The 15 greatest samurai movies ever

Today's big filmy list looks at the best ever Samurai movies. These range from the classic 'Easterns' of Akira Kurosawa, to the modern day epics that pay such homage to his work. There's something deeply satisfying about watching a samurai film; about seeing historical figures demonstrate total control over mind and body (as you lazily break open another tin of Quality Street while slouched on the sofa).

Oh, and as a special favour to all you purists out there, there isn't a single Tom Cruise movie in sight. Although, there are worse films than The Last Samurai. Several. Anyway, enjoy.

15. G.I. Samurai (1979)

The Movie: This B-movie classic sees kung-fu legend Sonny Chiba as a present day military man who finds himself transported 400 years into the past, along with the rest of his squadron. Under attack from hordes of samurai, he joins forces with an ancient warlord and agrees to help turn the tide in war-torn Japan.

The Samurai: Yoshiaki Iba, a grunt from the Japanese army, who soon realises that modern weaponry won't be enough to outdo the skilled warriors of old. Luckily, he's also a dab hand with a samurai sword.

Why It's Great: Chiba is on fine form throughout, and even though the premise is frankly ludicrous, there are some truly excellent fight scenes on show. Definitely one to file under 'guilty pleasure'.

14. The Twilight Samurai (2002)

The Movie: Favouring character-driven drama over more traditional action beats, Twilight Samurai follows the tale of a 19th century samurai who attempts to protect a battered woman (who is also a former love) whilst conforming to the rigid demands of feudal society. Wildly popular in Japan, it was picked up on by Western critics and eventually nominated for a foreign language Oscar.

The Samurai: Seibei Iguchi is a profoundly likeable hero, what with his slightly dog-eared appearance and long-suffering expression. Having sold his sword to pay for his wife's funeral, defending the honour of his childhood sweetheart is going to be harder than it ought to be.

Why It's Great: While the idea of a samurai movie conjures up ideas of complex choreography and severed limbs, this low key character piece shows a different side to the genre. Well worth seeking out, it's a thoughtful, affecting drama with a pleasingly uplifting ending.

13. Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999)

The Movie: It may not be a samurai movie in the strictest sense of the word, but Jim Jarmush's tale of a solitary, sword-wielding hit man is a love letter to the genre, and a thrilling story in its own right.

The Samurai: Forest Whitaker is excellent as Ghost Dog, a pigeon-keeping mafia hit man who models himself upon the samurais of old, from his expertise with a sword to his unswerving loyalty to his master, even when said master is trying to have him bumped off.

Why It's Great: It's an excellent way of breathing new life into an old genre, as modern context aside, most of the themes on display here could have been plucked out of a samurai movie in the traditional style. Themes of duty and loyalty are at the fore, whilst Jarmusch ensures that the whole thing is punctuated by an all-pervading sense of cool. RZA's brooding score helps no end in that regard.

12. Goyokin (1969)

The Movie: Hideo Gosha's impassioned redemption story tells the tale of a reclusive ronin (a samurai without a master to you and I) wracked by guilt over a massacre ordered by his former clan lord. When he learns that the fiendish old man is planning to repeat the trick, he resolves that there will be no more innocent-slaying on his watch.

The Samurai: Samurai are rarely care-free, happy go lucky sorts, and so it is with Magobei Wakizaka, a skilled swordsman disillusioned with his path in life on account of the corruption of his former master. As is often the case in samurai movies, a shot at redemption presents itself sooner rather than later.

Why It's Great: it's a tightly plotted story containing the usual conflict between duty and conscience, beautifully shot and containing some stand-out battle scenes. The imagery is also worthy of note, with Gosha using a recurring flock of crows to good effect. Plus, Tatsuya Nadakai makes for an excellent crusading avenger.

11. Chushingura (1962)

The Movie: Based upon one of Japan's most revered folk stories, oft-described as the country's "national legend", this famous adaptation follows a group of 18th century assassins seeking revenge on the court official who forced their master to commit seppuku.

The Samurai: 47 loyal samurais, who suddenly find themselves masterless after Lord Asano is forced to kill himself. Knowing they too will be fired to commit seppuku should they exact their revenge, they get set to embark upon a very bloody mission indeed.

Why It's Great: Whilst film's like Seven Samurai are more relatable to a Western audience, Chushingura is immersed in the rules and regulations of the traditional samurai, a world in which bloody revenge can be taken, but only on the understanding that one will have to kill oneself afterwards. A must-watch for anyone hoping to understand what the way of the samurai is all about.

10. Samurai Rebellion (1967)

The Movie: Masaki Kobayashi presents this downbeat tale of a ageing samurai who, reflecting on a life he feels is empty of accomplishment, decides to rebel against his cruel master. Naturally, this doesn't go down too well

The Samurai: Isaburo Sasahara is a study in disillusionment, but in defending his family and rejecting the cruelty of his master, he eventually finds something worth fighting for. And fight he does, going so far as to knock through the walls in his house in order to give himself more room to swing his sword.

Why It's Great: Kobayashi's films frequently puncture the legend of the ever-obedient samurai, scrutinising the value of such a rigid feudal system without completely dispensing with the adrenaline-soaked fun of a good old-fashioned sword-fight.

9. Throne Of Blood (1957)

The Movie: Akira Kurosawa takes on the Bard with this reimagining of Shakespeare's Macbeth, told against the backdrop of feudal Japan. When a witch tells a samurai that he is destined for the throne, he is initially sceptical, only for his scheming wife to push him down a very bloody road.

The Samurai: General Washizu is the man who receives the prophecy, and with a little prompting, starts to turn his samurai skills upon his rivals. If Macbeth was something of a loose cannon, his sword-waving counterpart takes it to the next level.

Why It's Great: Kurosawa captures the play's oppressive sense of doom to a tee, whilst making the tale his own with a host of technical flourishes and memorable visual sequences. The grand finale is particularly operatic, with Washizu's legions of bowmen turning upon their treacherous master.

8. Samurai Assassin (1965)

The Movie: Toshiro Mifune stars as Shinno, one of a group of assassins gathered outside a palace with a view to assassinating the lord of the House of Li. Convinced that he is born of noble parentage, Shinno plans to prove himself a samurai by slaying the lord, thus earning his father's respect and learning his identity.

The Samurai: Shinno is the kind of tragic figure that Shakespeare might have dreamed up, undone by his desperation to prove himself and establish his place in society. Sadly for him, the man he has made his target is also the man whose identity he has been searching for That's right, it's his father.

Why It's Great: This is the samurai movie as historical tragedy, with the framework of samurai lore lending itself perfectly to a grimly black story arc. That aside, it also delivers as a thrilling exercise in tension, as the gathered assassins begin to suspect the presence of a traitor in their midst.

7. The Hidden Blade (2004)

The Movie: Yoji Yamada's stately period piece tells the story of a samurai struggling to adjust to Japan's transition from a feudal to modern society. Light on action but heavy on detail, think of it as a more insightful version of The Last Samurai.

The Samurai: Katagiri is a low level samurai caught between the increasingly corrupt principles of his ancient masters and the uncertain future of a newly Westernised Japan. This conflict becomes more than a theoretical struggle, when Katagiri is ordered to kill a rogue samurai by his clan leader.

Why It's Great: It might be a little slow-moving for some tastes, but as a snapshot of one of the most pivotal shifts in Japanese society, it takes some beating.

6. 13 Assassins (2010)

The Movie: Takeshi Miike takes on the samurai movie with this lavish period drama set in mid-nineteenth century Japan, following the exploits of a band of assassins charged with murdering the sadistic brother of the ruling Shogun.

The Samurai: Shinzaemon is the man charged with assassinating the despot in waiting, and sensibly, he decides to recruit a further twelve sword-swingers in order to combat Lord Naritsugu's private army. Honourable, wise and battle-worn, he's just the kind of character you want to see leading the charge.

Why It's Great: It's not perfect, with several of the titular 13 afforded little in the way of characterisation, but in terms of kinetic, blood-spattered action, 13 Assassins delivers in spades. Miike deserves credit for reviving a flagging genre, without sacrificing any of the old-school trappings that made it great in the first place.