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The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time 

Ranker Film
Updated February 7, 2020 1.2k votes 622 voters 49.9k views 37 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
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Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends Emi Takei, Yū Aoi, Tatsuya Fujiwara

Released: 2014

Directed by: Keishi Ohtomo

2
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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Eijirō Tōno

Released: 1954

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven ronin to combat bandits ...more

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3
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Tsuyoshi Ihara, Kōji Yakusho, Goro Inagaki

Released: 2010

Directed by: Takashi Miike

13 Assassins is a 2010 Japanese samurai film directed by Takashi Miike and is a remake of the1963 Eiichi Kudo film. Toward the end of the Edo period, A group of thirteen assassins—comprising ...more

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4
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Beat Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama, Kou Shibasaki

Released: 2000

Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku

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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5
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High and Low
6
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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Tatsuya Nakadai

Released: 1961

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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 lords vie for supremacy. The ...more

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7
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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Machiko Kyō

Released: 1950

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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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8
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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Tatsuya Nakadai

Released: 1962

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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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Tatsuya Nakadai, Susumu Terajima, Jinpachi Nezu

Released: 1985

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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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10
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Tatsuya Nakadai, Kenichi Hagiwara, Kaori Momoi

Released: 1980

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa, Ishirō Honda

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 who is ...more

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11
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The Hidden Fortress
12
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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
13
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Harakiri
14
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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isuzu Yamada

Released: 1957

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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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15
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Shinya Tsukamoto, Tadanobu Asano, Susumu Terajima

Released: 2001

Directed by: Takashi Miike

This film 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 gangs ...more

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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Kinuyo Tanaka

Released: 1965

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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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17
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Kinuyo Tanaka, Machiko Kyō, Eitarô Ozawa

Released: 1953

Directed by: Kenji Mizoguchi

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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18
Lady Snowblood is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
Meiko Kaji, Kō Nishimura, Miyoko Akaza

Released: 1973

Directed by: Toshiya Fujita

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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19
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Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Tetsurō Tamba

Released: 2002

Directed by: Yoji Yamada

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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20
Godzilla Franchise is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
HolyDCE added
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
21
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Dersu Uzala
22
Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Japanese Action Movies of All Time
FunListTime added Kingdom Kento Yamazaki, Ryô Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa

Released: 2019

Directed by: Shinsuke Sato

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Woman in the Dunes
24
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Dreams
25
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Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji

Released: 1949

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

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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