The Last Blade inspired me to reflect on some of my favorite samurai movies. And for this post, I selected 5 of my all-time favorites. But besides the list, I’m also going to be exploring the themes in samurai movies and the influence that they had on western cinema.
But for now, let me mention that Both The Last Blade and The Last Blade 2 are on sale here at IndieGala, and the sale is ending very quickly. So, hurry up and stock up on this retro gem.
The Last Blade: What’s it all about?
Developed and released by SNK for the Neo Geo system in 1997, The Last Sword is a fighting game. Set in the Bakumatsu era in Japan, The Last Sword incorporates various elements of Japanese mythology. Furthermore, the game has a heavy emphasis on the symbology, and especially on the Four Symbols.
The gameplay has 2 very distinct and selectable fighting styles, focusing on either power or speed. Furthermore, it has a unique combo system along with a “deflect” system. In addition to the Japanese symbology, all of the characters in the game are from a Japanese origin as well. Some are even based on real-life historical figures from Japanese history.
The Last Blade and samurai movies: Themes, history, and swords
Samurai cinema, as it’s also known, was born when modern cinema was born. But, there’s a clear distinction in the style and themes of the samurai movies before and after WW2. Pre-WW2 movies are more dramatic, while post WW2 movies are darker in tone, with plenty more action scenes, and a lot more violent characters.
Historically, the genre is usually set during the Tokugawa era of Japan’s history (1600–1868). And of the most iconic filmmakers within the genre is, of course, the legendary Akira Kurosawa.
Moreover, two of the five movies on this list are directed by Kurosawa, indeed. But the others are done by some of my favorite Japanese auteurs. Takeshi Miike and Takeshi Kitano being the obvious choices here. And while writing about fighting video games is nothing new for me (with Tekken and Street Fighter being the obvious choices). But writing about samurai movies is very new to me. I had to even remind myself of some of them this past weekend.
Samurai cinema and western cinema
Most of the samurai movies do involve samurai warriors, sword fighting and lots of historical settings. Seppuku is a prominent theme as well, while the bond between a samurai and his sword is another.
And as much as the western influence on the samurai cinema is great, so is the samurai cinema in the western cinema. They’re intertwined and connected for sure. And because of that bond we have classics like Ronin, the Last Man Standing, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and even Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.
So, without further ado…. Who are some of my favorite samurai movies of all time? Well, it seems fitting to start with Akira Kurosawa don’t you think?
Seven Samurai (1954)
A truly epic movie in every sense of the word. Set in the Sengoku period, Seven Samurai tells the story of a village of farmers who hire seven rōnin (masterless samurai). The hire is for the village’s protection from the bandits who steal their crops. And I can’t tell you enough about the influence that this movie had on western cinema. From The Magnificent Seven down to Star Wars. Themes of the movie are even in Sam Raimi’s western The Quick and the Dead for that matter. It’s a fantastic movie.
Another Akira Kurosawa classic I just had to put it in. I think this is my all-time favorite Kurosawa epic, and I adore it even more than Seven Samurai. Ran perfectly blends the Japanese legends with William Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear. It’s so good that even Roger Ebert called it a „great, glorious achievement.” and put it in the list of his great movies. It’s a crying shame that Kurosawa didn’t win the Oscar for Best Director, but hey… He left us this magnificent movie nonetheless. His magnum opus if you will.
13 Assassins (2010)
And now something more modern. Takashi Miike’s remake of the 60’s classic, which in some ways is even better than the original. At least it is for me. Maybe because I’m a huge fan of Takashi Miike’s eclectic work, but this is a truly great movie. You’ve guessed it. It’s about 13 assassins (well twelve samurai and a hunter) and their plot to assassinate the leader of the Akashi clan. Ten years after the release it still holds 96% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s really good. Check it out.
Takeshi Kitano’s masterpiece. He not only directed the movie but also starred in the lead role of the titular Zatoichi (the blind swordsman). A revival of the classic Zatoichi series, Zatōichi – the movie is about his defense of townspeople caught up in a local yakuza gang war. They’re victims of the gang’s racketeering and they must be stopped. The movie won the Silver Lion award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, and 17 years later is a true masterpiece of modern cinema.
Blade of the Immortal (2017)
The most current movie on this list, and also the only one that’s adapted from a manga. Directed by Takashi Miike, Blade of the Immortal is different in plenty of other ways. Whether it’s in the portrayal of violence or the weapons used in this movie, you can’t say that Miike didn’t find an original way to depict a familiar narrative. The 100th movie directed by Miike, Blade of the Immortal is a story about revenge and immortality. It’s really good.
What are your favorite fighting movies? Is the good old martial arts style fighting style movies or do you prefer a sword-wielding type of movies. Similar to the samurai movies? Tell us all about them. We’d love to know.