Since the launch of HBO Max, the streaming service has done much to make it one of the most comprehensive sources of television and movie entertainment online. While much of the talk was focused on the DC Universe, Warner Bros movies, and HBO exclusives, there is so much more to enjoy, including a great selection of movies that were previously only available in the Criterion Collection.
For lovers of Japanese cinema, there is a great selection of samurai movies. These include some amazing classic movies that anyone who loves Japanese epics should do their best to search for.
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The Hidden Fortress
Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress became a movie that influenced one of the most successful movie franchises in history. Based on the classic Hero’s Journey, The Hidden Fortress influenced George Lucas when did Star Wars. The stories have a strong parallel.
The Hidden Fortress follows two peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who want to join the Yamana clan in battle. Along the way, they meet a great general (Toshiro Mifune) who promises to help transport a princess (Misa Uehara) to what’s left of her family’s gold. The film also has a strong humor, which is not always present in samurai films, thanks to the performances of the peasants.
Lady Snowblood It was released in 1973 and is based on the manga of the same name. This is a story of revenge, with a woman named Sayo sentenced to life in prison after killing a man responsible for the murder of her husband and son. However, he had a plan of revenge against his accomplices.
She eventually had a baby in prison who grew into a fighting machine, seeking revenge against the three other killers who remained free. Yuki (Meiko Kaji) grows up to be a murderer and then sets out to find the three murderers who ruined her mother’s life. There is also a sequel on HBO Max titled Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Revenge. These films were a great influence on Quentin Tarantino and his samurai duology. Kill bill.
The Lone Wolf And Cub Series (6 films)
Lone wolf and cub it was a series of films that focused on a single samurai and the little boy he cared for. The recent Star Wars Serie, The mandalorian, is a tribute to this classic Japanese samurai series. HBO Max has all six Lone wolf and cub films based on the manga by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.
The first film released in 1972 was Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, which begins with the disgraced executioner Ogami Itto walking through the countryside with his three-year-old son in a cart, looking for people who need his specialized services. The six films were all made in a three-year period (1972-1974).
Rashomon is another Akira Kurosawa film and he used a technique that many films have tried to copy over the years. The film opens with a lumberjack and a priest resting during a storm when a commoner joins them and they share the story of a murder.
The film reveals what happened from different points of view. The story is re-told several times, with slight differences depending on who is telling it. In the end, the truth is never fully revealed, and everyone lies at certain points to protect themselves. Rashomon it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and received an Honorary Award for Outstanding Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, the Samurai Trilogy There are three films, released in 1954, 1955 and 1956, based on the novel Musashi by Eiki Yoshikawa. The novel follows the life of the legendary real-life Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, starting after the Battle of Sekigahara and going through his feuds between samurai, mentoring young warriors and finding romance.
Known for his skill with the double-edged sword, the trilogy follows his career from a cheeky young soldier to a wise and older samurai warrior. Toshiro Mifune, who starred in The Hidden Fortress, assumed the role of Musashi. The first film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Arguably the most famous and beloved samurai movie of all time is Seven samurai. This was Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece that told the story of seven ronin warriors who came together to protect a farming village from bandits.
At the time of its release, it was the most expensive film ever made in Japan and it ended up winning the Silver Lion at Cannes and garnered a couple of Oscar nominations. The film, set up as an American western, was later remade as a western by John Sturgis, renamed The seven magnificents.
Yojimbo is another Akira Kurosawa, and another with a history familiar to fans of American cinema. Toshiro Mifune is back as a ronin who arrives in a small town where two drug lords vie for control. Each of the drug lords tries to hire Kuwabatake Sanjuro to work for them, and he has a great idea to face both sides to get what he wants and save the city in the process.
There was also a sequel to the film, titled Sanjuro, but it is not available on HBO Max. The film was highly influential, with several American films remaking history with slight changes, from the classic A handful of dollars by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood in the 1996 Bruce Willis film Last man standing.
Just because a movie is a samurai movie doesn’t mean it has to be an action movie. For anyone who wants a samurai movie that is very different from anything else, the 1953 Japanese horror movie Ugetsu fits that bill. This is a ghost story that features a potter named Genjuro in the Sengoku period, accompanied by a man named Tobei, who has big dreams of becoming a samurai.
Genjuro ignores warnings of making a profit in a time of turmoil, bringing misfortune to everyone he loves. When Genjuro and Tobei get involved in the war, they realize that one of them will never return home and that the one who does will not like what lies ahead.
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