Top 15 Enthralling Movies Like 'The Last Samurai'
What Films Are Like The Last Samurai?
It’s hard to find a person who after having been introduced to Japanese culture wasn’t affected by it in some way shape or form. From the “Made in Japan” seal on almost every product imaginable to their eclectic sense of fashion, people of all races and walks of life have fallen in love with Japan in one way or another, admiring the richness of their history, depth of tradition and above all, sense of honor they seem to hold in such high regard. This sense of honor can be traced back centuries ago to medieval and pre-modern Japan where a special class of warriors called the samurai existed.
These samurai were officers who lived their lives according to a code of ethics called “bushido” or in other words, “the way of the warrior." This code succinctly embodied all that constituted what was honorable and stated that these warriors would serve their families, their country, but most importantly, their lord. Submission was key, and with every transgression having a ripple effect across generations, any samurai was keen to make sure that he was always on the right side of what was considered honorable.
So, it went that this code of ethics permeated into mainstream Japanese culture. This sense of honor is so deeply instilled within the Japanese people that it has led to some Japanese students, who believed failing a class meant they had brought “dishonour” to their family, committing suicide rather than be told they had “failed."
The seriousness of what honor means to the Japanese has not been lost to the rest of the world, as in a world where deception is more often the norm than the exception, a code that portrays such moral integrity is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Over the years, through the influx of movies, manga comics, and anime shows from Japan, many have been given the chance to learn what it means to have honor, leading them to fall in love with and seek out more of the same genre.
However, take a look around and you face what may look like slim pickings in the samurai film genre, of which The Last Samurai is famously a part of. This 2003 classic by Edward Zwick was definitely a beautiful story with a particularly powerful performance by Tom Cruise.
The story follows an American military adviser who is captured by the samurai he is hired to destroy. After spending time amongst the people and assimilating their culture, he embraces the way of the samurai and joins in their fight against the very forces he once fought for.
Director Edward Zwick's effort to make this film historically and culturally accurate is clear and highly commendable. As for those unfamiliar with the Japanese culture, they are provided a great gateway movie to get a glimpse of an ancient way of life.
So, with new converts into the bushido code of honor coming through every day via anime and manga, I decided to list fifteen movies like The Last Samurai that'll definitely hook you.
Movies Similar to The Last Samurai
- Seven Samurai (1954)
- Kill! (1968)
- 13 Assassins (2010)
- Samurai Trilogy1957): Musashi Miyamoto (1954-1957)
- Samurai Assassin (1965)
- Rashomon (1950)
- Yojimbo (1961)
- Harakiri (1962)
- The Twilight Samurai (2002)
- Throne of Blood (1957)
- Samurai Rebellion (1967)
- The Sword of Doom (1966)
- Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart in The Land of Demons (1973)
- When The Last Sword is Drawn (2003)
- Ran (1985)
1. Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by one of Japan’s greatest directors, Akira Kurosawa (whose work you will undoubtedly see more of on this list), Seven Samurai is set in 16th century Japan and tells the story of a village that decides to hire seven samurai down on their luck to protect them from marauding bandits.
This film provided the inspiration behind other movies such as The Magnificent Seven, which starred the likes of Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D'Onofrio. This cinema classic clocks in at about three and a half hours long, so expect a long ride and remember to use the bathroom before you start. The Seven Samurai is available on iTunes and the Google Play Store.
2. Kill! (1968)
Comedy is the last thing you’d expect from a samurai flick. However, this parody of the samurai film genre follows the story of a samurai named Genta, who hangs up his sword to become a freelance criminal. Meanwhile, a poor struggling farmer called Hanjiro craves the power and respect that comes with being a samurai. When these two enter a small village where a war between a local clan is in full swing, they must now both pick and choose sides.
Kill! Is a comedic masterpiece of its time, drawing on past samurai movie tropes before it to drive home the bright and dark sides of what it means to be a samurai.
If you're looking for an intriguing movie like The Last Samurai, Kill! should fit the bill.
3. 13 Assassins (2010)
If you’re looking for high flying, sword slashing, and literal head-rolling action,13 Assassins should give you the fix you need. Following the story of a retired samurai who learns that the all-powerful Shogun’s adopted son has been killing innocent peasants, the film documents the events that unfold as our protagonist gathers a band of samurai to assassinate the despot on what is essentially a suicide mission.
Directed and written by Takashi Miike, for what later became known as his signature style of directing, the film is both fast-paced and beautiful to look at. Its characters are so well developed that they add a layer of depth to an already deeply emotive plot.
4. Samurai Trilogy: Musashi Miyamoto (1954 – 1957)
Three suggestions rolled into one, what makes this samurai film (or films) special is that the story is centered around the life of a real samurai sword master and legend named Musashi Miyamoto.
The film (across three parts) tells of the many trails, duels, and obstacles Musashi Miyamoto had to overcome along his illustrious career. The film’s first installment won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. If any fans of the genre are looking for a real-life samurai to look up to, they don’t get any more real than Musashi Miyamoto.
5. Samurai Assassin (1965)
This film follows the story of a samurai on a journey of redemption and self-discovery. In an era where secrets abound, a public official is about to cause the collapse of the Tokugawa era by putting events in motion that threaten to unravel a whole nation.
With the ensuing turmoil and splintered samurai factions in an all-out war against each other, one samurai must prove to himself and his father that he really is a samurai. Our protagonist must assassinate this sinister official and bring an end to the chaos.
This film delivers its story with gripping dark suspense and overtones of fatalism, making this samurai cinematic piece one for the history books. This enthralling experience is the closest you'll get to finding a movie like The Last Samurai.
6. Rashomon (1950)
Rashomon is a story about a crime told from different perspectives, with each contradicting the other. This sly pic is another epic masterpiece from Kurosawa Akira, which leaves the audience wondering who is telling the truth and who is not, for the entirety of the film.
This is a simple story told eccentrically. Thanks to some masterful cinematography, this visual flick stays enthralling until the credits roll. Though not without its fair share of flaws, which I won't enlist here, Rashomon packs a punch where it matters.
If you love mystery and samurai flicks, Rashomon is exactly what you need. Though patience is a prerequisite, at least in the first half, it fires on all cylinders once everything is set up.
7. Yojimbo (1961)
This film is what etched Toshiro Mifune into the annals of history as the greatest samurai actor of all time. A lone samurai named Sanjuro, played by Mifune, wanders into a small town and quickly discovers the town is run by two criminal gangs. He then hatches a plan to make some easy money by lending his services to (get this) both sides in a convoluted attempt to liberate the villagers.
This movie was apparently the inspiration behind the legendary western, A Fistfull of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood, and spawned an equally compelling sequel called Sanjuro, making it one of [if not] the most iconic samurai film on this list.
Yojimbo is available for purchase on iTunes.
8. Harakiri (1962)
Anyone familiar with the samurai code of conduct will be familiar with the term “hara-kiri." For the uninitiated, hara-kiri, sometimes referred to as “seppuku," is a ritual form of suicide by disembowelment, meant to restore honor to a person after they have been deemed to have acted dishonorably.
Now, this ritual might sound crazy, but in a culture where a person’s reputation was considered sacred, any opportunity to wipe away any transgressions that might taint that reputation was readily and openly accepted. This is exactly the premise Harakiri builds on. The film tells the story of an old samurai who arrives at a feudal lord’s home to request an honorable place to commit hara-kiri. However, when the samurai asks about a younger samurai who arrived before him, things get complicated.
Without giving the whole story away, Harakiri exposes the failings of the Bushido way and how the system is used to manipulate and murder. I will say this though; Harakiri’s plot will haunt you and is easily one of the best movies like The Last Samurai.
9. The Twilight Samurai (2002)
Set in the 19th century, this samurai story follows a low-ranking samurai struggling to make ends meet after his wife dies, leaving him with his daughters and ailing mother. Leading a double life by leaving the samurai at (you guessed it) twilight to take care of his family, while also trying to get by working as a clerk in a clan office, life looks pretty bleak for him until someone from his past appears and agitates things.
A telling portrayal of the Japanese code of honor, duty, and saving face, The Twilight Samurai is a beautifully shot film with a compelling story arc.
Watch The Twilight Samurai on Netflix.
10. Throne of Blood (1957)
In this 1957 Akira Kurosawa retelling of Macbeth, a general is told by a witch about his impending rise to power. When the prophecy comes true, he is then spurred on by his Lady Macbeth-like wife into carving out a bloody swath across the country.
Will the prophecy come true? In his quest to attain what's his, the general goes to extreme lengths, losing himself to greed and corruption as his noble quest goes wayward.
It is always supremely difficult to copy an original piece and make it stand as its own entity, but Akira Kurosawa does it with panache in Throne of Blood, expertly tackling the topics of paranoia, pride, and insanity in the context of the Japanese culture.
Those looking for a film like The Last Samurai will love what this taut feature brings to the table.
11. Samurai Rebellion (1967)
When it comes to the samurai code, honour goes hand in hand with submission to the law of the master. However, when a lord goes too far, one samurai rebels, leading to the plot for the movie, Samurai Rebellion.
Samurai movies often go hand in hand with violence and gore, but this Masaki Kobayashi directed feature goes against the grain to bring you a masterpiece that's not too keen on swordplay. Barring the last few moments, there is no war or squirmish on display, and the movie is all the better for it.
The film shines a spotlight on the unjust feudal practices that prevailed in Japan in years past, while also serving as social commentary for the disparity of the classes.
12. The Sword of Doom (1966)
With most samurai films, you will have the main protagonist acting somewhat as a paragon of good, but in this film by Okamoto Kihachi, you can completely put that idea to bed.
The story follows a highly skilled yet sociopathic samurai that leaves a trail of dead bodies wherever he goes. His actions build a tall list of vendettas that end up following him closely. Will he escape unscathed? Watch this enthralling masterpiece to find out.
Catch this dark, malevolent and violent flick on iTunes.
13. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973)
A long title for sure, Lone Wolf and Cub works off a very simple premise - a samurai looking for work while pushing a baby in a stroller. This samurai is hired by a feudal lord to prevent a rival clan from gathering intelligence and he must defeat the rival clan’s five most deadly assassins to complete his task.
The gritty and over-the-top sequences of this samurai film may leave some moviegoers wondering if it was directed by Quentin Tarantino. Assuredly, this film is one for anyone who enjoys a bit of swordplay and non-stop action. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is available on iTunes and the Google Play Store.
14. When the Last Sword Is Drawn (2003)
Leaving the iconic films of the past briefly behind, this 2003 samurai offering is set during the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate and tells the story of two samurai who must deal with what it means to be a samurai.
The storytelling of this film is quite unique, with the storyline played out in a series of flashbacks. It is a film about loyalty, family, honor and just so you don’t forget, well-choreographed swordplay.
Stream When the Last Sword Is Drawn on Netflix.
15. Ran (1985)
In another adaptation by Akira Kurosawa, Ran tells the story of King Lear through a Japanese lord who after years of building a large empire decides it is time to step down and divide his territories amongst his three sons. However, with the introduction of their newfound power, things begin to go awry as the brothers begin to war against themselves and ultimately, their father.
What makes Ran unique is not only the fact that it was Akira Kurosawa’s most expensive film or the fact that it was his last but the attention to detail. Akira Kurosawa had some 1400 odd uniforms and suits of armor stitched entirely by hand over a two-year period. Also, there was one scene requiring the entire field to be sprayed with gold, but it was cut out in the final edit.
If you’re looking to watch the end of an era in Japanese cinema with Akira Kurosawa’s last film, Ran does not disappoint. Ran is available for purchase on iTunes and the Google Play Store.
Did I miss out on any good movies like The Last Samurai? Let me know in the comments section.