5 Best Samurai Films

This is my new feature of setting out the 5 best of a specific genre of film. The first one is what I consider to the 5 best Samurai films. The samurai culture is a fascinating subject and both good and bad can be taken away from their stories. It’s a good mixture of these types of films. I have featured bloodthirsty battles to dramatic revenge stories and all I would recommend to my readers. If anyone has any film they are adamant that I have over looked, please point that film out to me because I am not an expert and haven’t even seen half the films that have been made on the culture of the Samurai. Please enjoy the list and comment at the end.

Samurai Banner

Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai takes place during the Warring States Period of Japan in which many bandits roam the hills raiding farms. One such farming village decides to hire Samurai to protect them and fight off the relentless attacks from bandits. This film is massive and most fans of Japanese cinema will have seen it and praise it. The story and dialogue are very impressive with great cast and characters, it’s easy to see why it’s been so well received over the years and stands up to the test of time better than I had expected.

“So. Again we are defeated. The farmers have won. Not us.”

Tim’s Film Reviews Recommended

Story: 100%       Acting: 90%      Characters: 100%      Dialogue: 95%

Action/Samurai: 100%      Style/Sound: 95%      Visuals: 85%

Total: 95%

seven-samurai-poster

Bit of trivia for you: Seven Samurai was stated as George Lucas’s inspiration for the Jedi and that Obi Wan Kenobi was a masterless Samurai or Ronin. It’s rather easy to see some of the influences this film has had on many films, being so ahead of its time nearly 60 years later it is still used to compare and inspire films even now. I hope Abram’s gives this film a good look before VII. This film shows so many interesting characters from many backgrounds and even explores some of the class divides that where causing many problems in Japan at the time. Warning though this film is over 200 minutes long and will take up half of your day watching it.

Trailer:

13 Assassins (2010)

13 Assassins is about a sadistic lord who has become a threat to the peace of japan and so a battle hardened samurai is hired to assassinate him before war ravages the land. It’s a Samurai film! Bring on the Katana swinging Japanese. This film shows great fighting spectacle using samurai and amazing choreography which delivers on realism and blood soaked madness. The films main selling point to me is its few against many battles, which in the end is down to 13 Samurai against 200 elite guard (seems fair).

“No mercy! There’s no samurai code or fair play in battle! No sword? Use a stick. No stick? Use a rock. No rock? Use your fists and feet! Lose your life, but make the enemy pay!”

Tim’s Film Reviews Recommended

Story: 95%       Acting: 90%      Characters: 100%      Dialogue: 85%

Action/Samurai: 100%      Style/Sound: 90%      Visuals: 100%

Total: 94%

13 Assassins Poster

The action scenes near the end were really amazing to watch like a Great War epic in a smaller setting. It benefited from a smart finale which paired daring special effects, deep emotional deaths and truly breath-taking sword fights, seriously it starts with 213 and ends with 2, everyone else is slaughtered…big time! The best part about this film I think is how it starts off gathering its samurai assassins for a nearly suicidal mission, which for samurai is a great way to prove bravery and honor before they die.

Trailer:

The Last Samurai (2003)

The Last Samurai is fictional story centred on true events during the modernization of Japan in the late 19th century. Tom Cruise plays an American officer who has been hired by the Japanese army to train their troops in modern warfare, whilst on a military exercise he is captured by the rebel general and eventually learns the ways of the samurai and comes to help them in their rebellion. It’s a good story and whilst mostly fictional it does show a great deal of research on Japanese history to make the film seem more realistic. The film has great action scenes in battles and beautiful visuals of Japan during modernization period (granted it was mostly shot in New Zealand).

“Winter, 1877. What does it mean to be Samurai? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles. To seek a stillness of your mind. And to master the way of the sword.”

Tim’s Film Reviews Recommended

Story: 90%       Acting: 95%      Characters: 90%      Dialogue: 85%

Action/Samurai: 95%      Style/Sound: 90%      Visuals: 100%

Total: 92%

The-Last-Samurai-movie-poster

I was shocked how well an American film portrayed another countries culture, something they have struggled to achieve with many cultures. I respect Edward Zwick for doing a great deal of research into Japanese history and to pick very popular and talented actors in Japan for the Japanese roles. Ken Watanabe is a fantastic actor and I look forward to his role in the new Godzilla remake. The film may show a story book look into the ways of the Samurai but it is a light way to enter the history and at least some of the Bushido way of life ‘Way of the warrior’.

Trailer:

Ran (1985)

Ran is based off a mix between a Japanese legend and on the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear. The Ichimonji clan’s leader decides to essentially retire and hand over control of the clan to his three sons. And if you know the story of King Lear it’s pretty damn close but with samurai which of course makes it better. The story is great and family turmoil is a great concept for a Japanese ruler, be it clans or shoguns as they had a ridiculous amount of wars over all manner of disputes. One of the largest Japanese budgets makes for a great few battles and with no CGI it’s hard not to be in awe of the sheer amount of man power involved in making this film.

“Are there no gods… no Buddha? If you exist, hear me. You are mischievous and cruel! Are you so bored up there you must crush us like ants? Is it such fun to see men weep?”

Tim’s Film Reviews Recommended

Story: 95%       Acting: 80%      Characters: 80%      Dialogue: 85%

Action/Samurai: 95%      Style/Sound: 90%      Visuals: 100%

Total: 90%

Ran (1985) - Poster

The acting and visuals of some of the actors have heavy influence from Japanese Noh theatre. The heavy white makeup of the Great Lord and the extreme body language he uses are great examples of this. I found this acting weird and I get sometimes, just makes me laugh half the time though. The sound is great and they had a Japanese orchestra conducted by an Austrian composer and had 40 takes on the films score, it worked very dramatic. This is the only film I have seen showing a full battle scene with both sides containing Samurai in all fields (Katana, Yumi, Yari, Tanegashima).

Trailer:

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011)

Death of a Samurai follows the story of a samurai family which is hard on its luck and when their baby becomes ill the father tried what he can to pay for treatment. He visits a clan house faking a seppuku in an attempt to get pity money but the clan decides to make an example of him by making him commit seppuku with the wooden sword he brought. Because of this cruel act the young samurai’s father comes in search of revenge. REVENGE! This is actually more of a period drama than an action film as it views the life of a poor samurai family in feudal Japan and unlike most films shows the dark side of the Samurai clans including corruption and cruelty.

“A delicacy loses its taste when eaten alone”

Tim’s Film Reviews Recommended

Story: 95%       Acting: 95%      Characters: 90%      Dialogue: 85%

Drama/Samurai: 85%      Style/Sound: 80%      Visuals: 85%

Total: 88%

harakiri_miike_uk_poster

Great acting and a beautiful view of Japan from the ground up is what this film is about and it is always building up to a revenge plot. The final battle then? Not as good as I had expected from the build-up but still entertaining.  In the end it’s a very good story and if you are looking for more drama and less blood soaked violence then this is for you.

Trailer:

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About Tim The Film Guy

Very opinionated about films Mwahahahahaha!

63 responses to “5 Best Samurai Films”

  1. kokokikiki says :

    @Tim The Film Guy Great Post. Just watched Hara Kiri, really beautiful. I would suggest you should take out your final battle description, you are kind of spoiling the effect of surprise… I didn’t read you review and i’m glad i didn’t because i was really surprised by the ending battle..and you are revealing it all…Cheers 🙂

    Like

  2. Anonymous says :

    I was looking out for some samurai movies which I would not have seen. And lo and behold. I tumbled across your list. Each and every one is a Gem. Please keep it up. Great list. Arigato.

    Like

  3. gilbertspeaks says :

    I love the shows you picked out best and because 3 of my grandsons are into the martial arts, they have dragged me to most of these movies.

    Like

  4. cevans1982 says :

    Good list Tim, ‘Seven Samurai’ is one I’ve been wanting to check out for years – wasn’t it the inspiration for ‘The Magnificent Seven’?

    Got ‘The Last Samurai’ on my Sky+ box, another one I’ve let slip by over the years so look forward to watching that soon!

    Like

  5. TW says :

    Quality list! All five of your picks would be in my top ten with only Hara-Kiri as a questionable choice. I would have chosen The Twilight Samurai over it for a non-action/drama theme. The last bit where the lead character pulled out a wooden katana was quite frustrating in its lack of reality when it comes to the code of a samurai, all for the sake of irony.
    13 Assassins is the new standard of what a samurai film can be. No other samurai movie pulls you in and rewards you with such fulfilling action sequences and conclusion.

    Like

  6. christian says :

    HAHA this list is a joke. the only thing you got right was seven samurai. here’s my top 5
    1. seven samurai
    2. harakiri (1962 version, which is FAR AND ABOVE superior to the remake)
    3. yojimbo
    4. sword of doom
    5. ran

    honorable mentions for
    shogun assassin and 13 assassins (2011 version)

    Like

    • Tim The Film Guy says :

      You could just say you disagree, I did say that I hadn’t seen a lot of the samurai films. Still you don’t disagree with Seven Samurai and 13 Assassins?

      Like

      • christian says :

        haha. i do disagree (with most) and i think any “best-of” samurai movie list that includes the last samurai as a top five is a joke. it’s not like i really berated you so no need to take it that personal. but yes, you are (partially) correct, i do not disagree with seven samurai and ran, and i think the 13 assassins remake is probably the best samurai film in recent years.

        Like

    • Anonymous says :

      Yes,that is much better list .I would add also to list Twilight Samurai.

      Yes 1962 verso of Harakiri is superior in very aspect

      Like

  7. Anonymous says :

    Only one that should be included is 7 samurai. Others are not even close to top 5

    Like

  8. sidekickreviews says :

    I’m not familiar with most of these Samurai films but I did watch the Last Samurai and thought it was great.

    Like

    • Tim The Film Guy says :

      I’d definitely see 13 Assassins lots of violence and beautiful choreography, and if you have 3 hours to spare definitely see seven Samurai, its a classic with massive influence on a lot of films 😀

      Glad you liked Last Samurai and thanks for commenting, hope you see one of these films 😀

      Like

  9. Eric @ The Warning Sign says :

    Nice list, Tim. I just noticed Hara-kiri is on Netflix Instant now so I will finally be able to check it out. Loved 13 Assassins.

    Like

  10. keith7198 says :

    I love this post. Some really great films. But I would have to include Yojimbo. I adore that picture! Have you had a chance to see it!

    Like

  11. Novroz says :

    whaaaaat??? you put last samurai there? I am a bit shocked…no…really shocked.
    There are still many real Japanese movie more worthed that last samurai. Even the live action f Samurai X is better, there is also the not so much action samurai like TheTwilight Samurai, and then The blind Samurai Zatoichi.

    Like

    • Tim The Film Guy says :

      I really liked The Last Samurai and since it is about Samurai and one of only two films that show full Samurai attire in battle scenes it stays.

      However The Twilight Samurai nearly made it on the list, but I haven’t seen the other two you mentioned.

      Is there a specific reason you disliked The Last Samurai?

      Like

      • Novroz says :

        I didn’t dislike it…it’s just there are others better than that.

        The story is TOO predictable. And there’s something that annoyed me, how can a westerner who never done Kendo can keep up with a man who had been training the art since childhood? That scene where he can keep up with Hiroyuki Sanada is the one that let me down the most.

        I actually have the DVD…because my fav Japanese actor is there.

        Like

        • Tim The Film Guy says :

          Oh well that’s fine I understand if you believe another should take its place. What one film would you choose to take its place. Just one. hmm?

          I do understand about the unbelievably quick learning of a skill that can take a life time to master.

          Who’s your favourite Japanese actor?

          Like

          • Novroz says :

            Definitely Zatoichi!
            Sorry for being so rude on your list, it’s a great list.

            Hiroyuki Sanada 🙂

            Like

          • Tim The Film Guy says :

            Oh yeah The Blind Swordsman one, I sadly didn’t have time to watch it what with all the classics being 2 – 3 hours long. I have a life (Well not really) Haha 😀

            No that’s fine I love a good conversations on these things. I thought this feature would be more popular than it was but maybe the next one will bring more discussion. 5 Best Alien Invasion films.

            Yes! Nice choice. He’s in the upcoming The Wolverine I think, hope he does well 😀

            Like

          • Novroz says :

            From my experience, every time I wrote about British series and Japanese series or movies I always got the least comment/discussion…so no surprise this topic doesn’t draw people in 😉

            Yes, he will be in Wolverine (I will finally see X-Men related movie in Cinema) and 47 ronins. I was ecstatic when I saw him with Cillian in Sunshine.

            Can we do the top 5 alien together? 🙂 I have been meaning to do that but other top 5 always intercepted.

            Like

          • Tim The Film Guy says :

            Never done a collaboration on the site before. Tell you what, send me an email at timthefilmguy@gmail.com and we can discuss. Something like me doing 3 of the films and you can do 2 and we can decide on which films make the cut and which don’t 😀

            Sounds fun what do you think?

            Like

          • Novroz says :

            Oh…I was thinking like doing it at the same time, like a blogathon 😉

            Like

          • Tim The Film Guy says :

            Oh so like I would do 5 best Alien invasion and you do 5 best alien visitors or something?

            Like

          • Novroz says :

            This will be long…I’ll send you email 😉

            Like

          • Tim The Film Guy says :

            Cool, I am going to be getting mine out on Friday at an early guess 😀

            Like

      • Lee says :

        Only two films showing full samurai attire in battle?! Which two are you thinking of?

        Like

    • Lee says :

      Agreed. I’d put the 1962 Harakiri higher than the remake, too.

      Like

  12. Morgan R. Lewis says :

    The only one of these I’ve seen is Seven Samurai, which is indeed a very good film.

    Like

  13. saliviamore says :

    Wow! Congratulations for the post!

    Like

  14. adlibitur90 says :

    I think the Last Samurai has to be one of my favourite films, in the top 10 anyway.
    Good review 🙂
    xxx

    Like

  15. ckckred says :

    Great to see some Akira Kurosawa love. Both Seven Samurai and Ran are great.

    Like

  16. Cary Watson says :

    Good list, Tim. You might want to check out the Lone Wolf & Cub samurai films. They’re a bit B-movie, but they score very high in body count. I just watched the 2011 Hara Kiri and I’d have to say the original is better. One other great classic samurai film to check out is Sword of Doom, My review of it is here:

    http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2012/02/film-review-sword-of-doom-1966.html

    Like

    • Tim The Film Guy says :

      The snowball fight quickly got out of hand. that’s good. Arigatou Cary 😀

      I still haven’t seen Lone Wolf and Cub, tried to watch as many Samurai films before this list and as you know they are all over 2 hours long (I have life) As a good mix I also had to pick 13 Assassins over Sword of Doom.

      Like

  17. le0pard13 says :

    Nice list. Ever see the original films Miike remade as his? The Thirteen Assassins (1963) by Eiichi Kudo and Masaki Kobayashi’s truly great Harakiri (1962). The latter starred Tatsuya Nakadai, the same actor featured as the great patriarch in Kurosawa’s grand tragedy, RAN. They are splendid films in the genre. Well done.

    Like

    • Tim The Film Guy says :

      I have seen them and decided to review the newer versions as a hope to push people into viewing them more, as the remakes are great cinema I don’t mind picking them over the originals. Arigatou Mike 😀

      Like

  18. filmhipster says :

    Nice post buddy, I like the new segment. Looks like I need a refresher on most of your choices, it’s been a while since I’ve seen some if them.

    Like

  19. Victor De Leon says :

    Great list. Great genre too. 13 Assassins is one helluva ride. Awesome flick. All great picks! Good job, man!

    Like

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