If Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai bewitched you and left you hungry for more, it’s time for you to enter the glorious and dangerous world of the samurais yet again. With the brilliant set design, costumes and armour and well-choreographed action sequences, samurai films are usually period dramas set in feudal Japan that offer intriguing plot narratives with gory battle scenes and epic historical figures.
A popular genre in Japanese cinema, audience members are often captivated by the code of samurai conduct and honour; it has been glorified and has reached a mythical stature. Steeped in the historical narratives, it is a perfect way to deconstruct the socio-political realm of feudal Japan while constantly highlighting the nobility and dignity of that period.
While most samurai films have faced a sense of decline since the 90s, it still prevails as one of the most captivating genres in the Japanese film industry.
Here are the five best samurai films you can now watch on Netflix:
The 5 best samurai films you can now watch on Netflix
5. 47 Ronin (Carl Rinsch, 2013)
Starring Keanu Reeves in the lead role, the film is a fictional account of the real-life group of masterless samurai called forty-seven ronin in Japan. The film sees a group of samurais embark on a quest to seek revenge against an evil Shogun who has killed their master.
A westernised take on the classic tale from Japanese books, this epic fantasy film is an acquired taste. Unique and historically inaccurate, the film, however, has a great balance of mythical elements, nobility and soul of samurai films to make it earn a spot on this list.
4. Rurouni Kenshin (Keishi Otomo, 2012)
Based on the eponymous manga, the film is the first-ever live-action adaptation. Set in 1868, the film revolves around a legendary former assassin who is now a samurai. After vowing to never kill anyone again, his resolution is severely tested by the ghosts from his past.
Beautifully filmed and thoughtfully crafted, the film boasts well-choreographed action sequences that will leave an indelible impact on the minds of the viewers. While manga lovers have pointed out subtle differences, it is a great watch nevertheless and quite witty unlike films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
3. Blade of the Immortal (Takashi Miike, 2017)
Based on Hiroaki Samura’s popular manga series, the film focuses on an immortal samurai named Manji who becomes the bodyguard of a teenager. Together, they embark on a quest for vengeance by hunting down the samurais from a different group who orphaned the teen.
Extravagant with unbridled action, the film has frenetic madcap energy which is quintessential to Miike. With a bit more humour in comparison to 13 Assassins, the film plays out like a classic Greek tragedy with plenty of blood and gore and a “dark” central figure while commenting on human nature.
2. The Twilight Samurai (Yoji Yamada, 2002)
Set in mid-century Japan, a few years after the Meiji restoration, a low-ranking samurai leaves a quiet and peaceful life with his daughters and mother. However, bound by duties, this peace-loving widower samurai finds himself torn between his heart and the samurai code of honour, as the feudal system in Japan unravels in the backdrop.
Adapted from Shuhei Fujisawa’s short story, the film became a massive hit, winning 12 Japanese Academy Awards, and a nomination for Best Foreign Language film at the 76th Academy Awards. A beautiful recreation of feudal Japan, the filmmaker presents a touching story via a historical lens.
1. 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)
Adapted from the eponymous 1963 film, this film can be considered one of the greatest samurai films of all time. A perfect genre film, it abounds in feudal politics, noble warriors, ritualistic suicides and one of the goriest, longest and most insane battle scenes of all time that lasts for nearly 45 minutes; the violence and gore, filmed in a sublime manner, is expected from the filmmaker who is known for films like Battle Royale, Audition etc.
Set in feudal Japan, the film revolves around a group of assassins who assemble to take down an evil, ruthless Lord. While they gather two more group members, their quest turns into a suicide mission as they prepare to attack the tyrant and his massive army of nearly two hundred samurais.