Sometimes, even when you win, you lose. In Seven Samurai, Kambei and his surviving buddies get to ponder that for a good long time in the cemetery at the end of the movie. They've stopped the bandits, but don't get to taste the fruits of victory. That belongs to the peasants.
Even before the samurai get to the village, they've known the taste of defeat. All of them once belonged to the clan of a great lord somewhere, and all of them have lost that status. In a lot of ways, defeat defines who they are, and the ending confirms that sometimes you can't ever un-ring that bell.
Questions About Defeat
In what ways has each of the characters onscreen suffered defeat?
How does the sense of device add meaning to the victory against the bandits? Does that make it more interesting from a dramatic perspective than a more upbeat ending?
Can getting killed here be seen as "winning"? Can surviving be seen as "losing"? Why or why not?
In what ways to the characters' sense of defeat reflect that of Japan in the immediate post-war era?
Chew on This
Defeat can be transcended if the characters work hard enough at it.
Defeat is an inescapable part of life, and the characters are all eventually forced to accept it.