accomplish their goals. A young man gains experience, and a wild man makes his contribution despite his lack of discipline.