Samurai were the officer caste of medieval and pre-modern Japan. This special social class included professional warriors who lead their lives according to the ethic code of bushido “the way of the warrior”. Samurai films are a great way to delve into Japan’s heroic past so I thought I would come up with 10 tales of katanas and chivalry.
1954’s Seven Samurai
Directed by one of Japans greatest directors Kurosawa Akira. Set in a rather chaotic 16 Century Japan, marauding bandits threaten and raid villages. One village of farmers decides to hire seven samurai to defend them from these bandits with the payment of food. This film is among the best Japanese cinema has to offer, but to warn those you who haven’t seen it yet, it’s around 3 and a half hours long. And if you’re expecting hours of fighting or cool samurai slashing things then I would not recommend this!
2010’s 13 Assassins
on the other hand has over 40 minutes of head rolling samurai carnage. The story follows a retired samurai who learns that the Shoguns adopted son has been killing peasants. So he assembles a band of samurai to hunt down and assassinate this tyrant. Takashi Miike does a grand job directing, the characters are well written, and the movie is beautifully shot.
is a story about a crime that’s been told from different perspectives which all contradict each other. It’s a masterpiece in storytelling, a puzzle for the viewer, where you spend the whole time wondering who is telling the truth and who is guilty. A must see for people who like mysteries.
is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, where an elderly warlord retires, handing over his land to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new found power corrupts them and cause them to turn on each other and him. The battle scenes are suitably over the top with bright red blood, and the humour is subtle enough not to get in the way.
This movie follows a lone samurai (Toshiro Mifune), who drifts into a small town soon to discover that the town is divided by two criminal gangs. The samurai Sanjuro, who is probably the coolest character in cinema, sees this as an easy opportunity to make money by lending his services to both sides. This film was the main inspiration for the movie A Fist Full of Dollars, where you have Clint Eastwood playing the stranger, who wonders into the town.
the righteous sequel to Yojimbo. Unfortunately not as popular as the original, probably because as it wasn’t remade into a western. In this film Sanjuro returns to help an idealistic group of young samurai to weed out their clan’s corrupt superintendent. This film is as fast moving and well written as its predecessor.
Harakiri is a Japanese form of ritual suicide, also known as Seppuku. The story follows an elder ronin samurai who arrives at a feudal lords home and requests an honourable place to commit suicide. But when the ronin inquires about a younger samurai who arrived before him, things take an unexpected turn. The plot to this movie will haunt you, in my opinion this is easily one of the best samurai movies ever made.
2002’s The Twilight Samurai
Where a 19th-century low-level samurai struggles to get by while working as a clerk at a clan office. After losing his wife to disease and having to care for his daughters, things are pretty bad for him, until the arrival of someone from his past stirs things up.
The Twilight Samurai is beautifully made, it works really well with how it deals with Japanese honour, duty and saving face. And director Yamada Yoji does an amazing job with this film.
2003’s The Last Samurai
why is this movie on the list? Well what I like about this movie, is that it’s a samurai film from a western point of view. Where Tom Cruise an American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle. Director Edward Zwick does a good job with his historical and cultural research, which leads to a great gateway movie for western audiences to enjoy a Japanese themed film.
1966’s The Sword of Doom
follows a highly skilled sociopathic samurai that goes around killing people. His actions builds a trail of vendettas that end up follow him closely. Most samurai movies have an element where the main protagonist of the film is somewhat relatable and does good. But with Director Okamoto Kihachi’s The Sword of Doom, that is not the case. The particular samurai in this film is dark, violent, and very intense.