Samurai movies are a classic genre in Japanese cultural depictions of the past of the samurai, and these are 10 of the best Japanese samurai movies you can watch. From the epic originals of the 50’s to the more recent.

I’ve been a huge fan of samurai movies (and Japanese culture in general) since I was a teenager and have watched all the movies listed here (and more).

I said “Japanese movies” in the title as these are all Japanese made. I find Hollywood samurai movies like The Last Samurai to be disrespectful to the Japanese culture. Hell, in The Last Samurai they basically were trying to portray it was a white foreign guy who was saving the samurai.

Did you know that Star Wars took the idea from one of these samurai movies? I’ll tell you which one at the end.

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

They’re in no particular order except number one, which is thee classic samurai movie and my personal favourite.

I’ve included trailers for all of them and kept the description brief as I don’t want to give away spoilers, just an idea of what to expect.

The Best Samurai Movies

 


1. Seven Samurai

Year: 1954

Like I said this is my all time favourite samurai movie.

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

It’s set in 1586 where a farming village is continuously under attack from bandits. They hire seven samurai to protect them and their harvest.

It’s a long movie and grainy but it’s worth it for the fight scenes at the end especially. Great character development as well.


2. Harakiri

Year: 1962

Harakiri (Seppuku) is set in the early 17th century during the Edo period.

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 what happened with his family. It’s a slow story but builds up to an absolutely epic battle scene in the end.


3. 13 Assassins

Year: 2010

This movie is based on historical events set in 1844 where twelve samurai and a hunter plan to kill an evil warlord.

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.


4. Throne of Blood

Year: 1957

This is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but call it the samurai version. It’s set in feudal Japan.

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


5. Yojimbo

Year: 1961

Yojimbo is again a movie about a masterless samurai (they’re called ronin I should point out at this point).

The 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.

Massive gang fights ensue.



6. The Hidden Fortress

Year: 1958

With a war going on 2 poor men try to profit from it, and when they find 2 people hiding in a fortress (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.


7. Sanjuro

Year: 1962

This is a sequel to the previously mentioned Yojimbo and is very humorous for a samurai movie and a hell of a lot of action.

Again in a smilier mean to many samurai movies it follows a lone samurai who ends up teaching wannabe samurai who want to confront their corrupt lords.

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


8. Samurai Rebellion

Year: 1967

This ones set in the 18th century where 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 fight 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.


9. Ran

Year: 1985

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”.

An elderly lord gives up his power to his 3 sons who then end up fighting each other for full control.

The battle scenes in this are truly massive and a must see.


10. Kagemusha

Year: 1980

Another one of Akira Kurosawa’s later films.

A thief (Kagemusha) who looks like an aged warlord is taken by the clan to play that lord so other clans believe he is still in power, to avoid being overthrown.

The actual lord eventually dies and the thief is actually put in the real position of power. He enjoys his new position until he ends up having to fight and compete against a rival clan.



The Best Japanese Samurai Movies

 

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

The answer to which samurai movie George Lucas borrowed from for Star Wars is – The Hidden Fortress.

If you want more ideas for movies in Japan then check out my post on 10 movies to watch before going to Japan.

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*I own none of the images in this post. They are used in fair use terms to discuss the movies.

*Disclaimer time! This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through these links I earn a small commission that helps me keep this site running at no extra cost to you

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Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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