We love samurai films – also known as chanbara. It is a pretty open and shut statement. These jidaigeki (period dramas) based on Japan’s war torn and tumultuous past are often filled with heroes, honour, masterful choreography, corrupt shoguns and bloodthirsty bandits; how could a gent not fall in love with them?

We love them so much that we have shortlisted our 10 favourite samurai flicks, including of the most iconic, genre defining samurai movies as well as some brilliant modern day tales – let us save you some time, ‘The Wolverine’ did not make it on here.

13 Assassins (2010)

13 assassins

The premise:

Set in the final decades of the Tokugawa government, a band of samurai plot to assassinate the shogun’s sadistic half-brother who is constantly committing atrocities and is determined to lead Japan back into a period of war and death. Led by a senior samurai by the name of Shinzaemon, the group face insurmountable odds for the people and for the future of Japan.

Worth a watch because…

Takashi Miike’s attempt at the samurai genre has all the blood and gore that is to be expected from one of Japan’s most controversial directors. With 13 protagonists some of the characters are not developed enough for the audience to build a real bond however Miike makes up for this with spectacular action scenes whilst remaining true to the original genre.

Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

samurai x

The premise:

Set in the early Meiji period of Japan, the film focuses on a wandering samurai named Himura Kenshin. Kenshin, previously a prolific assassin, now wanders Japan offering help and has taken a vow never to kill. This is easier said than done however, as Kenshin constantly finds himself in situations fighting for his life.

Worth a watch because…

The film is based on a Manga of the same name and has more action than you can shake a stick at. One of the stand out scenes in the police station attack which is reminiscent of the scene from Terminator, except with wonderful choreography.

Yojimbo (1961)

Yojimbo

The premise:

Set towards the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, a wandering ronin (masterless samurai) stumbles across a town overtaken by gang warfare as two rival gangsters battle for supremacy. The ronin, who calls himself Kuwabatake Sanjuro, seeks to liberate the town by playing the two gangs off each other; a plan that leads to a lot of sword swinging and bloodshed.

Worth a watch because…

Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, Yojimbo has both an engaging plot and intense action scenes that will have you mesmerized. Kurosawa’s tale has been remade and retold over here in the West with perhaps the most well known remake being the spaghetti Western ‘A fistful of Dollars’ starring Clint Eastwood.

When the last sword is drawn (2003)

When the last sword is drawn

The premise:

A tale set in the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the story focuses on two very different samurai, Saito Hajime and Yoshimura Kanichiro. As the heartless Hajime and the emotionally driven Kanichiro reminisce, questions of what it means to be truly honourable and loyal are brought into play.

Worth a watch because…

Above and beyond this typical samurai flick, ‘When the Last Sword is Drawn’ has as much emotionally charged drama as it does wonderful and ultimately brutal fight scenes. Although not the shortest of films at almost two and a half hours long, the narrative and action makes the time fly by.

Throne of blood (1957)

Throne of blood

The premise:

The story is the retelling of Macbeth in feudal Japan.  Generals Miki and Washizu are given premonitions of their futures by a spirit in the woods, but as Washizu’s wife Asaji drives her husband to fulfil his prophecy, tragedy ensues.

Worth a watch because…

Another classic from legendary director Kurosawa, Throne of Blood has been called one of the greatest reworks of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in modern cinema, including real arrows being shot at the main protagonist in certain scenes to ensure that the look of fear was authentic – a health and safety nightmare waiting to happen.

Shogun Assassin (1980)

Shogun Assassin

The premise:

Itto Ogami is the shogun’s decapitator and is known across Japan for his skill with a blade. When the shogun becomes threatened by Ogami, he betrays Ogami, kills his wife and hunts Ogami and his young son Daigoro. Together with his infant son, Ogami goes on a path of revenge, vowing to kill the shogun and his ninjas.

Worth a watch because…

When it comes to hacking and slashing, it does not get much better than Shogun Assassin, which is actually the amalgamation of two separate films; ‘Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengence ‘and ‘Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx’. With a brilliant soundtrack and without a doubt the most awesome baby cart known to man (you will see why), this is a much watch for any samurai film fan.

Zatoichi (2003)

Zatoichi

The premise:

Following the traditional Zatoichi flicks of old, the wandering blind samurai walks into a town overrun with gangsters, crime and murder and proceeds to clean house by cutting and slashing all that stand in his way.

Worth a watch because…

Winner of a whole host of awards, including the Venice Film Festival’s  Silver Lion for Best Director award, Zatoichi has the perfect blend of story and sword. With some unforeseen plot twists and hypnotising sword fights, Zatoichi is definitely a must watch.

The Twilight Samurai (2002)

The Twilight Samurai

The premise:

Set in the Edo Period of Japan, the movie centres on Seibei Iguchi, a poor samurai who cares for his ailing mother and daughters whilst working as a bureaucrat. When his childhood friend Tomoe leaves her abusive husband and takes sanctuary with Seibei, the destitute samurai is forced into a number of difficult situations.

Worth a watch because…

Not your typical samurai film with oodles of blood and slashing, The Twilight Samurai is a far more delicate, character driven drama. The touching storyline and the wonderful protagonists make for a touching and beautiful film that stands in a class of its own; so much so it was nominated for an Oscar.

Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)

Three Outlaw Samurai

The premise:

Sakon Shiba, a wandering ronin, happens across a town in the midst of a class war between peasant farmers and a corrupt magistrate, with the peasants having kidnapped the magistrate’s daughter. Sakon decides to stick with the peasants to help with their plight, leading the magistrate to bring in samurai of his own. As the war continues, the samurai are left questioning what the honourable path is.

Worth a watch because…

Gosha’s chanbara is consistently entertaining; with enough action to constantly have you on the edge of your seat. Whilst not having the in-depth character development that other directors such as Kurosawa employed, the three outlaw ronin each fill the typical archetype whilst Gosha spends longer creating brilliantly realistic sword scenes.

7 Samurai (1954)

7 Samurai

The premise:

Arguably the most well known and iconic of Kurosawa’s films and samurai films in general is ‘7 Samurai’. A village of farmers is tormented by a band of bandits who constantly steal the village’s crops, leaving the farmers and their families penniless and starving. In their desperation, the villagers hire seven warriors to defend the village and defeat the bandits which ultimately leads to all out war.

Worth a watch because…

As we said, this film is absolutely iconic in the samurai genre and is Kurosawa’s magnum opus. Critically acclaimed, winner of more awards than we can list and having a lasting effect regarding plot structures, this samurai epic – the original clocks in at over 3 hours long – is a must see for any fan of cinema. Kurosawa was the first to use the theme of gathering a band of heroes together to achieve a specific goal and the level of character development of each protagonist is astonishing, leading you to root for all seven of the honourable samurai. The film was retold as the famous spaghetti Western ‘The Magnificent Seven’ 6 years later, where certain scenes were almost shot like for like – of course sans the samurai swords. This is one that every gent should see at some point.

So there you have it, our top 10 samurai flicks. Let us know what you think or if there are any glaring omissions you feel should have been included in the comments below.