Mythical warriors in history often have entire pop-cultural movements around them. There are worlds of knight films, viking films, and ninja films to explore. The world of samurai movies is defined by the work of a creative genius, but there is much more to explore when it comes to the revered Japanese warrior on the big screen.
Samurai films, also known as jidaigeki (period drama) and chanbara (sword-fighting films), are often represented by Akira Kurosawa’s many brilliant films. Although he is undoubtedly a master of the craft, other artists of the time added to the conversation and modern entries continue to innovate the format.
Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
Jim Jarmusch, perhaps the greatest figure in American independent cinema, adapts Le SamuraiA French neo-noir classic, often quoted from Hagakure, The Japanese Samurai Guidebook. It’s a cross cultural mashup that turns a crime thriller into a 90’s jidaigeki. It’s a unique project for everyone involved, but the results have to be seen to be believed. Forest Whitaker stars as the eponymous Ghost Dog, a skilled hitman who obsessively follows the code of Bushido as outlined. Hagakure. Many modern samurai movies use today’s filmmaking techniques to depict stories from yesterday. Jarmusch is a rare figure who lifted the storytelling language of classics from multiple cultures, then blended them into the skin of a contemporary crime thriller. It’s ambitious, and it succeeds.
One of the most notable samurai to appear on screen is the blind master Zatoichi. There was a 100-episode TV series, dozens of movies, and many other works that featured this character’s exploits. In 2008, Fumihiko Sori directed a sort of spiritual successor to the Zatoichi film franchise. Ichi. The story follows Ichi, a young blind woman who wanders the countryside in search of her master, Zatoichi. She spends her time playing beautiful music and winning duels to the death. The plot is a bit predictable, but Ichi’s story is powerful on an emotional level. Ichi The film is beautiful on an audiovisual level, with elegant camerawork and magical music underpinning its bloody action setpieces. Australian composer Lisa Gerrard, who also composed music for Ridley Scott films GladiatorThis movie sounded incredible. Ichi More or less unknown, but it’s an absolute treat for any fan of the genre.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final
The fourth live-action adaptation of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s beloved manga series manages to outshine its predecessors and become one of the best anime films of all time. The film follows iconic pacifist warrior Kenshin Himura as he battles the Shanghai mafia and continues his quest for redemption. The film is greatly uplifted by the performance of Makanue Arata, who portrays the main villain, Yukishiro Enishi. The character is brilliantly executed, imbuing the sword-wielding mafioso with immense menace and a deeply engaging screen presence. The film is far more than the average Jidaigeki, but it lives up to the genre’s promises with emotional depth, perfect action setpieces, and an epic fast-paced story. the last Ma is the best movie kensin franchise, but it’s one of the best modern samurai films on the market.
Blade of the Immortal
Another manga adaptation, but this one from one of the most distinct visionaries in the world of Japanese cinema. None other than Takashi Miike directed this 2017 adaptation of Hiroaki Samura’s groundbreaking series. Mike is the kind of filmmaker who shocks audiences, both by the quality of his work and the unimaginable creative decisions involved. Immortal Eternal Swordsman tells the story of Manji, as he becomes the caretaker of Rin, a young orphan girl. Moved by her tragic story, Manji joins Rin’s quest for revenge against her family’s killers, which leads them on a bloody slashing spree across Japan. Although the story seems a bit classic, it is basically a retelling of Jidaigeki True grit, Mike’s vision shines through in the action scenes. There is some truly brutal violence on display, and it hits every scene with stunning effect. Blade of the Immortal An instant classic and a must-see for fans of classic manga or modern samurai.
Kurosawa is the undisputed master, but there have always been other voices in the genre. Hideo Gosha was the Sergio Corbucci to Kurosawa’s Sergio Leone. Gosha’s magnum opus came in 1969, with this adaptation of the true story of Okada Izo, legendary samurai and assassin. Izo is portrayed here as a mortal man, resorting to violence to fight his way out of poverty. It is a horror story, which removes the romance from the Chanbara genre. With a stellar cast and a note-perfect atmosphere, Gosha shows his mastery of the genre and earns more credits than he currently commands.
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