Good Samurai Movies

Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 7:00 am

When you’re looking for tales of honor and plenty of swordplay, it’s hard to beat good samurai movies.  Since these films are always made outside the U.S., it can sometimes be difficult to know which ones are the best.  For that reason, I’ve put together a list of ten good samurai movies which should give a fair representation of the genre.

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The Seven Samurai (1954) – The basis for The Magnificent Seven and many others, The Seven Samurai is one of the most influential films ever made, regardless of genre.  A group of samurai are recruited by a village to defend them against bandits, and the resulting conflicts end in death, redemption, and new beginnings.  Highly recommended.

Heaven and Earth (1990) – Massive battles abound in this tale of a Japanese lord, Uesugi Kenshin (Takaaki Enoki), who must fend off the military advances of an ambitious warlord played by Masahiko Tsugawa.  The famous Battles of Kawanakajima are included, which in real life were fought in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561, and 1564.

Sanjuro (1962) – Directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune, Sanjuro follows the misadventures of nine young samurai who try to clean out the corrupt members of their clan.  They’re assisted by a violent wandering ronin (Mifune), but the younger samurai constantly get underfoot.  Lighter in tone than many samurai films, it’s considered to be a sequel to the legendary Yojimbo.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972) – Based on a long-running Japanese manga, the Lone Wolf and Cub series tells of sword-for-hire Ogami Itto and his three-year-old son, Daigoro.  Pushing his son through the countryside in a wooden baby cart, Ogami is tasked with tracking down a deadly female assassin covered in tattoos.  Meanwhile, his son wanders off on his own and get involved in the kind of adventures that would result in immediate death for any normal kid his age.  Lots of bloody action, and the series has plenty of sequels to enjoy.

Harakiri (1962) – Of all the good samurai movies on this list, Harakiri is the only film considered to be right up there with The Seven Samurai.  It tells the story of a ronin who was ordered to stay alive and care for the family of his former lord (instead of committing honorable suicide).  After fulfilling his duties and suffering years of humiliation, he finally prepares to get his revenge and move on to the next world.  Directed by Masaki Kobayashi.

Zatōichi (2003) – “Beat” Takeshi stars as the legendary blind swordsman from Japanese film and television.  Great attention is paid to the color palette, and the film is beautiful even when blood is spurting from the necks of the film’s villains (a gang of Yakuza).  Besides, you can’t beat a samurai movie that ends with an out-of-nowhere tap dance performance.

Sword of Doom (1966) – A Japanese period drama (jidaigeki) that follows Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai), a heartless ronin who spreads death and misery everywhere he goes.  But payback is a bitch, and things come to a climax during a bloody battle at a geisha house engulfed in flames.  The final conflict is not to be missed, as it clocks in at a robust seven minutes of non-stop action.

Samurai Rebellion (1967) – Another samurai movie starring Toshiro Mifune.  In this one, he’s a master swordsman who is betrayed by a scheming lord.  Rather than back down, he prepares for battle, eventually facing 20 samurai and an old friend whose skills rival his own.  A tragic love story mixed with deadly samurai action.

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974) – The last entry in the film series, wandering sword-for-hire Ogami Itto and his young son must fight against the evil Yagyu clan.  The final battle takes place on a snow-covered mountain, and this film establishes the record for the most on-screen kills by a character in a single movie (Ogami).  Now that’s impressive.

Yojimbo (1961) – Yet another pairing of Toshiro Mifune and director Akira Kurosawa.  This time Mifune is a wandering samurai who comes into town and encourages two rival crime families to kill each other off.  Both sides pay him for protection, and he deftly manipulates them into sealing their doom.  A classic samurai film, it would later inspire the Spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of good samurai movies. Before you sharpen up your katana and run off to fight ninjas, try taking a look at the following film articles:

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 26th, 2009 at 7:00 am and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. 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.

7 Responses to “Good Samurai Movies”

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August 5, 2010


The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei (2002)) should be included here. It has won many prizes, with good reasons. A great movie…


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