Japanese samurai films are international classics. They’ve been the inspiration for westerns and science fiction movies, with an iconic look and feel, as well as many diverse stories to tell.
If you’re looking to get into the genre, though, it can be hard to know which Japanese samurai films you should watch first. A quick Google search will show you a lot of options.
Here is a list of the top 11 Japanese samurai movies to help you get into this iconic and influential genre. The following list itself consists of both classics and modern samurai films.
Enjoy your time watching the samurai movies we recommend here.
1. Seven Samurai (1954)
Seven Samurai is perhaps the most well-known movie of the Japanese samurai movie genre. A small rural village is under threat from bandits. The villagers pool their money and hire seven master less samurai (ronin) to defend them.
The story has inspired several remakes across many genres over the years, being used for the famous Western movie The Magnificent Seven and even an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Many of its original storytelling elements can be found in modern action movies and television shows to this day. Seven Samurai is considered by many critics to be one of the best movies ever made.
This is a very long film, coming in at 207 minutes, and can be found with subtitles in English and many other languages.
2. Throne of Blood (1957)
Based on the play Macbeth by Shakespeare, this movie places the plot of that play in feudal Japan and takes many stylistic elements from native Japanese cultural traditions like Noh drama.
Many consider it one of the best film adaptations of Macbeth. It is a highly influential film, an excellent blending of two separate cultures to tell a classic tale of ambition and corruption.
Please note “Throne of Blood” is said one of Akira Kurosawa’s best films.
3. Yojimbo (1961)
A ronin arrives in small town that is caught up in a gang war between two crime lords, both of whom seek to hire on the samurai as a bodyguard.
But this wandering warrior is more than mere dumb muscle and pits the two crime lords against each other. This is a very violent movie and shocked audiences at the time of its American release.
It has been hugely influential on American westerns and has been loosely adapted to that movie genre on several occasions.
Watch this movie in order to see one what has been considered one of the greatest films of all time.
4. Harakiri (1962)
The title of this film “Harakiri” refers to the ancient samurai practice of ritual suicide. It tells the story of an elderly ronin who arrives at a lord’s home and requests an honorable place to kill himself.
When he learns the brutal fate of his son-in-law, a younger samurai, he embarks on a quest of revenge instead.
This is a violent, beautifully shot, and heartrending tale. It’s a deeply human drama about ethical conflict and is well worth watching if you’re looking to learn more about the conventions and diversity found in the samurai movie genre.
Like many other movies on this list, you can find this movie with subtitles in multiple languages.
5. Sanjuro (1962)
This movie functions as sequel to Yojimbo, incorporating the main character of that movie into its plot line.
A man has been framed by a corrupt chamberlain, so his nephew and clansmen seek to save him, helped along by crafty samurai.
This film is particularly notorious for its bloody ending sequence. If you like the main character of Yojimbo, definitely give this a watch.
6. 13 Assassins (1963)
A troop of assassins come together to kill a corrupt and dishonorable lord. This movie was remade in 2010.
This movie follows many of the themes found in Seven Samurai, but with a much more lavish budget.
The costuming and sets are excellent, as are the fight scenes, and it’s well worth a watch for the attention to these details alone. Buy its DVD here.
7. Samurai Rebellion (1967)
When the mother of a lord’s illegitimate and only remaining heir is kidnapped from her husband by that lord, the husband and his samurai father must survive the lord’s attempt to kill them and attempt to right this grievous wrong.
This is film of human tragedy and oppression, so do not expect the happiest ending.
The noble, disillusioned samurai standing up against cruel and powerful men is a common theme in the samurai movie genre. Watch this film to see one of the best examples of it.
8. Ran (1985)
When an elderly warlord steps down and hands over power to his two sons, his empire becomes embroiled in their vicious conflict as power corrupts both younger men.
The warlord’s only hope is his third son, whom he had banished for his brashness. This is a thematically complex movie and very pessimistic about human nature.
Pick it up for a very interesting watch. Buy Ran (1985) Blu-ray.
9. The Twilight Samurai (2002)
A widowed samurai must balance his duties to his family and his lord as an old flame reappears in his life and the Japanese feudal system begins to come apart.
It’s a fascinating look into a period of Japanese history when the feudal samurai way of life was fading away.
10. The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
A blind swordsman takes up residence with a family and finds himself caught up in a local gang war. This movie sought to revive many of the older conventions found in the samurai movie genre.
It is a smart and well-made film, with some unique strange touches and truly striking action sequences.
11. Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy (2012)
Ruroni Kenshin is regarded as one of the greatest manga and anime series by many, and the Ruroni Kenshin Trilogy is film adaptation of it.
An elite samurai killer abandons the way of the sword after imperialist forces claim victory and takes up the path of a wandering samurai.
A decade later, he finds himself involved in the trails of a floundering dojo belonging to a young woman who has recently lost her father.
For many who saw the anime series on television growing up, this film will strike a nostalgic cord. For others, it is an amazing character-driven samurai movie. Buy Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy here.
12. The Hidden Fortress (1958)
The Hidden Fortress is another top-rated Japanese samurai film directed by Akira Kurosawa. If you like watching samurai/action films, this is a must-watch.
It tells the story of two greedy peasants who escort a princess and her general.
The princess and general, carrying large supply of gold need help from the peasants to escape into the allied zone. Do you think that things will go right as they travel through enemy territory to reach their desired location?
Watch the movie and find out how and where their amazing journey ends.