Samurai films are one of the most popular genres of film around the world. Historically, the genre is usually set during the Tokugawa era (1600–1868), the samurai film focuses on the end of an entire way of life for the samurai, many of the films deal with masterless ronin, or samurai dealing with changes to their status resulting from a changing society. In this list we count down the best of the best, that cover over a 50 year span of cinema. We kick off the number 10 choice:
Overall, The Last Samurai is a flawed story of redemption and cultural adaptation but a great action film. The views of the Japanese countryside, and the lifestyle and culture of the Samurai were truly amazing to experience. Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe are very excellent in their roles and carry this movie solely on their backs. Watanabe brilliantly captures the difficult situation that Katsumoto faces as he must choose between loyalty to his Emperor and loyalty to the traditions that he cares deeply about. What about Tom Cruise you ask? Well, in my opinion, for all his conviction and ability, is the ultimate symbol of contemporary Hollywood.
At heart, The Sword of Doom is a very character driven story, and the amount of character development seen in the film tends to compliment this angle well. This film will appeal mostly to certified fans of martial arts films, though there’s a little to interest the average movie-goer, too. It’s plot will easily slip past inattentive viewers, so prepare to be tested. Sword of Doom really excels in a number of areas, including a well woven story, interesting character development, excellent acting which is complimented by equally impressive cinematography.
It is curious to see Miike do something so straight-forward and crowd pleasing. 13 Assassins is not only the most accomplished and polished film of Takashi Miike’s career, it is also the best film I have watched so far at the Fantastic Film Festival. Yes, the film builds to the assassination which involves less of the precision that term implies than a self-annihilating bloodbath, but the theatre rocked with explosions and with the sounds of blades cutting flesh and was only drowned out by the consistent audience applause in appreciation. The movie brings out the best of a dying samurai era, with the key conflict for some to decide between duty and right. Miike deftly moves between moments of great battles, to one-on-one fights, all neatly wrapped up into a film that is entertaining on all cylinders. Bravo.
The viewers are allowed to look closer at the noble Samurai code of behavior and to reflect on how its abuse impacts the fate of an individual and the society in general. An excellent movie concerning issues we all deal with near or far, in any language or country, regardless of time or space. Dark, moody and gripping, Harakiri remains as a perfect example of excellent Japanese filmmaking.
The action is apparently set circa 1300 to 1500, when gun powder still wasn’t widely used, perhaps set even earlier than that, due to the lack of crossbows and arrows. The actors chosen are intentionally ethnic Japanese in order to better represent accuracy of this story to the viewers. It features a more simplified storyline from the manga, with some characters changed to lend them more significance to Ogami’s revenge mission.
From literally the beginning to the end of the film, the setting is covered in thick fog. Kurosawa used different camera techniques to communicate parts of the story or to emphasize it in various ways much more than he did in other films, like Ran, Kagemusha, and High and Low. The shootings and the cinematography are very impressive even in the present days, and the performances are outstanding, highlighting Toshirô Mifune in the role of a strong warrior in the battlefields, but weak in front of his venomous and ambitious wife. The sequence with the arrows in the end of the story is amazingly perfect.
The great Toshiro Mifune plays Isaburo, an older samurai on the brink of retirement who struggles with the fact that his life is filled with no accomplishments. In a surprising move, Isaburo chooses to stand up against one of his master’s cruel orders, even if it means the destruction of his own family. Director Kobayashi was also responsible for “Harakiri”, another film that is features in this list. Very impressive!
The characters, acting, action, cinematography and soundtrack were all top notch – and though the end of the film is dragged out too much, it is very moving. But when samurai code and family mixed together, emerges a number of moral questions like honor and loyalty and how thin is the line that separates the traitor from the hero. This is more of a drama than an action movie, and that is where it scored high with me. Call it a samurai movie with a twist – or, if you like, one that probably is more historically correct and pays more respect to the proud samurai warriors.
It is the 1860′s and out-of-work samurai wander the country. Many people consider Yojimbo to be among Kurosawa’s best film. The film has some nicely choreographed bits of swordplay but it isn’t anything too flashy or extravagant. These things are what made Kurosawa such a celebrated filmmaker, he makes you pay attention to his simple visuals and trains the viewer to read between the lines.
The most important samurai movie is Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 feature, Seven Samurai, which not only impacted the way the genre was viewed, but elevated its status. 16th century Japanese villagers seek to thwart local bandits by hiring the services of seven out-of-work samurai warriors. The samurai, led by Takashi Shimura but with Toshiro Mifune serving as their clown prince, meticulously plan out the village’s defenses, stage a preemptive raid on the bandits’ lair and then pull the villagers together for the climactic battle that leads to the film’s bittersweet close. I could go on and on about how great this movie is, and hollywood has had no shame recycling this material over the years. For me this is Akira Kurasawa’s best work, nominated for 2 Oscars this movie helped introduce Asian film to a Western audience.