10 Japanese War Movies

Friday, January 28 by Sasha Maggio

Ten Japanese war movies are great to have ready for classic movie nights with friends or to entertain on a rainy afternoon. Some war movies are significantly accurate with regard to historical events and can even help impress on viewers the impact of different types of war from different perspectives. They can also lend cultural awareness to those seeking to understand the Japanese spirit.

  1. "Ran": Resembling the Shakespearean “King Lear,” "Ran" is set in Feudal Japan and focuses on a Samurai warlord who has given his territory to his eldest son. Problems arise with the two younger sons, who have been disinherited. This is a classic from Akira Kurosawa!
  2. "Black Rain": This is the original, not the U.S. made movie of the same name with Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia. The Japanese movie "Black Rain" focuses on post-WWII Japan, as a family deals with the radiation sickness following the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  3. "Letters From Iwo Jima": Although a U.S. made film directed by Clint Eastwood, "Letters from Iwo Jima" is the companion film to "Flags of Our Fathers," also by Eastwood. "Letters from Iwo Jima" focuses on the Japanese troops during the same battle for the island of Iwo Jima, starring Ken Watanabe as the Japanese general who clearly sees the fate of his troops.
  4. "The Hidden Fortress": Also by Kurosawa, this film focuses on two peasants who find themselves escorting a samurai general and a princess through enemy territory. "Star Wars" fans will appreciate this film as George Lucas’ influence for creating his epic sci-fi films.
  5. "Kagemusha": During a battle over territory and command between three samurai warlords, one is wounded. As he dies, he orders that his death be kept secret from the others, and a thief (played by the same actor) is tasked with posing as the dead warlord and defending his land. This is another classic from Kurosawa.
  6. "Shogun": "Shogun" was actually a miniseries, now available as a DVD set, and was created from the James Clavell novel of the same name. Starring Richard Chamberlain, "Shogun" provides an interesting and entertaining look at Feudal Japan. The Japanese cast is excellent, and samurai movie fans will recognize Toshiro Mifune right away!
  7. "Blood Oath": Though not a Japanese movie, this film presents a story of POWs on Indonesia in 1945 and the abuse suffered at the hands of Japanese troops. The POWs are primarily Australian troops.
  8. "Fires on the Plain": This movie takes place in the Philippines during WWII. The focus is on mentally and physically exhausted Japanese troops who turn to violence while one tries to remain sane hoping to someday return home. Made in 1959, this movie was extremely controversial due to the subject matter at the time.
  9. "Grave of the Fireflies": An animated film, do not let the cartoon image fool you. "Grave of the Fireflies" is a horribly sad tale of two children and their fight to survive after WWII in Japan. Dude or not, have the tissues handy.
  10. "The Last Samurai": With an incredible Japanese cast and the efforts that went into preparing and filming "The Last Samurai," this film is an incredible war movie set in Japan. Though not a well-known war in the West, this film depicts the struggles the samurai class faced as Japan began changing, naturally and with Western influence.