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The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time

Updated February 7, 2020 1.5k votes 657 voters 52.2k views37 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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  • 1
    Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends
    186
    94

    Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

    Emi Takei, Yū Aoi

    Released2014

    Directed byKeishi Ohtomo

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  • 2
    High and Low
    70
    22

    High and Low

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  • 3
    Seven Samurai
    89
    42

    Seven Samurai

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1954

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Seven Samurai is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 4
    13 Assassins
    73
    31

    13 Assassins

    Tsuyoshi Ihara, Kōji Yakusho

    Released2010

    Directed byTakashi Miike

    13 Assassins is a 2010 Japanese samurai film directed by Takashi Miike and is a remake of... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 5
    Battle Royale
    75
    42

    Battle Royale

    Beat Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama

    Released2000

    Directed byKinji Fukasaku

    Battle Royale is a 2000 Japanese action thriller film adapted from the 1999 novel of the same... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 6
    Sanjuro
    29
    4

    Sanjuro

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1962

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Sanjuro is a 1962 black-and-white Japanese samurai film directed by Akira Kurosawa and... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 7
    The Hidden Fortress
    22
    7

    The Hidden Fortress

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  • 8
    Harakiri
    19
    6

    Harakiri

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  • 9
    Rashomon
    35
    26

    Rashomon

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1950

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Rashomon is a 1950 Japanese period drama film directed by Akira Kurosawa, working in close... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 10
    Zatoichi
    22
    15

    Zatoichi

    Shintaro Katsu
    Zatoichi is a fictional character featured in one of Japan's longest running series of films... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 11
    Yojimbo
    41
    41

    Yojimbo

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1961

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Yojimbo is a 1961 jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It tells the story of a... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 12
    Kingdom
    15
    8

    Kingdom

    Kento Yamazaki, Ryô Yoshizawa

    Released2019

    Directed byShinsuke Sato

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  • 13
    Ichi the Killer
    19
    15

    Ichi the Killer

    Shinya Tsukamoto, Tadanobu Asano

    Released2001

    Directed byTakashi Miike

    This film is a 2001 Japanese film directed by Takashi Miike, written by Sakichi Sato, and... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 14
    Kagemusha
    26
    24

    Kagemusha

    Tatsuya Nakadai, Kenichi Hagiwara

    Released1980

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa, Ishirō Honda

    Kagemusha is a 1980 film by Akira Kurosawa. In Japanese, kagemusha is a term used to denote a... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 15
    Throne of Blood
    14
    10

    Throne of Blood

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1957

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Throne of Blood is a 1957 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film transposes the... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 16
    Ran
    30
    32

    Ran

    Tatsuya Nakadai, Susumu Terajima

    Released1985

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Ran is a 1985 Japanese-French jidaigeki epic film directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa.... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 17
    Ugetsu
    11
    7

    Ugetsu

    Kinuyo Tanaka, Machiko Kyō

    Released1953

    Directed byKenji Mizoguchi

    Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari is a 1953 black-and-white Japanese film directed by Kenji... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 18
    Red Beard
    12
    7

    Red Beard

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1965

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Red Beard is a 1965 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa about the relationship between a... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 19
    Lady Snowblood
    15
    13

    Lady Snowblood

    Meiko Kaji, Kō Nishimura

    Released1973

    Directed byToshiya Fujita

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  • 20
    Azumi 2: Death or Love
    13
    12

    Azumi 2: Death or Love

    Chiaki Kuriyama, Aya Ueto

    Released2005

    Directed byShusuke Kaneko

    Azumi 2: Death or Love is a Japanese jidaigeki film written Mataichiro Yamamoto and Yoshiaki... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 21
    Woman in the Dunes
    11
    9

    Woman in the Dunes

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  • 22
    The Twilight Samurai
    11
    9

    The Twilight Samurai

    Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa

    Released2002

    Directed byYoji Yamada

    The Twilight Samurai or Tasogare Seibei is a 2002 Japanese film directed by Yoji Yamada. Set... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 23
    Godzilla Franchise
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  • 24
    Dersu Uzala
    7
    6

    Dersu Uzala

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  • 25
    Stray Dog
    5
    4

    Stray Dog

    Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura

    Released1949

    Directed byAkira Kurosawa

    Stray Dog is a 1949 Japanese police procedural film noir directed by Akira Kurosawa and... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button