10 best samurai movies for beginners
Perhaps one of the most influential subgenres in film history, the samurai film is largely responsible for many popular trends in world cinema. Without this, star warsspaghetti westerns and many films by Quentin Tarantino would either be very different or would cease to exist altogether. In the 1950s and 1960s, directors like Akira Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi created an early model for modern blockbusters, featuring iconic characters and large-scale action.
For newcomers to the samurai genre, it might seem obvious to dive straight into the classics, or all of Kurosawa’s filmography, for that matter. However, you may quickly find this approach somewhat overwhelming. Do not worry, because the following films will serve as an excellent introduction to the Samurai Way and will prepare you for heavy goods vehicles of the genre.
13 Assassins (2010)
Set at the end of the Edo period in Japan, 13 Assassins Follows twelve samurai and a hunter as they plot to kill the tyrannical Lord Naritsugu before he became a member of the Shogunat council. The task turns out to be difficult and the conflict breaks out in a large -scale battle between the assassins and the men of Naritsugu in a small village.
Director Takashi Miike brings its usual shine, with fast pace and kinetic action. The first hour shows the cruelty of Naritsugu, while simultaneously fleshing out each member of the heroic ensemble enough to get the audience on their side. All of this sets the stage for an adrenaline-packed 45-minute finale that maintains its chaotic energy until the credits roll. 13 Assassins not only manages to eclipse the 1963 film it remade, but also serves as a stellar showcase of what modern cinema can do with the samurai genre.
Three outlaw samurai (1964)
Three outlaw samurai tells the story of a ronin (lone samurai) who wanders into the midst of a kidnapping plot, only to discover that the crime was committed out of anger against a greedy local governor. He meets two men, each on opposite sides, who ultimately help him retaliate against corrupt politicians.
Originally a prequel to a popular TV show, Three outlaw samurai serves as an appetizer platter of all the genre has to offer. He combines a well -performed action, poignant comments and a team of protagonists who each represent a different breed of samurai heroes. The unlikely alliance at the center gives the film a unique superhero team-up quality that sets it apart from the rest.
The Twilight Samurai (2002)
As the title suggests, The Twilight Samurai follows an aging low-level, widowed samurai, Iguchi Seibei. He works in a warehouse, takes care of his daughters and his dementia-stricken mother, when a chance meeting with a childhood friend turns his quiet life upside down.
The Twilight Samurai acts as a kind of post-samurai movie, highlighting the hypocritical nature of the class structure and samurai code that permeated Japan until the late 1800s. Seibei is an unlikely hero, resisting conflict at every turn (despite his skills as a swordsman), until he was forced into it by necessity. The film is beautifully subtle, understated, and offers a great alternative to the genre’s more action-packed fare.
Assassin shogun (1980)
After being accused of betrayal and his murdered wife, the executioner of the Shogun Ogami Itto leaves behind with his young son in a trailer via a stroller. He soon encounters various attackers as he begins a long, bloody journey to redemption.
Dubbed in English and assembled from footage of the first two lone wolf and cubmovies, Assassin shogun is a surprisingly cohesive and well-paced adventure in its own right. He presented to the American public the exaggerated aesthetic of the films of samurai from the 70s with his stylized editing and his combat sequences Gonzo. The final showdown in a desert, for example, consists of assassins emerging from the sand, Wolverine-style claws, and veritable fountains of blood, all set to a synth soundtrack. This is pure pulp cinema at its finest.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
In this modern-day crime thriller, Whitaker Forest plays the titular Ghost Dog, a mysterious hitman employed by the mob. He transports a book detailing the samurai code, which is tested when opposed to the crowd after learning their plot to kill him.
Despite a lack of sword duels and a feudal Japanese setting, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a pure samurai film at heart. Ghost Dog is as much a wandering ronin as any, caught between his loyalty and his own moral code. The film also represents the impact that the genre has had on hip-hop culture, with a breathtaking soundtrack and a welcome (although) cameo of the Wu-Tang Clanit is RZA.
Lady Snowblood (1973)
Based on a manga of the same name, Lady Snowblood follows a deadly assassin named Yuki as she exacts revenge on a group of criminals responsible for the death of her family. A bloody ballet ensues as she hunts down each member one by one to achieve the goal she has sworn to herself since birth.
If the plot seems familiar, the similarities betweenLady Snowblood and Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill the movies don’t stop there. Not only Yuki served as a model for Lucy Him O-Ren Ishii, but multiple camera angles and musical cues used in Kill Bill are direct homages to the cult classic. After watching this visually arresting tale of revenge unfold, you’ll likely become equally obsessed with Lady Snowblood like Tarantino.
The hidden fortress (1958)
The hidden fortress follows two peasants in search of wealth who meet a mysterious man and woman. Unbeknownst to the peasants, the travelers are a general and a princess, respectively, who persuade them to escort them behind enemy lines in exchange for gold.
Any list of samurai movies would be incomplete without the director/actor duo, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Although not their most definitive collaboration in the genre (it would probably be the 1954 Seven Samurai), The hidden fortress redefined the large-scale adventure film. It’s packed with thrilling action still able to drop jaws today. Given that george lucas cited the film as his primary inspiration for Star Wars, its impact as a classic speaks more than itself.
This quasi-reboot of the old Zatoichi film series (26 films!), Zatoichi follows the titular blind swordsman as he traverses a desperate town for protection from yakuza gangs. After befriending and sympathizing with the locals, he takes matters into his own hands.
Despite its derived configuration, Zatiochi is a fun throwback to the gritty aesthetic of 70s samurai movies. Beloved Japanese Superstar Takeshi Kitano directs and stars in the film, firing on all cylinders in both departments. His confident direction and mysterious charisma as the main glue Zatoichi as one of the few great samurai films made in the early 2000s.
Masaki Kobayashiit is Hara-kiri tells the story of Hanshiro Tsugumo, a ronin who arrives at a feudal lord’s mansion to commit harakiri, or ritual suicide. Skeptical of Tsugumo’s motives, the lord interrogates him in the courtyard of the mansion, only to find that there is more to Tsugumo’s story than meets the eye.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of samurai films not made by Kurosawa, Harakiri is a gripping examination of honor, duty, and societal constructs. The film plays like an audience chamber piece (the action only leaves the mansion in flashbacks). Tatsuya Nakadai is captivating as the determined Tsugumo, and the mental chess match that unfolds between him and the feudal lord is thrilling. Meticulously structured to its devastating finale, Hara-kiri is sure to captivate even the most casual viewer of samurai movies.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)
Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning follows the origins of ronin Himura Kenshin as the vicious assassin, Hitokiri Battosai. After killing 100 people, Kenshin begins to feel the weight of regret and remorse. His path to redemption begins when he meets a young woman named Tomoe.
The latest episode of the underrated live-action Rurouni Kenshin series, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning is one of the few anime/manga adaptations to succeed both as a movie and as a faithful retelling of its source material. It balances its brooding atmosphere with an underlying tragic sweetness, accentuated by At Takeru Satoh magnetic lead performance. It’s an emotional exploration of the loneliness of the warrior lifestyle that one can only hope will help spark a future resurgence of the samurai genre.
NEXT: Great Samurai Movies That Weren’t Directed By Akira Kurosawa