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11 Awesome Samurai Movies to Watch

I have always been into Martial Arts films even as a kid when I briefly took Karate! There has always been something fascinating about samurai and ninjas to me. I guess it is the code they live by, stealth, agility, lone warrior adventurous type that I sometimes relate to myself. Recently, I began to watch samurai movies again! As I was looking for more movies to watch, I came across this article from looper.com that listed a few must-watch samurai movies. So here we go!

(Seven Samurai film. Photo from BBC.com)

First, I will start with a short background history of the film genre. Samurai cinema is a mix of theatre, art, and an overview of Japan's Edo period set in the (1603-1868). Chambara "Sword-fighting" movies and Jidaigeki "period drama" are the two Japanese terms that makeup films. Samurai films are closely tied to American westerns in that the main character or characters fight against injustice, prove their loyalty, and seek vengeance against wrongs committed but with swords instead of guns. In the 1970s, this genre started to die out with the exploitation phase of films. Still, a resurgence in the mid-'90s has brought the film genre back into American cinema. As for Japanese cinema among the younger generation? This has not been the case. Now onto the must-see samurai films!

Seven Samurai (1954)

First on the list is the classic film "Seven Samurai," which was popular at the height of the film genre's emergence. The late Akira Kurosawa directed this classic timepiece. The film is set in 16th century Japan as it depicts poor farmers robbed by a gang of wild bandits. The farmers set out to gather as many resources as possible to hire seven samurai to avenge and protect them. These samurai are a particular breed known as ronin, which means they are without masters and lone warriors roaming the countryside seeking direction. Seven Samurai is an influential film that has been copied by classic American western films such as "The Magnificent Seven" and the 1980's comedy "The Three Amigos," among others. You can watch The Seven Samari on HBO Max, Amazon Prime for 2.99, and Youtube.

Unforgiven (2013)

Not the Clint Eastwood version but a remake of the classic 1992 western! Even I did not know about this one! Korean director Lee Sang-il remade the film back in 2013 with Ken Watanabe (Inception, Last Samauri) as Eastwood's character, but in this version he is a retired samurai lured out of retirement by capturing a band of wicked brothers, who have been wreaking havoc in a small town even disfiguring a poor prostitute. You can catch Unforgiven (2013) on Amazon Prime for 13.99 or other streaming platforms.

The Twilight Samurai (2002)

This film deviates from the traditional samurai formula to a more somber tone as the hero, Seibei Iguchi is a low-level clerk? Usually, these warriors do not have a 9 to 5 job in samurai films or work like us regular folks out here. Still, this film presents a different view of the samurai we have not seen before. The hero's wife dies, leaving him to raise their two daughters alone on a poor man's salary? Wow, this film is very American so far! Seibei's old friend comes into his life and helps him raise the girls. With this act of kindness from his old friend, old feelings began to resurface for her. Still, Seibei is too ashamed of his social status to make her a proper wife. Aside from the romance and drama of the film, there are action sequences and adventure, but the main focus of the film is the character Seibei presenting a "softer" side to being a samurai not depicted in many movies or relatable in his social status. I am not sure where this film can be streamed? But I am sure you can figure it out, lol! Also, finding an English language trailer was tough, so enjoy it!

Throne of Blood (1957)

Finding out about this film was quite fascinating ! it is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth but set in Japan instead of Scotland. The story follows General Washizu, a samurai who abides by the warriors' code until one night he is visited by an evil spirit who tells him that he will become the lord of his master's castle. He informs his wife of the prophecy, who, in turn, encourages him to fulfill the prophecy quickly by murdering his master and taking his lordship title. If you have read Macbeth, then you have an idea of how this will end ! lol. You can watch Throne of Blood on HBO Max, and Amazon Prime for 3.99.

13 Assassins (2010)

Japanese director Takashi Mike's remake of the classic film of the same title is a story that follows a ragtag band of samurai who are determined to defeat a cruel and evil lord whose continual rule could bring an end to Japan as they know it. I started to watch this film, and it was slow and painful to watch but in a reasonable way? Some of the film's scenes were a lot to take in but gets the point across of how evil this lord is really. The action sequences and bloody gore will also entertain horror fans and action alike. 13 Assassins is now streaming on Hulu, Sling TV, and Amazon Prime.

HaraKiri (1962)

Amid the samurai cinema explosion came a movie that went against the grain. Director Masaki Kobayashi's HaraKiri was set apart from the other films. The main character Tsugumo requests seppuku (ritual suicide after defeat) at his clan's mansion. The clan elder holds off on allowing this ritual to take place, suspecting it is a ploy he tells Tsugumo a moral tale of another samurai who wanted to do the same but was forced to complete the task as opposed to asking for permission. Reading the plot of this film sounds intriguing. It is on my list of movies to watch next as well. There is a 2012 remake of the film also. Harakiri can be viewed on iTunes and Prime for 3.99 if interested. Check out the trailer for both versions!

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samauri (1999)

I Love this Film! It stars Forrest Whitaker as a hitman who has bound himself in service (like a samurai) to his boss Louie after he saves his life. Aside from killing people out of a sense of duty to his boss, Ghost Dog enjoys his days off by reading the 18th-century samurai code of ethics and feeding birds. It is soon apparent to the audience that his boss does not have his best interest at heart, but Ghost Dog remains faithful to the end, or does he? My lips are sealed ! But it is a fantastic take on the samurai genre done in an urban setting. Ghost Dog is available on iTunes and Vudu for 3.99.

Yojimbo (1961)

The story follows a nameless ronin (samurai without a master) who comes across two rival businessmen fighting for control of the village town's gambling scene. The ronin takes a fake name calling himself Sanjuro, while convincing the two businessmen to hire him as their bodyguard against one another unsuspectingly. Once the plot thickens, Sanjurio sets his plan in motion to destroy both businessmen freeing the village of their foul operation. The film Yojimbo sets the prototype for the amoral character we see in today's western and action movies. Yojimbo can be streamed on HBO Max and Prime for 3.99.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2 (2003/ 2004)

Quentin Tarantino's epic homage to samurai and martial arts films all summed up in these two movies about a merciless assassin identified as "The Bride," played by Uma Thurman, who retires from the violent lifestyle to settle down and marry. The assassin group's boss double-crosses her and takes out a hit to kill her, never to be free from the lifestyle. As we learn in volume 1, she survives the brutal attack and sets out on a path of vengeance. Kill Bill 2 is a continuation of this path until she reaches her boss "Bill," played by the late David Carridine. This film is one of my favorites! Well, except part 2, it got a bit slow for me, and who knows when volume 3 will come out! Never! I am still sore about that, by the way! Anyway, you can catch Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2 on Hulu, TBS, Sling, and TNT. Enjoy the trailers for both films:

Zatoichi (2003)

It is a film and tv show franchise that is well known in Japan than in America. The series spans from 1962 to 1989 following a blind swordsman on a series of feudal Japan adventures. For this article's purposes, we are discussing the 2003 film that revitalizes the character in a new context. In the movie, lead character Zatoichi aids a pair of geisha sisters to gain vengeance on a group of criminals who murdered their parents. You can catch the 2003 film on Amazon Prime (2.99), iTunes (3.99), and Youtube (9.99).

Samaurai Assassin (1965)

The film follows hero Tsuruchiyo Niro, a ronin who discovers he is the illegitimate son of a powerful nobleman but doesn't know his father's name. He joins a group of revolutionaries who intend to kill a Japanese Emperor to prove himself as an honorable samurai and in hopes of revealing his father's identity. The plot seems out there, but this film is based on an actual event known as Sakuradamon incident of 1932, which lead to the end of the samurai in Japan. I am not sure where to stream this film, but it can be found online somewhere.

Here are a few more samurai film suggestions from mojo.com

Busido Blues " The Best Samurai Movies to Watch Before Playing Ghost of Tsushima"

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