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20 Best Japanese Samurai Movies (Epic Sword Fights)

These are some of the best Japanese samurai movies you can watch, they all involve epic samurai sword fights and great characters, and they are all set in Japan.

First of all, you may be wondering what a ‘backpacking’ website has to do with samurai movies. Well, I’ve been a huge fan of samurai movies since I went to film college when I saw them for the first time, and for the past 25+ years I have watched all the movies listed here, and more.

I always recommend to other travellers to watch movies about the places they intend to travel to before going to understand the place better, which is why I do articles like this, especially as my guides for Japan are some of my most popular.

Before I spent several months travelling in Japan I decided to re-watch loads of these Japanese samurai movies to get me in the mood to travel there.

As far as these samurai movies go they will help you in getting to know part of the Japanese history of feudal times with the samurai and also the historical samurai places to visit in Japan when there. They give a good insight even today into part of the Japanese psyche.

These Japanese samurai movies will not only entertain you with epic sword fights but also educate you on part of Japan’s history.

They are all movies from the period when the samurai were around. From the epic classics of Japanese samurai films of the ’50s to the more recent modern samurai movies.

Quick fact: Samurai movies in Japan are called Chanbara cinema which translates from Japanese to ‘sword fighting’. Quite an apt name!

The list is in no particular order except number one which is the best Japanese samurai movie that’s a must-watch and my personal favourite.

Samurai movie tip: Amazon Prime has a 30-day free trial, so you can watch a lot of these Japanese samurai movies for free during that 30-day trial.

Disclaimer: I own none of the rights to the images used in this post. They are used under fair usage terms to discuss Japanese samurai movies.

Best Japanese Samurai Movies

1. Seven Samurai (1954)

samurai movies

This is my all-time favourite and one of the best Japanese samurai movies of all time, in my opinion, and many other people’s opinions as well for that matter. It regularly ranks as one of the best movies ever made in Japan.

The legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa directed Seven Samurai as well as many other samurai movies on this list.

Seven Samurai is set in the year 1586 in feudal Japan where a farming village is continuously under attack from bandits. They hire seven samurai (hence the movie’s name) to protect them and their harvest.

There is a fun dialogue between the samurai and some great fight scenes between the samurai and the bandits.

It’s a long film and visually grainy, which shows its age, but it’s worth it, especially for the fight scenes at the end. Seven Samurai has been on the list of many film critics as one of the most influential movies in Japanese cinema.

There is great character development as well throughout the movie and it’s a great samurai movie that also shows some of the old Japanese culture from that time.

Watch Seven Samurai here.

2. Harakiri (1962)

best Japanese samurai movies

Harakiri (Seppuku) is set in the early 17th century during the Edo period of Japan. This was one of the first Japanese samurai movies I ever watched and is still one of my favourites.

It’s about a warrior who has no master and who wishes to commit ritual suicide at the ‘House of Li’ samurai clan due to events with his family.

First, he recalls his story in the courtyard of the House of Li about what happened with his family. It’s a slow story like many other samurai movies but builds up to an absolutely epic battle scene at the end. One of the best sword-fighting scenes in any film ever.

This could even be described as an anti-samurai movie in some way, as you’ll understand once you watch the movie. It’s easily one of the best samurai movies and like I said, one of my favourites.

Watch Harakiri here.

3. 13 Assassins (2010)

best Japanese samurai movies

This movie is based on true historical events that happened in Japan in 1844 where twelve samurai and a hunter plan to kill an evil warlord after being recruited to do so by someone from the government.

The movie is about how they plan their attempted assassination and the fight scenes that go with that.

This is a modern remake of the 1963 version of the same name but I like this one better. As usual great sword fights throughout.

It’s one of the greatest modern samurai movies.

Watch 13 Assassins here.

4. Throne of Blood (1957)

samurai movies

This is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but call it the samurai version. It’s set in feudal Japan, like so many other Japanese samurai movies.

A spirit predicts two samurai warriors’ futures and when the beginning part of that prediction becomes true one of them plans to fulfil the final part of the prophecy by killing his master and taking his place.

As far as Japanese samurai movies go this is a lot of fun!

Watch Throne of Blood here.

5. Yojimbo (1961)

samurai movies

Yojimbo is again a movie about a masterless samurai (masterless samurai are called Ronin I should mention at this point).

The masterless samurai shows up in a quiet village and sets about becoming the bodyguard for two rival businessmen and then plays both sides against each other.

A massive gang fight ensues with epic samurai sword fighting!

Watch Yojimbo here.

6. The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Japanese samurai movies

With a war going on two poor men try to profit from it, and when they find two people hiding in a fortress (a man and a woman) they have no idea they are secretly a princess and a general in disguise.

They agree to help them for gold and it’s rather funny to see the princess and general pretending to be normal people.

The general has some great battle scenes.

Watch The Hidden Fortress here.

7. Sanjuro (1962)

sanjuro samurai movie

This is a sequel to the previously mentioned Yojimbo and is very humorous for a samurai movie and there is a hell of a lot of action (like most samurai movies.)

Again in a similar way to many of these Japanese samurai movies, it follows a lone samurai who ends up teaching a wannabe samurai who wants to confront their corrupt lords and fight them.

Want a funny samurai movie? This is the one to watch.

Watch Sanjuro here.

8. Samurai Rebellion (1967)

samurai movie

This one is set in the 18th century when the local lords command a father to give his wife and son (who is the heir to the family) to them.

The wife and son don’t obey and launch a rebellion against the rulers.

Great as a connection story of a family in love that fights an unjust system. You really root for this family.

I wish I could tell you how it goes but you will have to see for yourself. All I’ll say is that the final fight is one of the best in all of the samurai movies’ history.

Easily one of the best samurai movies.

Watch Samurai Rebellion here.

9. Ran (1985)

ran samurai movie

Epic. Epic. Epic. This is one of director Akira Kurosawa’s later-in-life best movies (of previous Seven Samurai fame and others on this list).

It’s partly taken from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and follows an elderly lord who gives up his power to his three sons who then end up fighting each other for full control of his territory.

Naturally, lots of epic battle scenes ensue that are truly massive and out of all the Japanese samurai movies make this a must-see just for the battle scenes alone.

Between all the battles it shows the sadder side of the elderly lord as he has to watch all his sons battle each other.

Seriously, some of the battle scenes are some of the best you will see.

Watch Ran here.

10. Kagemusha (1980)

best japanese samurai movies Kagemusha

Another one of Akira Kurosawa’s later films.

A thief (Kagemusha) who looks the same as an aged warlord of a samurai clan whose warlord is dying. The clan take him to play their lord so the other samurai clans believe that their lord is still in power, to avoid them being overthrown.

The actual lord eventually dies and the thief is actually put in the real position of power to command the clan.

He enjoys his new position until he ends up having to fight and compete against a rival clan.

Watch Kagemusha here.

11. The Twilight Samurai (2002)

The Twilight Samurai follows the story of a samurai of low standing called Seibei in 19th-century Japan.

Although most samurai appear to have that image of loyalty to a lord and fighting, Seibei’s life is a boring one as a family man looking after his daughters and mother, but he yearns for more.

An old love from his childhood comes back and brings out desires in him that he has suppressed and drives him to try and get out of the social standing that he has had.

A bit more of a subdued samurai tale compared to other samurai movies mentioned here, but still a good one.

12. Shogun Assassin (1980)

Shogun Assassin is about a samurai called Lone Wolf who escapes with his four-year-old son from a crazy Shogun and then becomes an assassin while the shogun ninjas follow him and try to kill him.

There are some serious, serious, bloody sword fights in this movie. If you want a really good Japanese samurai movie with lots of sword fights then this is it.

It’s based on the famous Lone Wolf and Cub series.

13. Zatoichi (2003)

A blind samurai named Zatoichi is retired but he used to be an excellent sword fighter. But after so much fighting he chose to retire and become a peaceful masseur.

He ends up in a village where multiple gangs are fighting and he uses his old samurai sword skills to aid the villagers caught up in the carnage.

A lot of fun in this samurai movie and it shows how hard it is to escape your past.

14. Blade of the Immortal (2017)

This is one of the bloodiest Japanese samurai movies to watch and the most recent.

Blade of the Immortal follows an expert samurai who has the curse of immortality on him and pledges to help a woman avenge her parent’s murder.

This leads to an epic battle against a warrior and other expert fighters.

It’s set in feudal Japan (surprise, surprise) and as usual, there are great sword fights throughout.

15. Lady Snowblood (1973)

Lady Snowblood is set in late 19th-century Japan and follows the vengeful journey of a woman named Yuki Kashima, also known as Lady Snowblood.

Yuki’s mother was raped by a group of criminals, which lead to her birth. When she was born, her purpose in life was clear, to seek revenge against those who caused her mother’s suffering.

Trained from a young age to be a skilled assassin, she grows up to be a deadly swordswoman with only one goal: to kill her mother’s tormentors. As she embarks on her vengeance, she encounters adversaries, each linked to her sad past.

Along the way, she leaves a trail of bloodshed and destruction as she relentlessly pursues her targets. This is one of the bloodiest Japanese samurai movies and one of my favourites.

16. Sword of Doom (1966)

This movie follows a skilled but cold-blooded swordsman. He is a master swordsman, but he has no morality or compassion. He is utterly ruthless and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

During the movie,, it shows that his actions are driven by inner demons and personal demons, which make him one of the most feared swordsmen in Japan.

He encounters various characters, including opponents who challenge his skills and individuals who attempt to confront his wicked ways.

17. Sword of The Beast (1965)

This samurai movie follows Gennosuke, who is a skilled samurai but finds himself on the run after killing a corrupt samurai in self-defence. As he flees from his pursuers he takes shelter in a village that is also facing oppression at the hands of a local master and his swordsmen.

In the village, he encounters a brave farmer, a cunning thief, and a young woman seeking revenge. As he gets involved in the struggles of the villagers, he must confront his past and his demons.

18. Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)

Three Outlaw Samurai is a classic Japanese chambara (samurai film). It follows three ronins in feudal Japan who have different background stories but come together to help peasants who are in trouble with the local magistrate.

This movie is great for its gritty portrayal of the samurai world, epic action scenes, and its exploration of moral dilemmas. It remains influential in the world of Japanese samurai cinema.

19. Ugetsu (1953)

Ugetsu is a more subdued story, in fact, one of the more mellow samurai movies on this list.

Set during the civil war period of 16th-century Japan it follows the lives of two peasants who go in search of a better life while their friend dreams of becoming a samurai.

It’s based on a book from the 18th century.

20. Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

Japanese samurai movies fight scene

This last one isn’t a samurai movie but a documentary about Toshiro Mifune, the classic actor in Chanbara cinema who is in many of the Japanese samurai movies listed here and who worked with Akira Kurosawa on many of them.

He is the most famous samurai actor and this documentary takes a look at his life.

For any fans of Mifune and Chanbara cinema then this is a must-watch documentary to see.

Watch Mifune: The Last Samurai here.

To sum up.

The Best Japanese Samurai Movies List:

Seven Samurai (1954)

Harakiri (1962)

13 Assassins (2010)

Throne of Blood (1957)

Yojimbo (1961)

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Sanjuro (1962)

Samurai Rebellion (1967)

Ran (1985)

Kagemusha (1980)

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

Twilight Samurai (2002)

Shogun Assassin (1980)

Zatoichi (2003)

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Ugetsu (1953)


Shogun TV Series (1980)


Ok, this isn’t a samurai movie but is a TV series from the 1980s and there is a lot of samurai stuff going on.

It’s about an English sea captain who gets shipwrecked in Japan. In the culture shock, he has to integrate into the samurai culture to survive.

It’s a little bit cheesy in parts but is still an epic masterpiece of showing samurai and feudal Japanese culture back when outsiders were just beginning to get some access to Japan.

You will learn a lot about the samurai from this.

Watch Shogun here.

Samurai Anime:

Samurai Champloo (2005)

Ok, this isn’t a samurai movie either, it’s an animated Japanese anime about an experienced samurai and a fighter who encounter a young girl who enlists their help.

It’s great fun to watch with a bit of dark comedy in it and the Samurai Champloo characters develop as the episodes go on. Mugen from Samurai Champloo is seriously hilarious to watch.

It also has a great soundtrack to boot.

Don’t let the fact it’s anime put you off, it gives a good insight into life in feudal Japan and there is a hell of a lot of fun sword fights.

Yasuke (2021)

Yasuke is an anime based on the true story of an African in Japan during feudal times who is a samurai warrior serving with one of the most powerful Japanese lords in history, Oda Nobunaga.

I would have to say the anime is not nearly as good as Samurai Champloo, so if you want just one Japanese samurai anime to watch then watch Samurai Champloo.

However, if you have a real interest in samurai, and love anime as well, then definitely take a look at Yasuke.

Sword of The Stranger (2007)

Sword of the Stranger is about a nameless ronin (a wandering samurai without a master) who gets involved in a dangerous journey.

He comes across a young boy named Kotaro, who is being chased by Ming warriors. The Ming warriors are determined to capture Kotaro, who carries a powerful object.

As Kotaro and the ronin form an unlikely bond, they find themselves in a series of battles against the Ming warriors.

This samurai animation has everything. Friendship, honour, and sacrifice are explored in this Japanese samurai movie.

Pro movie tip  Amazon Prime has a 30-day free trial, so you could watch a lot of these Japanese samurai movies for free during that 30-day trial.

The Best Japanese Samurai Movies

So that’s the choice of my favourite Japanese samurai movies of all time to watch. I could have included a bunch more but this is all you will need to get the best from the samurai movies genre.

I said “Japanese samurai movies” in the title as these are all Japanese-made. I find Hollywood samurai movies like The Last Samurai to be not so good in general. Hell, in The Last Samurai, they were trying to portray it as a white foreign guy who was saving the samurai.

If you’re visiting Japan and interested in learning about samurai tradition, or just love a good sword fight, then choose one or more of these best samurai movies to watch.

More of Japan

If you want more movies about Japan then check out: 10 of the best movies to watch about Japan.

This post will also explain the last stand of the samurai in some of their last epic fights.

Share these best Japanese samurai movies:

14 thoughts on “20 Best Japanese Samurai Movies (Epic Sword Fights)”

  1. Not a bad list but have you seen any samurai movies by Yoji Yamada (director) like Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor?

  2. Yes! I love the Twilight Samurai. Was trying to keep the list to just 10 movies though to give people searching for a good samurai movie the best choices (IMO). Was thinking in the future to make it 15 Japanese samurai movies!

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  5. Hi,
    Great list of great movies!
    I saw a very unusual Samurai movie a couple of years ago, but I cannot remember the name of the movie or the director of the film. This makes me sad, because I would like to see it again. I found it on YouTube, but I cannot remember the exact phrase I searched for when I found it. Believe me, I have tried all the possible combinations and have literally spent hours searching for it. Since you seem like a genuine fan of the samurai genre I hope that you might know which movie I search for.

    Plot: A gang of samurai guys, aged around 20-25 are leaving their village for Edo (I believe it was) where they should try to join the Shinsengumi. Among of these young samurai guys, there were one very skilled with the sword and he was skinny and tall and I believe he had red/orange hair, like an Afro hair cut style. This movie was a very low paced and genuine touch like Kurusawa and Kobayashi. This red/orange hair dude meets a girl and they fall in love with each other and unfortunately he dies in the end. Do you perhaps know the movie Im looking for?

  6. love your list, for years have looked for a jap. pre-1980 movie were opening scene is a man running through a bamboo forest amidst a barrage of arrows & gets 1 in his right arm. part of the film has a theater-like stage where even the dead can talk about their lives & the film will take you back in their personal histories. How they died & who they plotted against & killed. I think its about some powerful ‘Lord’s family & estate’ & just about everyone meets an untimely death. I wish I could remember the tile? I’d love to see it again!

  7. That’s a list to be proud of. I simply love Japanese cultures and traditions. The samurai culture is one of the most talked about things, and looks like there are some amazing movies have been made on this topic. I will have to watch a few of them for sure. Thanks for the update!

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