Japanese Action Movies

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Japanese action movies are never going to be dull, thanks in part to the fact that almost all films from that country are crazy as hell on some level. Our friends in the Land of the Rising Sun don’t follow the standard Hollywood conventions, so audiences are frequently left with their mouths agape by what they’ve seen on-screen. From bloodthirsty samurai to cute schoolgirls fighting to the death, Japanese action movies offer a delightfully twisted alternative.

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If you’ve never experienced this brand of over-the-top filmmaking, here’s a list of ten to get you started:

Tokyo Fist (1995) – If boxing action is your thing, why not try it with a unique Japanese twist? Combining drama, action and horror, this film tells the story of a mild-mannered insurance salesman who runs into an old pal from high school and decides to take up boxing. And when his old friend starts flirting with his wife, it’s time to try out those new pugilistic skills. It’s a Japanese film, however, so ultimately everyone is punching each other in the face and inflicting surreal amounts of damage.

Branded to Kill (1967) – When the director of the film successfully sues the studio, gets blacklisted for a decade, and becomes a counterculture hero in the process, you know it’s a movie worth seeing. Joe Shishido plays Goro Hanada, a hitman recruited for an impossible assignment by a woman with a death wish. When things don’t work out, he finds himself in the sights of the lethal Number One Killer, and the two eventually move in together. Did I mention that our hero gets sexually aroused by the small of boiling rice? Welcome to Japan.

Dead or Alive (1999) – Riki Takeuchi (the best hair is Japan) plays a former Yakuza turned Chinese Triad, while Show Aikawa is the cop devoted to bringing him to justice at any cost. The whole bloody affair is directed by the ever-prolific Takashi Miike, so characters breaking the fourth wall and weapons being pulled out of thin air shouldn’t surprise you in the least. If you find the film to your liking, Takeuchi and Aikawa would continue to battle one another in Dead or Alive 2: Birds and Dead or Alive: Final.

Chanbara Beauty (aka Onechanbara – Zombie Bikini Squad) (2008) – When zombies threaten to overrun the planet, it’s up to a sexy Japanese girl in a bikini and cowboy hat to save the day. She wields a pretty mean samurai sword, and she’s assisted by another sultry Asian babe and an overweight male sidekick. It’s a low-budget affair to be sure, but fans of hot women, bullets, and gore should be satisfied.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972) – When the royal executioner, Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), is framed and widowed by a rival clan, he and his infant son set out on a blood-soaked quest for revenge. Five sequels would follow, and I give this series my strongest recommendation due to the simple, manga-inspired storylines and constant action.

Battle Royale (2001) – As Japanese society begins to crumble, the powers-that-be flex their muscles by forcing an entire class of schoolchildren to fight to the death on a remote island. The winner gets to go free, while everyone else can stop worrying about a college education. The film stirred up plenty of controversy upon its release, due to the doomed students being played by actual fresh-faced teens. Based on a best-selling manga, Battle Royale offers a side of social commentary to go with all the graphic murders.

Azumi (2006) – Another film adapted from a manga, Azumi tells the story of a young orphan girl taken in by a samurai and trained to be an assassin. When she’s ready–and after being forced to fight her best friend to the death–Azumi is sent out with a team of fellow killers to eliminate three warlords who threaten to plunge Feudal Japan into chaos. Fans of graphic violence won’t be disappointed, and a sequel is also available for your enjoyment.

Hana-bi (aka Fireworks) (1997) – Takeshi “Beat” Kitano directs and stars in this tale of a violent cop who resigns from the force after his partner ends up paralyzed. As Nishi (Kitano) takes care of his ailing wife, and his partner turns to painting, the ex-cop’s debt to the Yakuza begins to catch up with him. A beautifully-shot minimalist film punctuated by moments of extreme violence, Hana-bi helped put Kitano on the map as an international star.

Makai Tensho: Samurai Reincarnation (1981) – Sonny Chiba stars as legendary swordsman Yagyu Jubei, and he must battle a revenge-minded Christian who’s made a pact with dark forces. There are plenty of undead to be killed, including the spirits of a number of legendary swordsmen from Japanese history. Quentin Tarantino, himself a big Sonny Chiba fan, lifted the following line for Kill Bill, Vol. 1: “If you encounter God, God will be cut.” Not surprisingly, Chiba also had a key role in that film.

Full Metal Yakuza (1997) – When an impotent member of the Yakuza is killed on the streets, a mad scientist replaces much of his body with cybernetic parts and brings him back to life. Now possessing enhanced strength and artificial genitals, he goes looking for revenge and a little sex action. Directed by shock-master, Takashi Miike.

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If you’re a hardcore fan of Japanese action movies, you’ll also want to check out the following posts from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 at 1:01 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Japanese Action Movies”

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September 17, 2010


There was a japanese movie about this guy, and he had two elephants, and these poachers took the elephants and he wants to go like get them back. and it kicks ass. but i cant remember the name. please help?

September 17, 2010


It’s a film from Thailand starring Tony Jaa. In the U.S., it’s known as The Protector. The original Thai title is Tom-Yum-Goong. It’s called Warrior King in the UK, and Thai Dragon in Spain. German fans will know it as Revenge of the Warrior.


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