13 Modern Japanese Samurai Movies [Part 1 of 3 Parts]

Modern Japanese Samurai Movies - Part 1

In our hitlist, we feature some of the most recently shown Samurai movies that were either acclaimed or dismissed by critics, are box office hits or flops but all of them offer something unique and exciting about the violent world of these master swordsmen. Of course, Takashi Miike’s remakes – 13 Assassins and Harakiri: Death of a Samurai gave modern movie audiences short glimpses into the wonders and horrors of the Samurai world, and we’ll have more of 13 Assassins later in Part 2.

While some of the most acclaimed Samurai movies like Ichikawa’s 47 Ronin, Yamada’s Twilight Samurai & Love and Honor, and Kurosawa’s Ran are not on this list, these 13 films offer a variety of stories – of love and loss, of enduring love, of honor and pride, even time travel adventures and some funny stories on the side. Of course, these movies star some of Japan’s most talented young actors.

In Part 1, we take a look at the first 4 movies on the list. More after the jump!

A Boy and His Samurai (Chonmage Purin) – 2010 – Idol and Johnny Entertainment talent Nishikido Ryo portrays a young Samurai who accidentally travels to the future and encounters a single mother and her son.

A Boy and His Samurai - poster

What makes this an endearing and entertaining piece of work is the chemistry between Ryo and his co-stars Rie Tomosaka and Fuku Suzuki, who plays the young kid. There are not many fight scenes, but the story in itself is the biggest reason why you ought to watch it. As the young Samurai who travels to present Japan, Ryo was excellent showing a variety of emotions which made his acting both dramatic and funny.

About the Movie: Kijima Yasube (Ryo Nishikido), a samurai from the Edo Period, travels through time – 180 years – to arrive in present day Japan. He then meets divorcee Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) & her son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki). Yasube ends up working for Hiroko as a housemaid in return for food and lodging. One day. Yasube starts to make pastries for Tomoya, which leads to Yasube become popular patissier. In the process, the three become very close, but the moment they must say good bye also draws near … [ source ]

After the Flowers (Hana no Ito) – 2010: Seeing Keiko Kitagawa doing some action scenes is quite refreshing. After watching her portray contemporary characters, it’s very exciting to watch her do a period movie, and a young female Samurai at that!

Before the Flowers - poster

Ebossert reviewed the movie and praised it saying:

The most apparent observation regarding “Hana No Ato” is that it feels very similar to Yoji Yamada’s samurai trilogy – “Twilight Samurai” (2002), “The Hidden Blade” (2004), and “Love and Honor” (2006). So much so, in fact, that I was actually surprised to find out that Yamada did not direct this. The similarities, however, are no coincidence. The screenplay was adapted by a short story written by the late Shuhei Fujisawa, whose writings were the basis for Yamada’s trilogy. “Hana No Ato” has a comparable focus on character/conflict development to effectively build anticipation for a final confrontation.

The storyline is a familiar premise, but the execution is so strong that it will almost surely impress fans of this genre. There is one training duel and one swordfight, both of which are excellent as they employ realism and proficient choreography. Acting is restrained with emotion expressed through slight mannerisms, and Keiko Kitagawa is entirely convincing as the lead. [ read more ]

About the Movie: Ito (Keiko Kitagawa), daughter of a clan official, encounters Magoshiro Eguchi (Shuntaro Miyao). Magoshiro is a low ranking samurai sparks an attraction with Ito. Ito challenges Magoshiro to a sword match using bamboo sticks. Mahoshiro accepts. The pair’s duel causes sparks to fly an attraction from both sides. Meanwhile, Ito faces an arranged marriage with Saisuke Katagiri (Masahiro Komoto) and Magoshiro is with Kayo (Ayumi Ito) [ source ]

The Lightning Tree (Raiou) – 2010: Yu Aoi is an electrifying actress and together with acclaimed young actor Masaki Okada, they convincingly played young lovers in this tale of love, family, abduction, and endurance.

The Lightning Tree - poster

Mark Schilling at Japan Times perfectly described how Aoi acted on the film:

A popular actress/model with a “natural girl” image exploited in countless TV ads, Aoi may have been cast for her marketability, but she throws herself into the role totally, with no trace of vanity whatsoever. Her manager must have cringed as Hiroki shot Aoi crying her eyes out, with snot clinging to her hair and her freckles, minus make-up, on full display. But it’s a terrific take — and Hiroki was right to keep it. [ source ]

Masaki Okada was equally convincing as the hopelessly in love mentally disturbed young man who must choose between fulfilling his role as a leader required to make decisions that will affect so many or continue his romantic relationship with someone from the lower ranks.

About the Movie: Set during the Edo Period, a young man from a noble family meets a young woman under a special tree called “Raiou” (the tree was struck by lightning at one time with the broken part eventually sprouting out cherry blossoms). The young woman lived freely in the mountains after she was abducted as a young child. The couple soon falls in love under the Raiou tree but become acutely aware of their different social positions & the ramifications it has on their relationship.

Harakiri: Death of a Samurai (Ichimei) – 2011: This remake has earned quite a number of praises and objections, which is so unnecessary it becomes irritating. But the cruel and magnificent beauty of the film is undeniable.

Hara Kiri - poster

About the Movie: Set during the 17th century when the samurai class struggled to find work. Poverty-stricken samurai Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) enters the House of Ii, run by Kageyu (Koji Yakusho), and requests to commit seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) in their courtyard. Kageyu believes Hanshiro is bluffing and tells the tale of Motome (Eita), a young ronin who last came into the House of Ii and asked for the same thing. To dissuade others from extorting handouts from their group, they called Motome’s bluff and forced him to commit seppuku with a dull bamboo sword he carried.

Hanshiro undeterred by Kageyu asks for the House’s top samurai to assist him, but they are absent. Hanshiro then makes one last request, setting in motion a showdown driven by revenge … [ source ]

Takashi Miike on Eita:

Eita holds the charisma of youth. His appeal is his subtle sensitivity and depth in his presence. On the surface, he appears quiet and kind, but amid that stillness lies a knife with an incredible cutting edge which contributes to his sharp performance. [ source ]

How about you? Have you seen any of the movies above? Do you have a favorite? Let us know what you think!