RIKICHI: Bargain with them? You give the wolf your leg and he'll take your arms too. You can't bargain with them. You reason with them now, give them something, and they'll be here in the autumn just the same.
The bandits' identities are well-established, and that's what sets the action in motion. The peasants know who they are, and know that you can't bargain with them.
KIKUCHIYO: You had the nerve to ask me if I was a samurai. Didn't you? I never forget a face. Look, I'm a real samurai, all right.
Out of all the characters, Kikuchiyo is the one who has the most to figure out about who he is. (He gets a lot of quotes in this section.) Everyone else is pretty much in the zone as far as that goes, but Kikuchiyo is fighting social expectations, lack of training and his old wild-and-crazy nature to become something entirely different. It's a brave fight, and, in our book at least, an ultimately successful one.
KAMBEI: I am only a ronin, not a samurai, and I have no disciples.
Kambei doesn't need to prove who he is to anyone. He knows it, and he's using that sense of identity to guide his actions. Ironically, he ends up relenting, suggesting that even his identity can change if the circumstances dictate.
KIKUCHIYO: What do you think of farmers? You think they're saints? Hah! They're foxy beasts! They say, "We've got no rice, we've no wheat. We've got nothing!" But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You'll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, sake! Look in the valleys, they've got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They're nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy and mean! God damn it all! But then who made them such beasts? You did! You samurai did it! You burn their villages! Destroy their farms! Steal their food! Force them to labor! Take their women! And kill them if they resist! So what should farmers do?
KAMBEI: You were the son of a farmer, weren't you?
And… Kikuchiyo is de-pantsed. He's so critical of peasants because he used to be one, which demonstrates a healthy(?) self-hatred going on. But he also understands the peasants in ways that the other samurai don't, and bridging that gap ultimately becomes an important part of him cementing his identity.
KIKUCHIYO: There, just you look at this. It's been handed down in my family for
generations and generations. And you asked me if I were a samurai! Look at this! Just look at this!
This quote is interesting because Kikuchiyo is trying to prove who he is with an object. One of the reasons he fails here is that he hasn't figured out that a samurai means more than just having a paper and carrying a sword.
KATSUSHIRO: Do you think he's a real samurai?
KAMBEI: Well, he thinks he is.
Fake it 'til you make it, baby. They're talking about Kikuchiyo, who's so devoted to becoming a samurai that he gets there by sheer force of will.
KIKUCHIYO: What are you making?
HEIHACHI: A banner.
KIKUCHIYO: A banner?
HEIHACHI: Something to hold up, hoist high. You know: something to stir our fighting spirit.
Identity in banner form: a neat idea. Heihachi's idea entails giving them all a new, shared, sense of identity. The banner unites them, and whoever they may have been, it shows them what they are now… and what they need to do if they want to survive.
KIKUCHIYO: This baby. It's me! The same thing happened to me!
You can argue that Kikuchiyo can't really become a samurai until this moment: when he admits who he is and embraces it with sympathy for himself. He still has a few things to learn, but that's a big step towards becoming the samurai he wants to be.
KATSUSHIRO: He has the real samurai spirit. He is totally fearless. Yet, at the
same time, he is gentle, and modest: look how he acted after we went and got that gun. And how he went too, just as though he were going up into the hills to look for mushrooms.
Like Kambei, Kyuzo knows exactly who he is, and finds peace in that. He's unaffected by the bad things going on in this world, and his actions are entirely based around that self-knowledge. The film sees a lot to admire in him, though it also acknowledges that such perfect self-awareness isn't necessarily going to save you.