What was once known as the King of Japanese cinema has now seen a gradual decline over the years. This is mainly because the audience’s tastes have started developing. Samurai movies were once the dominant genre in the industry but with more modern movies taking over that is no longer the case. Samurai movies have been pretty vast in their portrayal. They can consist of over-the-top violence, and extraordinary costumes, and most of them even contain a message of peace. Below is a list of some of the best samurai movies under this legendary Japanese genre that has seen a fall over the last few decades or so.
1. Blade of the Immortal
Inspired by a manga of the same name, Blade of the Immortal is director Takashi Miike’s hundredth film. The film follows Manji, a samurai, who is on death’s doorstep when he is turned immortal by an 800-year-old nun. He is then approached by a young woman to become her bodyguard. The woman’s only aim is to get revenge for her parent’s death. It is an outstanding adaptation of its source material. This film is as simple as it gets, a duo out for vengeance. While doing so, leaving behind a trail of bloody bodies. Blade of the Immortal makes for the perfect gory and action-packed film. In addition to the film’s excellence is also the perfect casting which includes many talented Japanese actors like Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Hiroaki Samura, Kazuki Kitamura, and Erika Toda.
2. 13 Assassins
13 Assassins came along when samurai movies were considered to be out of fashion and proved everyone wrong. Falling within some of the best movies by director Takashi Miike, 13 Assassins is actually a remake of a classic 1963 movie. It is the perfect film to start with if you want to explore the director’s work. The movie itself follows a samurai named Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho). He wants to take down an evil and corrupt warlord and his army. In order to do so, he hires 11 assassins.
The film provides an intense and bloody action sequence every step of the way. It also consists of the most talented off-camera and the on-camera team which reflects on the film itself as the characters, the story, the action, and everything else seem perfectly executed. The cast includes Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Seiyō Uchino, Arata Furuta, and more.
Directed by Takeshi Kitano who also stars in the film, Zatōichi is a remake of the 1962 film, the Tale of Zatōichi. The story follows a blind masseuse who used to be a samurai and also happens to be an expert swordsman. Things change when he comes across a village that has been taken over by a vicious gang. He alongside the villagers fights to rid the village of the gang while also helping two girls avenge the death of their parents. This film being a remake has done an excellent job in replicating the original character without it being too tacky and it also brings in some of the maker’s personal touch to it. Like any other samurai movie, this film also has over-the-top violence and gore added to it. The movie stars Tadanobu Asano, Daigoro Tachibana, Guadalcanal Taka, and Yūko Daike.
4. The Twilight Samurai
A story that is rather sad and has a lesson hidden in it, the Twilight Samurai is another entry in this list that changed the game for the samurai genre when it was at its downfall. The film follows Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) who is a widower living a simple and lowkey life with his children when his old lover enters the picture again. While his code of honor as a samurai does not allow him to marry his divorced lover, he must fight the odds to be with her.
The Twilight Samurai, directed by Yôji Yamada, is focused on the story and the development of the characters themselves as opposed to most Samurai movies that are action-filled and have bloodshed all over. However, of course, there is action and bloodshed in this film too as any samurai movie is incomplete without it. The movie also stars Rie Miyazawa, Ren Osugi, Nenji Kobayashi, Min Tanaka, and Kanako Fukaura.
5. Ghost Dog: The Way of Samurai
From the American director, Jim Jarmusch, this film is the only one on the list that comes from the US. Ghost Dog features Forest Whitaker in one of the best performances of his career. The film is set in modern-day Brooklyn and follows ‘Ghost Dog’ (played by Whitaker) who is a hitman. Ghost Dog (in the spirit of a samurai) pledges his loyalty to a mob leader who saved his life many years ago. However, when he is betrayed by his employer he has to find a way to save his life. Whitaker’s performance was highly appreciated and it showcased the vast amount of talent in the actor.
The creator perfectly blends hip-hop and samurai in this film, paying homage to both genres simultaneously. Ghost Dog is an American samurai film that is inspired by many Japanese films in the genre and definitely gives justice to it, making it worthy of a watch. The cast includes John Tormey, RZA, Tricia Vessey, and Henry Silva.
6. Ninja Scroll
When anime was not very well-known in the mainstream media, Ninja Scroll was released and got some level of recognition at the time. The movie follows a swordsman, a ninja, and a spy who team up to take down a clan of killers who are evil and demonic and have only one motive, taking down the Japanese government. When a ghost from the past is revealed to be the leader of the clan, things start to get interesting. This anime film has a high degree of violence with a rather simple storyline line. It also brings great animation, excellent characters, and the perfect amount of violence to the table. Not to mention, the action sequences of the film are extraordinarily breathtaking and definitely worth the watch. The movie is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and stars Koichi Yamadera, Toshihiko Seki, Masako Katsuki, and Emi Shinohara.
7. Seven Samurai
A film that is so good it has been re-made multiple times, however, the original remains the best. Falling under the top movies of the popular Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai was one of the highest-grossing movies of the year 1954 for Japan. The film follows an ex-samurai who wants to protect a village that is being attacked by vicious bandits. In order to do so, he gathers six samurais. However, while they were learning these defense techniques, a group of bandits start to attack the village. The film provides a captivating story, harrowing twists, and exhilarating action sequences. The legendary cast includes Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Seiji Miyaguchi, Isao Kimura, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Katō, Minoru Chiaki, Keiko Tsushima, and Kamatari Fujiwara. This is undoubtedly one of the best samurai movies of all time.