Samurai Films According to R0BTRAIN
by Robert Sutton, InsidePulse Movies
People all over the world seem to love Westerns. Not just in the American fashion with cowboys and indians, but worldwide moviegoers love to see what their country’s version of the Western is. In Hong Kong, that genre is the Kung Fu film with heroes like Wong Fei-hung stand in for Josey Wales and Shane. In Japan, Samurai films are their cup of tea, with thei own version of the wild west as their heroes carry swords instead of guns. In many ways, the two genres are interchangable as often their heroes are loners that come into town and clean up the scum terrorizing the streets. But there’s something a little more primal about a man that has to kill closeup with a sword instead of shooting a man dead. It seems amazing that on one side of the world men were fighting each other from afar with guns and ammunition, where on the other side there was still a place where combatants preferred to look each other in the eye and fight it out. To further distinguish themselves, these battles were not normally long, drawn out fights with combatants punching and swinging for minutes at a time. A man’s fighting prowess would usually depict him to be lightning fast, as to further emphasize the skill needed for the highest level of combat.
These are the finest the genre has to offer, ranging from action epics to perhaps the greatest movie ever made. Each has a sense and style all its own and were made by terrific directors. You may notice that three of these films were directed by Akira Kurosawa. Well when you’re one of the great directors to have ever lived, you tend to take up a lot of space on lists like these. It’s pretty safe to say that without Kurosawa, the genre would be no where near as good or popular as it is. So without further ado, here are my top 10 Samurai Movies.
Looking for a fun movie? Look no further than Azumi. There has never been a better example of an Anime come to life. Anyone disappointed with Kill Bill should see the ending battle here as Aya Ueto’s Azumi takes on an entire town of samurai warriors, a squad of ninjas and a deadly assassin named Bijimaru (Jo Odagiri). Borrowing much from Anime and Chopsocky, Azumi is an electrifying “new school” Chambara film with tremendously entertaining action.
9.Sword of Doom
There are certain examples of cinema where the villain is actually the main character of a film. Like Hannibal Lector, Tatsuya Nakadai’s Ryunosuke Tsukue doesn’t care whether he does the right thing or not, he just acts. More specifically, he just kills. His swordsmanship is the more important to him than his life or his woman. Directed by Kihachi Okamoto, the film is shot in a stark black and white and the cinematography oozes with a grim cinematic look. The last shot is tops off a supremely haunting sequence. This is one of the most unapologetically violent films of the genre.
8.Zatoichi 10: Zatoichi’s Revenge
The 26 films and a 100 episode run on television, Shintaro Katsu played the blind swordsman, Zatoichi. Action wise, this is best entry by far. Zatoichi returns to a small town where he trained to find his Master has been murdered and the maste’s daughter enslaved in a prostitution scheme. The blind man goes to work, cutting down yakuza thugs by the dozen and ends the film with a climactic showdown with the girl’s like on the line. The film really borrows from the Spaghetti Western here as the lone hero comes into town and takes care of business, then walks back out alone into the sunset.
Japan’s most famous legend is of the 47 samurai who rose from poverty to take down the evil aristocrat who caused their maste’s death. The true account has been dramatized several times, but never better than this picturesque version. The story has been called Japan’s Gone with the Wind, and it’s not far off. The end assault has to be seen to be believed. In a beautifully visceral action sequence, fight for their lives and their masters honor.
6.Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx
In this, the second Lone Wolf and Cub film, Ogami Itto has to face off against three assassins known as “The Gods of Death”. This film was a big influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition. Based on Flute of the Fallen Tiger, the third volume of the Lone wolf and Cub graphic novel series, this is the bloodiest of the films chronicling the vengeful Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama). With each slash of his sword, Itto’s opponent bursts with seemingly a river of blood. These films are no end of fun, but the serious edge to them actually provides some dramatic weight, lifting them above the average Chambara.
If you’ve ever want to see visual poetry amongst mass carnage then check out Akira Kurosawa’s late masterpiece. Based upon Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kurosawa moves the setting to Feudal Japan with amazing results. Check out the film’s main battle scene, which is one of the most impressive displays of color and action ever. The fights are bloody and epic, but pack a visual punch that has yet to be matched. Amongst all the carnage, there is a very simple story of a man who simply wanted to be loved by his children.
4. Twilight Samurai
Nearly as good as any Kurosawa film, Twilight Samurai tells the story of Hiroyuki Sanada’s Seibei Iguchi, a samurai who desperately wants to relinquish his title and simply be a farmer. The only love of his life has died and he has to do odd jobs and even sell his sword to make ends meet. To find an American equivalent of Twilight Samurai, the closes thing would have to be Unforgiven, but to be honest, I think this is a better film. Twilight Samurai’s portrait of a man who forsakes his own happiness for duty and honor is an amazing achievement in any language. This is one of the great ones.
3.Zatoichi 3: New Tale of Zatoichi
Through 26 films, this is definitely the best one. Zatoichi returns to his home town to find that he finally has a chance to find happiness with the love of a girl named Yayoi. Unfortunately, her brother (who happens to be a former friend and teacher to Ichi) has betrothed Yayoi to a wealthy samurai. This is by far the most personal story of the series, which gives it a much greater dramatic element. Things are complicated by a samurai looking for revenge, when Zatoichi simply wants to leave his swordsman days behind. This is great serial story telling and the shining point of one of the greatest franchises in the history of cinema.
How many films have you seen that created a genre? This one did. Toshiro Mifune’s bad ass ronin walks into town and walks out an icon of the silver screen. Along the way, he happened to influence a young film maker named Sergio Leone, who went on to create the Spaghetti Western. Partially based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Red Harvest (which was also the basis for Mille’s Crossing), Yojimbo has Mifune’s Sanjuro traveling to a town with tow warring yakuza gangs. He sees the gangs are killing each other, but worse they’re tearing the lives of the innocent villagers apart. In an amazing plot of subterfuge and awesome action and duels, Kurosawa make’s his best looking film in black and white. Looking at the film, you won’t even realize you’re not watching a Western until, the actor start pulling swords instead of six guns.
1. Seven Samurai
In my opinion, this is not only the best film in this genre, but the greatest of all time. The basic story deals with a village being attacked yearly by a band of forty bandits. One year they decide to hire samurai to protect them. That’s the basic story, but the picture is so much more. Kurosawa’s masterpiece is the first epic film with a really intimate feel. Even though there are seemingly a dozen main characters, each is given ample screen time and proper characterization. The movie is also the first time a “Team Up” picture ever took place, where a bunch of specialists get together to do a job. So if you think about the legacy of this film, you’ve got The Magnificent Seven, A Bug’s Life, The Wild Bunch, Ocean’s Eleven, The Dirty Dozen, and probably a hundred more. Most importantly, the film is one of the best pictures of humanity. These aren’t just clichÃƒÂ©d characters, but beings with actual emotions, including fear. There are also moments of jealousy and class struggle, with lovers falling in love, but staying apart out of duty. The film is also action packed. As the bandits attack the village, the sequences are a textbook example of siege-like battle scenes. This is the most honest and human portrayal of this period ever committed to celluloid and one of the most important viewing experiences of my life.