Foreign Films The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time  

Ranker Film
668 votes 371 voters 27.8k views 39 items

Japanese action movies have had an unprecedented amount of influence on movies the world over. When you sit down to watch the latest Hollywood action blockbuster, chances are decent you’ll be seeing something plundered from a Japanese action movie. The samurai film is probably the most popular type of Japanese action film, with stories of lone warriors on a quest to fulfill their destiny. This list of Japanese actions movies is a great place to find the best the island nation has to offer, whether it’s for a weekend movie night, or the inspiration for your next film.

Seven Samurai was directed by Akira Kurosawa, considered by some to be the greatest Japanese auteur of all time. The film was later remade into the popular western The Magnificent Seven.

Yojimbo, also by Kurosawa, is about a drifting samurai who winds up in a town run by gangsters. The two main characters of Yojimbo served as George Lucas’s inspiration for the plight of C-3PO and R2D2 at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Battle Royale, directed by Kinji Fukasaku, is a cult classic about a group of Japanese school children that end up on an island and are forced to kill each other as part of a government run program. Quentin Tarantino declared the film his absolute favorite of the 21st century, and it's pretty much the exact plot of the popular Hunger Games franchise.

This Japanese action movies list is especially great for those unfamiliar with Japanese cinema, so use it as a starting point to discover these brilliant films. 

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Seven Samurai Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Eijirō Tōno Seven Samurai is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film takes place in 1587 during the Warring States Period of Japan. It follows ...more

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Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends Emi Takei, Yū Aoi, Tatsuya Fujiwara

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13 Assassins Tsuyoshi Ihara, Kōji Yakusho, Goro Inagaki 13 Assassins is a 2010 Japanese jidaigeki film directed by Takashi Miike. The screenplay was written by Daisuke Tengan. The film is a remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 black-and-white Japanese film ...more

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Battle Royale Beat Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama, Kou Shibasaki Battle Royale is a 2000 Japanese action thriller film adapted from the 1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. It is the final film directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the screenplay written by ...more

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High and Low

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Ran Tatsuya Nakadai, Susumu Terajima, Jinpachi Nezu Ran is a 1985 Japanese-French jidaigeki epic film directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa. The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord who decides to ...more

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Kagemusha Tatsuya Nakadai, Kenichi Hagiwara, Kaori Momoi Kagemusha is a 1980 film by Akira Kurosawa. In Japanese, kagemusha is a term used to denote a political decoy. It is set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history and tells the story of a ...more

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Sanjuro Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Tatsuya Nakadai Sanjuro is a 1962 black-and-white Japanese samurai film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune. It is a sequel to Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo. Originally an adaptation of the Shūgorō ...more

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Yojimbo Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Tatsuya Nakadai Yojimbo is a 1961 jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It tells the story of a rōnin, portrayed by Toshiro Mifune, who arrives in a small town where competing crime lords vie for ...more

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Harakiri

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The Hidden Fortress

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Rashomon Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Machiko Kyō Rashomon is a 1950 Japanese period drama film directed by Akira Kurosawa, working in close collaboration with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. It stars Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori ...more

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Dreams

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Throne of Blood Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isuzu Yamada Throne of Blood is a 1957 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film transposes the plot of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth to feudal Japan, with stylistic elements drawn from Noh

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Lady Snowblood is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
Lady Snowblood Meiko Kaji, Kō Nishimura, Miyoko Akaza Lady Snowblood is a 1973 Japanese film directed by Toshiya Fujita and starring Meiko Kaji. It is based on a manga called Shurayukihime. It is the story of Yuki, a woman who seeks vengeance upon ...more

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The Twilight Samurai Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Tetsurō Tamba The Twilight Samurai or Tasogare Seibei is a 2002 Japanese film directed by Yoji Yamada. Set in mid-19th century Japan, a few years before the Meiji Restoration, it follows the life of Seibei ...more

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Dersu Uzala

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Red Beard Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Kinuyo Tanaka Red Beard is a 1965 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa about the relationship between a town doctor and his new trainee. The film was based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's short story collection, ...more

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Zatoichi Shintaro Katsu Zatoichi is a fictional character featured in one of Japan's longest running series of films and a television series that are both set during the late Edo period. The character, a blind masseur ...more

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Ikiru

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Tokyo Story Setsuko Hara, Chishū Ryū, Kyōko Kagawa Tokyo Story is a 1953 Japanese film directed by Yasujirō Ozu. It tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The film contrasts the behavior of their ...more

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Ugetsu Kinuyo Tanaka, Machiko Kyō, Eitarô Ozawa Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari is a 1953 black-and-white Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and based on stories in Ueda Akinari's book of the same name. It is a ghost story and an example ...more

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Samurai Reincarnation is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
Samurai Reincarnation Sonny Chiba, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ken Ogata Samurai Reincarnation is a 1981 film starring Sonny Chiba and directed by Kinji Fukasaku. The film was based on the novel Makai Tensho. The film was nominated for three 'Awards of the Japanese ...more

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Stray Dog Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji Stray Dog is a 1949 Japanese police procedural film noir directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. The film is considered a precursor to the contemporary police ...more

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Confessions

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Fireworks

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Sukeban Deka is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
Sukeban Deka Yuki Saitō

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Azumi Aya Ueto, Shun Oguri, Joe Odagiri Azumi is a manga series created by Yū Koyama in 1994. Its story concerns the title character, a young woman brought up as part of a team of assassins, charged with killing the warlords that ...more

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Azumi 2: Death or Love Chiaki Kuriyama, Aya Ueto, Yoshio Harada Azumi 2: Death or Love is a Japanese jidaigeki film written Mataichiro Yamamoto and Yoshiaki Kawajiri, directed by Shusuke Kaneko, and starring Aya Ueto, Yuma Ishigaki, Chiaki Kuriyama and Shun ...more

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Tampopo

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Nobody Knows

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Kikujiro

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Godzilla Franchise is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
HolyDCE added Godzilla Franchise The Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira?) franchise is a series of multi-media featuring the monster Godzilla, owned by Toho. It is recognized by Guinness World Records to be the longest continuously running ...more

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Samurai Fiction is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
Samurai Fiction Tomoyasu Hotei, Taketoshi Naitô, Mari Natsuki Samurai Fiction is a 1998 comedy-samurai film directed by Hiroyuki Nakano. It is almost entirely black-and-white, and follows a fairly standard plotline for a comedy and jidaigeki samurai film, ...more

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Ichi the Killer Shinya Tsukamoto, Tadanobu Asano, Susumu Terajima Ichi the Killer is a 2001 Japanese film directed by Takashi Miike, written by Sakichi Sato, and based on Hideo Yamamoto's manga series of the same name. It portrays a story of feuding yakuza ...more

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The Streetfighter is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time

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Departures

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Woman in the Dunes

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Dolls