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Best Samurai Movies

The 10 best Japanese samurai movies you absolutely must watch

On the occasion of the release of the Netflix TV show Blue Eye Samurai, we bring you 10 Japanese samurai movies you absolutely must watch

These days we have been telling you about Blue Eye Samurai, new animated series from on-demand streaming platform Netflix written and directed by Michael Green which we promoted with flying colors (here’s our review of Blue Eye Samurai) and which he reinterprets, in an animated key and with an excellent balance between the Eastern and Western gaze, samurai movie classics, the so-called genre of ‘chambara‘, i.e., Japanese films centered on sword duels, typically belonging to the subgenre of the jidai-geki, the movies set in the historical period of feudal Japan.

To accompany the viewing of Blue Eye Samurai and broaden the horizon opened by the TV series, in the following paragraphs we offer the 10 best cult samurai movies you absolutely must see. As always, good reading and especially good viewing.

The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa

The alpha and omega of the samurai film genre, The Seven Samurai is the prototypical movie that any director would have liked to make and also the one that many filmmakers throughout film history have remade, from westerns onward (not just the western The Magnificent Seven but also the Chinese Beach of the war gods by Jimmy Wang Yu and the sci-fi Rebel Moon by Zack Snyder, expressly inspired by Kurosawa’s masterpiece), always in search of these same standards of glory, of immense precision, of gigantism, to which, however, no one (or very few) were able to come close afterwards.

The Seven Samurai Kurosawa

A sort of Noah’s ark for the modern kolossal and its commandments (its lessons can also be seen in Ridley Scott’s new Napoleon), probably among the four to five most beautiful and important films in Cinema History. The Seven Samurai is Akira Kurosawa’s most famous movie and also the one about which the most has been said, perhaps already everything: in any case, like all great immortal films, it has remained indispensable until now and will remain so forever.

13 Assassins by Takashi Miike

Takashi Miike’s spasmodic career also embraces samurai films with 13 Assassins, a remake of Eichi Kudo’s classic of the same name released in 1963.
Less inspired by the sociopolitical context than the first version but much more interested in the photography of bodies dancing to batter each other, Miike’s film takes advantage of a larger budget than its predecessor and, packing all the violence for which the director is famous within wonderful period sets, it becomes one of those rare remakes that can improve on the original.

13 Assassins Takashi Miike

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance by Kenji Misumi

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is the first in a series of six movies, all starring Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami Itto, a wandering ronin who donates his sword to the highest bidder and is accompanied on his adventures by his son, young Daigoro. The two greatly inspired the dynamics of Din Djarin and Grogu at the center of the very famous The Mandalorian, the Star Wars TV show: in this sense it is worth remembering again how much George Lucas’ original saga is indebted to chambara cinema.

Lone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance

Known for its viciousness and particularity of detail, Kenji Misumi’s franchise would also spawn the American remake Shogun Assassin by Robert Houston in 1980 and also from Misuri, whose career is almost exclusively linked to samurai films, would be born the famous saga of Zatoichi.

Zatoichi by Takeshi Kitano

Written, directed, co-edited and performed by Takeshi Kitano, here on his 11th directorial venture (still the biggest commercial success of his revered career), the film is a revival of the classic Zatoichi movies and TV shows, the itinerant blind masseur and swordsman of Japan’s late Edo period popularized by the film saga made by the production company Daiei and starring the actor Shintaro Katsu.

Zatoichi Takeshi Kitano

Among the longest-running sagas in movie history, with 26 films made between 1962 and 1989 and a television series that aired from 1974 to 1979 consisting of 100 episodes, Zatoichi is reborn in a modern version with Takeshi Kitano, which reintroduces through its unique style all the stylistic features of the franchise. The film was screened at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Silver Lion for Best Director. Also worth recovering is Zatoichi: The Last di Junji Sakamoto, released in 2010 and to date the last film in the franchise, which is not only successful but beautifully romantic, crepuscular, and unforgiving.

Harakiri by Masaki Kobayashi

The parable of a young samurai still clinging to life who is forced, in the name of duty and honor, to commit the famous ritual suicide of harakiri that gives the film its title.

Best Samurai Movies 1

Into the rigidity of Kobayashi’s black-and-white gaze creeps a harsh critique of the traditions of Japan’s feudal era, which here become the excuse to masterfully immortalize all the oppression that grips the protagonist. From the same subject a great modern remake signed again by Takashi Miike.

Kihachi Okamoto’s Samurai Assassin

Starring the great Toshiro Mifune as the samurai ronin illegitimate son of a powerful nobleman, Kihachi Okamoto’s film remains to this day one of the great examples of the genre, dense with detail and complex thematically and narratively.

Samurai Assassin Kihachi Okamoto

The mythological final climax sequence, The battle under the snowstorm at Edo Castle, punctuated by the pounding rhythm of the soundtrack’s drums and katana slashes,and resplendent with Hiroshi Murai’s black-and-white photography, is enough on its own to put Samurai Assassin on your list of films to catch up on (not forgetting, again by Okamoto, the later The Sword of Doom and Kill!).

Killing by Shinya Tsukamoto

A samurai film from the father of cyberpunk Shinya Tsukamoto, director of Tetsuo and Hiruko the Goblin (here is our special article dedicated to Hiruko the Goblin), has been the forbidden dream of every cinephile worthy of the label for years, and in 2018 that dream with Killing has come true.

Killing Shinya Tsukamoto

Once again, the vibrations and sounds that differentiate flesh from metal become for Tsukamoto’s ecstatic chamber, the springs of a film electric but at the same time of rare delicacy: the absolute stillness – pursued through a direction full of self-restraint in the first part – recedes from time to time as soon as one is on the verge of grasping it, with ferocious explosions so stunning that they force the film to take on new forms and registers that Tsukamoto dominates as only he can.

The Twilight Samurai by Yoji Yamada

A Japanese answer to the Western revisionism of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, The Twilight Samurai is an anti-climactic film, as gentle and disciplined as a samurai, a caress both in the moment of whispering one’s love silently brooded over for years and when called upon to cut off a head.

The Twilight Samurai

Every dialogue and every grimace says something more about the characters, every shot conveys an emotion or thought. No epic, only that of the everyday and its labors, joys and regrets. Even today Twilight Samurai is the second most awarded film ever at the Japanese Academy Awards, the equivalent of the Oscars (or the David di Donatello, for that matter) for the Japanese film industry, with as many as twelve statuettes: it was also the first episode of a thematic trilogy that Yamada produced on the figure of the samurai, along with the subsequent The Hidden Blade and Love & Honor.

The fall of Ako Castle by Kinji Fukasaku

With The Fall of Ako Castle, yakuza movie master Kinji Fukasaku brings together an ensemble cast, including two icons of Japanese cinema such as Toshiro Mifune and Sonny Chiba, for a spectacular samurai epic, a retelling of the classic story of the 47 ronin.

When his master loses his property and life due to an injustice, the faithful servant Ōishi swears revenge, even though the man he has sworn to kill is protected by the ruling shogunate and any retaliation risks being regarded as an act of high treason. To succeed, amid spies and assassins sent to thwart him or take him down, Ōishi gathers to himself 47 now masterless samurai calling them to avenge their slain lord. A moving story of loyalty, betrayal and sacrifice at the center of a brutal samurai slaughter.

The Assassin by Hou Hsiao-hsien

There are not exactly samurai and we are not even in Japan (the only exception to this list), but Hou Hsiao-hsien’s recent tragic announcement of his retirement from the world of cinema due to health problems forces us to give up the many other samurai movies we could have mentioned in this last paragraph to make a stop in Taiwan.

The Assassin Hou Hsiao-hsien

Winner of the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival, The Assassin boasts indelible image and sound design work: color, black and white, shifting grain, ever-changing shape ratio and then the sounds, natural, alternating with this glorious and poetic music, until they form a whole.
It stages the smoke of memories and its flow through time, in an absolute masterpiece that unfortunately will forever remain the last film by one of the greatest auteurs in the history of world cinema.

Matteo Regoli

critica i film, poi gli chiede scusa si occupa di cinema, e ne è costantemente occupato è convinto che nello schermo, a contare davvero, siano le immagini porta avanti con poca costanza Fatti di Cinema, blog personale

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