Japanese Western Movies

Tuesday, March 29 by Travis Petersen

The western genre had a great influence on Japanese filmmakers; Japanese western movies usually involve lone samurai warriors rather than wandering gunmen, but otherwise, many of the themes of honor, revenge, and quiet anti-heroes are the same. John Ford's westerns were highly influential on the greatest Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, and later spaghetti westerns were hugely influential on Takashi Miike, and their films make up this list of essential Japanese western movies. Look past the difference in culture and enjoy the similarities, as well as the unique slant of these fantastic filmmakers.

  1. "Yojimbo" – The most influential of Japanese western movies is Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," which directly inspired Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars." In "Yojimbo," a wandering ronin (a masterless samurai) played by the John Wayne of Japan, Toshiro Mifune, comes to a town where warring factions threaten the town's safety. Mifune seeks to play both sides against the middle, with bloody results, in this dark example of Japanese western movies.
  2. "The Seven Samurai" – Another samurai western from Kurosawa, "The Seven Samurai" was directly remade as "The Magnificent Seven" in America, with cowboys instead of wandering ronin. In Kurosawa's version, the samurai come together to defend a small town against bandits. It ends in a climactic battle that rivals any American western gunfight. Other Japanese western movies pale in comparison.
  3. "Sukiyaki Western Django" - Takashi Miike's strange film is indebted to both samurai films and spaghetti westerns. It takes place in an alternate universe wild west populated with Japanese clans, warring over hidden treasure. As in "Yojimbo" and "A Fistful of Dollars," the anti-hero at the center of the film offers his services to both sides, playing them against the middle and counting the rewards as the bodies pile up around him. Any fan of strange movies in general and Japanese western movies in particular will love "Sukiyaki Western Django."
  4. "Sanjuro" – The sequel to "Yojimbo" has Mifune reprising his role. This time, he is more heroic, helping a young man get his unjustly imprisoned uncle out of jail. It is a far less nihilistic film than "Yojimbo," making it the perfect capper for this list of Japanese western movies, glorifying the heroism of the samurai rather than examining the dark side.
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