10 best samurai movies for beginners – 71Bait

Possibly one of the most influential subgenres in film history, the samurai film is largely responsible for many popular trends in world cinema. without it, war of starsspaghetti westerns and many movies from Quentin Tarantino either be completely different or no longer exist. In the 1950s and 1960s, directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi created an early template for modern blockbusters, complete with iconic characters and large-scale action.

For newcomers to the samurai genre, jumping straight into the classics or Kurosawa’s entire filmography might seem like a no-brainer. However, you may quickly find this approach a bit overwhelming. Don’t worry, the following films serve as a great introduction to the way of the samurai and prepare you for the heavyweights of the genre.


13 assassins (2010)

Taking place at the end of Japan’s Edo period, 13 assassins follows twelve samurai and a hunter as they plot to kill the tyrannical Lord Naritsugu before he becomes a member of the shogunate council. The task proves difficult and the conflict culminates in a full-scale battle between the assassins and Naritsugu’s men in a small village.

director Takashi Miike brings its usual flair, complete with fast pace and kinetic action. The first hour showcases the ferocity of Naritsugu while simultaneously fleshing out each member of the heroic ensemble enough to win the audience over to their side. It all sets the stage for an adrenaline-pumping 45-minute finale that maintains its chaotic energy until the credits roll. 13 assassins not only manages to set the stage for the 1963 film he remade, but also serves as an outstanding showcase of what modern filmmaking can do with the samurai genre.

Three outlaw samurai (1964)

Three outlaw samurai tells the story of a ronin (lone samurai) who gets caught in the middle of a kidnapping plot, only to find out the crime was committed out of anger at a rapacious local governor. He meets two men, each on opposite sides, who eventually help him get revenge on the corrupt politicians.

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Originally a prequel to a popular TV show, Three outlaw samurai serves as an appetizer plate with everything the genre has to offer. It combines well-executed action, poignant commentary, and a team of protagonists, each representing a different breed of samurai hero. The unlikely alliance at the center gives the film a unique superhero team quality that sets it apart from the rest.

The Twilight Samurai (2002)

As mentioned in the title, The Twilight Samurai follows an aging low-ranking samurai and widower, Iguchi Seibei. He’s working in a warehouse taking care of his daughters and mother, who has dementia, when a chance encounter with a childhood friend turns his quiet life upside down.

The Twilight Samurai acts as a sort of post-samurai film, highlighting the hypocritical nature of the class structure and samurai code that permeated Japan well into the late 19th century. Seibei is an unlikely hero who resists conflict at every turn (despite his dexterous swordplay skills) until forced into it out of necessity. The film is beautifully subtle, understated, and offers a great alternative to the more action-packed fare of the genre.

Shogun Assassin (1980)

After being accused of high treason and his wife murdered, the shogun executioner Ogami Itto sets off with his young son in a stroller. He quickly encounters various attackers as he embarks on a long, bloody journey to redemption.

Dubbed into English and edited with footage of the first two Lone Wolf and Cubmovies, Shogun Assassin is a surprisingly coherent and fast-paced romp in its own right. It introduced American audiences to the over-the-top aesthetic of ’70s samurai movies, with its stylized editing and gonzo combat sequences. For example, the final showdown in a desert features assassins emerging from the sand, Wolverine-style claws and literal fountains of blood, all set to a synth soundtrack. It’s pure pulp cinema at its finest.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

In this modern crime thriller Forest Whitaker plays the titular Ghost Dog, a mysterious hitman hired by the mafia. He carries around a book detailing the samurai code, which will be tested when he goes up against the mob after learning of their plan to kill him.

Despite the lack of sword duels and a feudal Japanese backdrop, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is basically a pure samurai movie. Ghost Dog is as much a wandering ronin as any, caught between his loyalty and his own moral code. The film also represents the influence the genre has had on hip-hop culture, with a killer soundtrack and a welcome (albeit accidental) cameo from the Wu Tang Clan‘s RZA.

Mrs. Snowblood (1973)

Based on a manga of the same name Mrs. Snowblood follows a deadly assassin named Yuki as she seeks revenge against a group of criminals responsible for her family’s deaths. A bloody ballet ensues as she hunts each member down one by one to achieve the goal she’s sworn to since birth.

If the plot sounds familiar, the similarities betweenMrs. Snowblood and Quentin Tarantino kill Bill Movies don’t stop there. Yuki didn’t just serve as a blueprint for Lucy Luis O-Ren Ishii, but multiple camera angles and musical cues were used kill Bill are direct homages to the cult classic. After watching this visually stunning revenge story, you’ll probably become just as obsessed with it Mrs. Snowblood as Tarantino.

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress follows two farmers on a quest for riches who stumble upon a mysterious man and woman. Unknown to the peasants, the travelers are a general or princess whom they persuade to escort them behind enemy lines in exchange for gold.

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Any list of samurai films would be incomplete without director/actor duo Akira Kurosawa Toshiro Mifune. Though it’s not their most definitive collaboration in the genre (that would probably be 1954 Seven samurai), The Hidden Fortress massively redefined the adventure film. It’s packed with suspenseful, jaw-dropping action to this day. Given that George Luke has cited the film as his primary inspiration for Star Wars, its appeal as a classic more than speaks for itself.

zatoichi (2003)

This quasi-restart of the evergreens zatoichi film series (a whopping 26 films!), zatoichi follows the eponymous blind swordsman as he encounters a town desperate for shelter from yakuza gangs. After befriending and empathizing with the locals, he takes matters into his own hands.

Despite its derivative structure Zatiochi is a fun throwback to the gritty aesthetic of ’70s samurai movies. Beloved Japanese Superstar Takeshi Kitano directs and stars in the film, firing on all cylinders in both departments. His sovereign direction and mysterious charisma like the lead cement zatoichi as one of the few great samurai movies made in the early 2000s.

Harakiri (1962)

Masaki Kobayashi‘s harakiri tells the story of Hanshiro Tsugumo, a ronin, who comes to a feudal lord’s mansion and asks to commit hara-kiri, or ritual suicide, there. The lord is skeptical of Tsugumo’s motives and interrogates him in the courtyard of the mansion, only to find that there is more to Tsugumo’s story than meets the eye.

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Possibly the pinnacle of all samurai films not directed by Kurosawa, Har-A-kiri is a compelling exploration of honor, duty, and societal constructs. The film plays like a chamber play in the courtroom (the action leaves the mansion only in flashbacks). Tatsuya Nakadai is captivating as a determined Tsugumo, and the mental chess game that unfolds between him and the feudal lord is gripping. Meticulously structured to its devastating finale, harakiri is sure to captivate even the most casual viewer of samurai movies.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning follows Ronin Himura Kenshin’s origins as the villainous assassin Hitokiri Battosai. After killing 100 people, Kenshin feels the weight of regret and remorse. His path to redemption begins when he meets a young woman named Tomoe.

The final part of the underrated live action Rurouuni Kenshin Series, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning is one of the few anime/manga adaptations to succeed both as a film and as a faithful retelling of its source material. It balances its brooding atmosphere with an underlying tragic sweetness accented by Takeru Satohs magnetic lead performance. It’s an emotional exploration of the solitude of the warrior lifestyle that one can only hope will help spark a future resurgence in the samurai genre.

NEXT: Great Samurai Movies Not Directed by Akira Kurosawa

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