Best 20 Samurai Movies That Recall Your Bygone Era

In the United States, they used to have cowboys. In Europe, they used to have medieval knights and swashbucklers. Japan had its samurai. The Japanese aristocracy has been an exciting archetype in pop culture for years, not least in Japanese cinema.

At one time, samurai films, also known as Chanbara in its homeland, were the leading genre in Japan’s filmmaking environment, and samurai films were routinely well-pumped in the 1970s.

Today, they are rarely present. Iconic stars, such as Toshiro Mfume, either grew old or died, audience tastes evolved, and the Japanese film industry declined. This means that centuries-old stories of heroism and conflict are no longer big business and audience minds.

With the recent release of Ghost of Tsushima, many are again talking about the subgenre. The list is perfect for you if you’re looking for some of the greatest samurai films.

Seven Samurai

Top cast – Takashi Shimura · Kambei Shimada , Yukiko Shimazaki · Wife , Kamatari Fujiwara · Farmer Manzo. Toshirô Mifune · Kikuchiyo Keiko, Tsushima · Shino

Year:1954

Genre: Action

Original language: Japanese

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Producer: Sojiro Motoki

Runtime: 3 hrs 28 m

Subscription: Vudu, Prime Video, HBO Max, Apple Tv

IMDb Rating: 8.6/10 ·

The eternal grandmaster of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa, dominates this list. Choosing a perfect film by the author would be a tough fight. However, Seven Samurai would be an ideal choice for the top position. When robbers regularly pursue a group of villagers, they take matters into their own hands by hiring a crack team of borrowed guns to fight against the robbers.

 The village’s peasants, exploited by bandits, hire an old samurai for defense, who assembled six other samurai to join him. While the samurai teach the peasants to protect themselves, the village is assaulted by an army of bandits.

Tales of Ugetsu

Top cast -Masayuki Mori · Genjurô , , Kinuyo Tanaka · Miyagi , Eitarô Ozawa · Tôbei, (as Sakae Ozawa). Machiko Kyô · Lady Wakasa , Mitsuko Mito · Ohama 

Year:1953

Genre: Fantasy

Original language: Japanese

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Producer: Masaichi Nagata

Subscription: Prime Video, HBO Max, Apple Tv

Runtime: 1hr 36m

IMDb Rating: 8.2/10 

Based on the book of Ueda Akinari and directed by highly praised film director Kenji Mizoguchi, Tales of Ugetsu was one of Japan’s first and most important films. It restored itself after the nightmare of the Second World War.

The film is a romantic fiction that aims at the efforts of two farming families and the twists and turns of their fortunes. 

The film is also visually beautiful and received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.

Throne of Blood

Top cast – Toshirô Mifune · Taketoki Washizu , Isuzu Yamada · Lady Asaji Washizu , , Akira Kubo. , Minoru Chiaki · Yoshiaki Miki, Takashi Shimura · Noriyasu Odagura 

Year: 1957

Genre: Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Producer: Akira Kurosawa, Sojiro Motoki

Runtime: 1hr 48m

Subscription: Prime Video, HBOMax, Apple Tv

IMDb Rating: 8.1/10 

In this stunning film, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is shifted to ancient Japan, adapted by Akira Kurosawa from Bard’s classic.

A battle-hardened general, driven by his aspiring wife, works to fulfill a prediction that he will become the master of the Spider’s Web Castle. Lady Asaji Washizu is determined to usurp power through her husband, and the two embark on a bloody fight in which alliances are broken, and bodies continue to pile up.

Just remember that even if that scene is unforgettable, everything else up to that point is memorable in the first place.

Yojimbo

Top cast-Toshirô Mifune · Sanjuro Kuwabatake , Tatsuya Nakadai · Unosuke – Gunfighter , ,Isuzu Yamada Yôko Tsukasa · Nui. , Eijirô Tôno · Gonj – Tavern Keeper

Year:1961

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

Original language: Japanese

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Producer: Akira Kurosawa

Runtime: 1hr 50m

Subscription: Prime Video, HBO Max, Apple Tv

 IMDb Rating: 8.2/10 

Kurosawa is back again, with a roaring tale of a rebellious samurai drawn into a bitter war between rival clans, which inflicts chaos on a small village. This is more impressive when you consider the variety of stories they tell, the Kurosawa and Mifune collaboration bunch.

Yojimbo is a lot lighter than what they’ve done. It’s still full of suspense and has some of Kurosawa’s filmography’s most enjoyable fight scenes.

Above all these, this film is an excellent tool for Japan’s supreme leading man, the inimitable Toshiro Mifune, whose personality and physicality appearance in this film is an explosion of entertainment.

Hara-kiri

Top cast ; Tatsuya Nakadai · Hanshiro Tsugumo ; Akira Ishihama · Motome Chijiiwa ; Shima Iwashita · Miho Tsugumo ; Tetsurô Tanba · Hikokuro Omodaka ; Masao Mishima.

Year: 1962

Genre: Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Masaki Kobayashi

Producer: Tatsuo Hosoya

Runtime: 2 hrs 15 min

Subscription: Prime Video, Apple Tv

 IMDb Rating: 8.6/10 

Set during the late Tokugawa period, this film is about the tale of Tsugumo Hanshiro, created by the Tatsuya Nakadai, a samurai who fails his respectable societal position. With nowhere to go, he struggles to reintegrate himself with the world and resolve his courageous past with the tough reality of the present.

A message of the human spirit and a reflection on the folly of death, the film is a deep meditation on the end of an era and a look at the sorrowful role of the samurai class in ancient Japan.

Hara-Kiri: Death of A Samurai

Top cast – Kôji Yakusho · Kageyu Saito , Naoto Takenaka · Tajiri , Hikari Mitsushima · Miho , Eita Nagayama · Motome Chijiiwa , Munetaka Aoki · Hikokuro Omodaka 

Year:2011

Genre: History, Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Takashi Mike

Producer: Jeremy Thomas, Toshiaki Nakazawa

Author: Kikumi Yamagishi

Runtime: 2 hrs 6 m

Subscription; Vudu, Prime Video

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

A compelling story of revenge, the pathway of the soul, and the prospect of redemption, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai can be haunting for anyone who only knows Miike as a director of absolute brutality, physically and mentally. Hara-kiri still has that aspect, but the procedure is done with an eye to what can only be called control.

 When you anticipate this film to go in one direction, it pulls you in another. Emphasis is placed on developing a character within the larger theme of vengeance.

Sanjuro

Top cast -Toshirô Mifune · Sanjûrô Tsubaki, Keiju Kobayashi · The Spy , , the Chamberlain , Yûzô Kayama. , Tatsuya Nakadai · Hanbei Muroto, Yûnosuke Itô · Mutsuta

Year: 1962

Genre: Adventure, Action

Original language: Japanese

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Producer: Ryuzo Kikushima, Tomoyuki Tanaka

Runtime: 1hr 36m

Subscription: Prime Video, Apple Tv

IMDb Rating: 8/10

Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune reunite for this sequel to Yojimbo. When the ronin of Mifune listens to nine young samurai’s plans to fight against their corrupt superintendent, he again decides to take the issues into his own hands and lead them and their fight for justice.

He helps a young man and his fellow gang try to save his uncle, who has been trapped and detained by a dishonest superintendent.

A subtext of violence and the futility of war runs throughout the movie. These are still relatively mild, especially regarding Kurosawa’s filmography. Yet, beneath Mifune’s rambunctious, ruthless samurai’s brazen, unforgettable swagger lies something far more tragic.

Shogun Assassin

Top cast -Tomisaburô Wakayama , Kayo Matsuo , Minoru Ôki , Shôgen Nitta , Shin Kishida.

Year: 1982

Rating: R

Genre: Adventure, Sports

Original language: Japanese

Directors: Kenji Misumi, Robert Huston

Producer:Shintaro Katsu; Hisaharu Matsubara; David Weisman ; 

Runtime: 1 hr 26 m

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10 

Shogun Assassin is one of the bloodiest and most exciting films on this list. A samurai assassin is betrayed by his lord, who sends ninjas to kill him. But they don’t kill him. Instead, his wife is cut off, leaving him to protect himself and his infant son.

Samurai then gives his son the option of following him in his quest for revenge or crawling to the sword or ball to join his mother in heaven. The son picks up the sword and joins his father, and their journey for revenge begins.

Then he and his four-year-old son run away and become assassins for hire, beginning a journey of blood and violent death.

Vowing vengeance, he slashes everyone unlucky who dares to cross his path. And quite a few people do.

Kagemusha

Top cast -Tatsuya Nakadai · Shingen Takeda , Ken’ichi Hagiwara · Katsuyori Takeda ,Hideji , Tsutomu Yamazaki · Nobukado Takeda, Jinpachi Nezu · Sohachiro Tsuchiya

Year:1980

Rating: PG

Genre: History, Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Producer: Akira Kurosawa

Runtime: 2 hrs 59 m

Subscription: Vudu, Prime Video, Apple Tv

 IMDb Rating: 7.9/10

It featured the 1575 Battle of Nagashino; the film centers on a petty criminal who got a chance to change the course of history for many clans. The film revolves around him. When a warlord dies, a farmer thief is called upon to imitate him and then finds himself troubled by the warlord’s spirit and ambitions. There are many characters and moments to take, and sometimes it won’t fulfill your expectations.

It’s a beautiful story set on a stage that only Kurosawa could have created. By recreating the splendor and competition of war in feudal Japan, Kurosawa creates a historical epic that is also a meditation on the nature of power.

Shogun’s Shadow

Top cast -Ken Ogata · Igo Gyobu , Toshihiro Asari · Sobue Iori , , Seizô Fukumoto. , Norihito Arai · Koori Deneemon,Shin’ichi Chiba · Iba Shoemon as Sonny Chiba

Year:1989

 IMDb Rating: 7/10 ·

  As the story boils down to its essentials, a samurai protects a young charge from a politically

ambitious plot. Although you can spot moments of deception and intrigue far away, it’s not possible to dislike a movie with prominent actors like Ken Ogata and Sonny Chiba involved in bloody fights every 15 minutes

If you’re looking for something emphasizing brutal mayhem, excellent, sometimes awkward choreography, and a story that serves those things up expertly, then Shogun’s Shadow is perfect.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Principal cast- Forest Whitaker · Ghost Dog, John Tormey · Louie, Dennis Liu · Chinese Restaurant Owner. Henry Silva · Ray Vargo, Cliff Gorman · Sonny Valerio.

YEAR ; 1999

Rating: R (Strong Violence Language)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Original Language: English

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Producer:Jim Jarmusch

Runtime: 1hr 56m

Subscription: HBOMax

 IMDb Rating: 7.5/10

This film is a character study that aspires to take its time when necessary, pacing things where it counts and implicitly trusting the actors.  

Jim Jarmusch directs this film starring Forest Whitaker as a hitman who is double-crossed by his mob recruits and must fight for his life. In one of his finest roles, Forest Whitaker portrays a commanding calm in his portrayal of a Zen contract killer working for a jerk, a modern man who steadfastly adheres to the ideals of the Japanese warrior code despite chaos and violence spiraling around him.

The ghostly dog appears in modern-day Brooklyn with a sword, so it seems as far from Chanabra as possible.

The Twilight Samurai

Top cast ; Hiroyuki Sanada · Seibei Iguchi ; Rie Miyazawa · Tomoe Iinuma ; Nenji Kobayashi · Choubei Kusaka ; Ren Ôsugi · Toyotaro Koda ; Mitsuru Fukikoshi.

Year: 2002

Genre: Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Yoji Yamada

Producer: Hiroshi Fukazawa Shigehiro

 Runtime: 2 hrs 9 min

   IMDb Rating: 8.1/10

An ideal platform for the incredible talent of actor Hiroyuki Sanada who received an honorary MBE thanks to his theatre work in the UK, the film tells the story of an honorable, underprivileged samurai who must fight through chaotic times, the superstitions of others and affair tinged with ennui.

Ghost Dog is lively, even when he moves softly. This comes from Whittaker’s masterful handling of the character in a film that traverses themes and tones with occasionally disturbing ease.

Blade of the Immortal

 

Top cast – Takuya Kimura · Manji , Sôta Fukushi · Anotsu Kagehisa , , Erika Toda · Makie Otono-Tachibana. , Hana Sugisaki · Rin Asano, Hayato Ichihara · Shira 

  Year: 2017

   Rating: R (Gory violence and carnage)

   Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

   Original language: Japanese

   Director: Takashi Mike

   Producer: Jeremy Thomas, Misako Saka, Shigeji Maeda

   Subscription: Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple Tv

   Runtime: 2 hrs 31 min

    IMDb Rating: 6.7/10 

Takashi Mike’s other arrival on this list is an alteration of the famous manga, which tells the story of a cursed, immortal swordsman who must kill 1,000 evil men to get his death back.

In 2017, while previewing the film during its 11 am screening at the London Film Festival, Miike said he intended to see it at night-time and without any mistake that was a Friday night movie of the highest quality, with corpses in piles and a hero who can’t be stopped no matter how many people throw swords at him.

13 Assassins

 Top cast – Kôji Yakusho · Shinzaemon Shimada , , Yûsuke Iseya · Koyata Kiga, Arata Furuta, Takayuki Yamada · Shinrokuro Shimada, Ikki Sawamura · Gunjiro Mitsuhashi

Year: 2010

Rating: R (some disturbing images | sequences of gory violence | brief nudity)

Genre: Action, Adventure, History, Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Takashi Mike

Subscription; Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple Tv

Runtime: 2 hrs 6 m

IMDb Rating: 7.5/10 

Takashi Miike never made a boring film, but he’s at the high point of his powers in 13 Assassins, his masterpiece. When a brutal warlord warns to restore hard-won peace to medieval Japan, a rogue samurai must band together to cut him down and his army – in bloody waters.

The remake of the 1963 film is one of his best. If you’re starting to learn about this guy, this story of taking a bold, brutal strike against the evil leader of the Akashi Clan is as good as starting anywhere.

Rurouni Kenshin

Top cast , Takeru Satoh · Kenshin Himura, as Satô Takeru, Munetaka Aoki · Sanosuke Sagara , Gô Ayano · Gein Emi Takei · Kaoru Kamiya Yû Aoi · Megumi Takani

Year:2012

Genre: Action, Drama

Original Language: Japanese

Director: Keishi Ohtomo

Producer: Naoki Sato

Runtime: 2h 14m

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10

Rurouni Kenshin is a famous and popular manga and anime about a converted samurai who achieved fame in the 1990s in their home country and abroad.

In the first movie, set during the Meiji Restoration, an ex-assassin vows not to take another life and devotes his existence to wandering the land and helping others. However, his dignified ways are soon tested when he comes up in opposition to ruthless killers.

With excellent fight choreography and a cast of fresh faces, the movie perfectly describes the source material’s spirit, with its themes of redemption, the desire for inner calm, and what it means to help others.

Rurouni Kenshin- Final Chapter Part 1

 Top cast – Takeru Satoh · Kenshin Himura, (as Satô Takeru) , Emi Takei · Kaoru Kamiya , Yû Aoi · Megumi Takani , Munetaka Aoki · Sanosuke Sagara ,Gô Ayano · Gein

Year:2021

Genre: Action, Adventure

In Original Language: Japanese

Director: KC VIII

Producer: Hiroyoshi Koiwai, Satoshi Fukushima

Runtime: 2nd 18th

Subscription: Netflix

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10 

  In 1864, the samurai Kenshin was known as Himura Battosai, a deadly assassin whose fierce sword killed more than a hundred people in a year. When he rescues a young woman, Tomoe Yukishiro, from some thugs at an inn, the two slowly develop an attraction that leads to a marriage.

The story of how Kenshin acquired his trademark star-shaped scar is revealed in this prequel, which also serves as the final installment of this live-action drama.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

Top cast -Takeru Satoh · Kenshin Himura, as Takeru Satô, Tatsuya Fujiwara · , Yôsuke Eguchi · Hajime Saito , Yûsuke . , Emi Takei · Kaoru Kamiya ,Makoto Shishio 

Year:2014

 IMDb Rating: 7.5/10 

 Amazing fight scenes and swordplay portray the soul of the classic franchise in this exciting live-action version. Ex-assassin Kenshin Himura and his friends are called into action again when a ghost from a bygone era rises to inflict destruction.

Ran

Top cast -Tatsuya Nakadai · Lord Hidetora Ichimonji , , Daisuke Ryû · Saburo … Akira Terao · Taro Takatora Ichimonji, Jinpachi Nezu · Jiro Masatora Ichimonji

Year;1985

Rating: R

Genre: History, Drama

Original language: Japanese

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Producer: Serge Silberman, Masato Hara

Runtime: 2 hrs 40 m

Subscription: Vudu, Prime Video, Apple Tv

 IMDb Rating: 8.2/10 

  This is the final Kurosawa film on this list. Ran was the most high-priced Japanese film at its release, with over $12 million budget.

An adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear tells the story of ruler Hidetora Ichimonji, who decides to divide his kingdom between his three sons only to experience a brutal power struggle.

Two hundred horses were used in battle sequences, and artisans handcrafted over 1,400 uniforms and armor. The director was granted special permission to film in the ancient castles of Meiji and Kumamoto, and he constructed a castle on the inclination of Mount Fuji to burn it down during the film’s climax scene.

Zatoichi

Principal cast; Takeshi Kitano · Zatôichi, Yui Natsukawa · O-Shino, Hattori’s Wife, Michiyo Yasuda · Aunt Oume, Taka Guadalcanal. Tadanobu Asano · Hattori Genosuke

Year: 2003

Rating: R

Genre: Action, Adventure

Original language: Japanese

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Producer: Shintaro Katsu

 Runtime: 1hr 55m

Subscription: Vudu, Apple Tv

IMDb Rating: 7.5/10 

Zatoichi was an imaginary character who starred in a long-operating TV series and several movies before being brushed off for this remake, consideration of the renowned Takeshi Kitano, who starred and directed.

The story turns around a blind, peace-loving swordsman who roams medieval Japan before being drawn into a battle where he is tested to his limits.

Ninja Scroll

Top cast – Kôichi Yamadera · Jubei Kibagami, Takeshi Aono · Dakuan, Osamu Saka · Masked Samurai , Emi Shinohara · Kagero Daisuke Gôri · Genma Himuro 

Year:1993

Genre: Action, Animation

Original Language: Japanese

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Producer: Haruo Sai

Runtime: 1h 30m

IMDb Rating: 7.8/10 

While the samurai has been part of the anime for as long as it has happened, few film illustrations can stand along with the titles covered here. Ninja Scrolls, released almost 30 years ago, and a bit of a growing number of anime titles that found some conventional success, stands out as one such example.

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