7 Samurai Movies – The Way of the Cinephile Warrior

7 Samurai Movies – The Way of the Cinephile Warrior

 

Samurai shadow Samurai movies
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

Today’s cinematic list takes a peak at the best ever samurai movies. It also throws some insight into one of Japan’s most successful cultural exports. Except, of course, anime and geishas.

Just as Europe had its go at a class of steadfast warriors flashing shiny armors and a sense of dutiful obedience- we remember them as the knights of the middle ages, so Japan branded its own team of moral underdogs with a cause to die for. They did so, to the point of extinction. The principle by which the samurai were defined was subject to revision and reinterpretation.

A few centuries later, legends and folk songs praising the lost way of the warrior blossomed in the cherry season of Japanese cinema. Known as chanbara eiga- the sword fighting movies, the samurai took to the screens and ensued a golden age of Japanese cinema. In the 1960s, one third of the local industry annual output numbered 500 titles.

THRONE OF BLOOD, 1957

Throne of Blood samurai movies
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

Samurai movies without Akira Kurosawa are like the noir genre without Billy Wilder. Nothing could fill that empty gap. Throne of Blood, or in its literal translation, Spider Web Castle is the Japanese director’s restaging of William’s Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the feudal country of the rising sun.

Shakespearean intrigue is high at work, and the plot twists to the ambitions, betrayal, crimes and final madness of the main character. Kurosawa even adapts the stylistic elements of medieval English theater to its local counterpart, the Japanese Noh.

SEVEN SAMURAI, 1954

Seven Samurai Samurai movies
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

Another Kurosawa masterpiece, this movie follows the fall of the samurai into the ronin way of life- masterless warriors aimlessly wandering the roads, looking for trouble. However, these seven samurai are handed a cause worthy of their title. A village of farmers is hiring them to combat bandits who raid their crops with every harvest.

This chanbara stars Toshiro Mifune – who else, really? – as a temperamental, rash and highly sentimental warrior who comes first to sympathize with the cause of the peasants.

Seven Samurai became Japan’s highest-grossing movie and set a new standard for the industry, influencing the genre to this day.

GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI, 1999

Ghost Dog, the way of the samurai
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

This a choice to break the chain of Kurosawa/ Mifune movies. And what better choice than Forest Whitaker’s slightly psychotic role as a black contemporary samurai fighting for a master recycled into the modern version of a mobster called Louie.

Jim Jarmusch is the director and he’s not shy of acknowledging Kurosawa influence. He even strives to turn his Katana-swinging socially-awkward African-American Leon- yes, I am arching for a reference all the way to Luc Besson’s hitman into an urban legend to survive the washed up shores of Hollywood.

THE LAST SAMURAI, 2003

Ken Watanabe and Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

And since we’re sticking to Hollywood’s large-scale productions, let’s nominate The Last Samurai on the list of worthy samurai movies. It’s pretty obvious by now that I’m not going to stick to racial purity in my choices, so why not wield a Tom Cruise taking a last stance on the battlefield recreated on the background of a New Zealand landscape.

Edward Zwick’s epic is dealing with a recurring conflict in samurai mentality. Ninjo- the very human inclination towards what is right will always swing a sword at giri- the obligation of the samurai to his lord and clan. It’s when Katsumoto, the leader of the samurai played by Ken Watanabe declines to commit hara-kiri as atonement for his broken honor that the movie really kicks off into a seat-clinging action-packed masterpiece.

THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI, 1964

Three Outlaw Samurai
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

Hideo Gosha’s samurai films are as visually and emotionally gripping as Kurosawa’s, yet now as well known in the West. This is the moment to flash my hard-won expertise in samurai movies- full-time couch-slouching and chanbara marathon.

This big-screen debut obsessively polishes the surface of the narrative- ronin hired to track down a band of peasants who have kidnapped the daughter of a corrupt magistrate- to the point it unearths the darkness and ugliness of a society lurking underground.

If you’re looking for a slow-paced introduction into the genre of samurai movies, Three Outlaw Samurai is the flick for you!

KILL BILL, 2003/ 2004

Kill Bill
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

I don’t care you wouldn’t find Kill Bill on any self-respecting list of all time samurai movies. No wonder, considering how Quentin Tarantino decided to try a mash potato recipe with this one. He conceived Kill Bill as an heir to martial arts films, samurai cinema, Blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns, promoting, this time, the idea of a lady killer flashing a handcrafted blade of vengeance.

See if this rings a bell! A woman who seeks revenge upon an antagonist who did her an injustice and killed the only people he loved in the world. Yes, it’s the plot for Kill Bill, eerily similar to Lady Snowblood, a 1973 Japanese action thriller directed by Toshiya Fujita.

SAMURAI JACK, 2001-2006/ 2016

Samurai Jack and Aku Samurai movies
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

This choice is for everyone growing up on Cartoon Network Gene Tartakovsky’s cartoons. Dexter doesn’t really fill the bill, but I can’t imagine a cooler, unfailingly wise and refined warrior than Samurai Jack.

“Long ago in a distant land…”, the story begins. Aku, the no face villain and force of darkness, who for some reason is trying to mess up the world is foiled in his plans by a time-traveling samurai. I can’t even imagine Kurosawa getting it cooler than this!

The original Samurai Jack series ran for five years with a total of 52 episodes. Since its broadcasting on children’s TVs all over the world, Samurai Jack has garnered high critical acclaim. And the public has been demanding for a sequel. Tartakovsky seems to have complied to the masses and he’s been teasing us with a return of the beloved samurai for a while now.

It might just be that 2016 will pave the way for the ever wandering warrior.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The following two tabs change content below.
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

Idelina Cepeda

Idelina is an American-Mexican middle school music teacher with a penchant for gardening and growing her own vegetables as much as possible. Idelinadevours short and long reads on topics of health and exercise, but she’s also fond of the occasional cocktail or two.
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!
  • Share On Facebook
  • Share On Twitter
  • Pin it!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This