From classic martial arts combat to Samurai sword fights and gun fused scenes, you name it. The world of Japanese action cinema has it.
Now fasten your seatbelts and hold tightly onto your seats as we go through the fast-cut motions and action-packed scenes with some of the top-rated action movies from Japan!
1. Rurouni Kenshin (2012)
To start off our list is a manga based film directed by Keishi Otomo. Rurouni Kenshin is one of the highest-grossing films of 2012.
It follows the story of Kenshin Himura, a former assassin used to be known as Hitokiri Battosai, a violent and notorious killer. Years have passed after the Bakumatsu war, and Kenshin Himura changed, vowing not to ever kill again.
He then became a typical man who roamed in the countryside of Japan and offered help to those in need for the atonement of the crimes he committed when he was an assassin.
Not only in Japan, but it was widely accepted by the international audience. The film has two sequels, Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends.
2. Sonatine (1993)
This film is about the story of Murakawa, a Yakuza enforcer based on Tokyo. His boss assigned him to Okinawa to mediate a dispute between the Nakamatsu and Anan clans.
However, he suspects that this assignment is a ploy to remove him from the group. He still went on to Okinawa nonetheless. Murakawa soon found out that his suspicion was true. Now he is set to take revenge for those who planned to kill him.
Sonatine is a 1993 Japanese action film directed by Takeshi Kitano who is also a cast member in the film. This movie won the Cariddi D’oro award for Best film in 1993 at the Taormina Film Fest. The official soundtrack also won the Japanese Academy Award for Music in 1994.
3. Lady Snowblood (1973)
The third one that made it on our list of top-rated action movies from Japan is an action-thriller film by Toshiya Fujita. This is a manga-based film that recounts the tale of Yuki, who wants to avenge the three men who raped her mother and killed both her father and her brother.
Yuki was born in the prison cell where her mother, Sayo, was detained. Sayo died after giving birth to Yuki. When Sayo was still alive, she planned that Yuki should be raised to kill those men who murdered her family.
Priest Dokai raised and trained Yuki in sword fighting. After turning 20, Yuki went on to avenge these men.
Lady Snowblood has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on six reviews.
4. Kingdom (2019)
Next up is the most recent film we have on the list! The kingdom is a 2019 action film by Shinsuke Sato and produced by Sony Pictures Japan.
The film is set during the Warring States Period in Japan. It tells the life story of Li Xin, and his life journey from an orphaned slave to becoming a great army general of the Qin kingdom.
Together with his friend Paio, they faced battle and hardships as they reached their dreams of becoming a general.
5. Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
Three Outlaw Samurai follows the story of Shiba, a Ronin, who crossed paths with two other Samurai.
As it turns out, these Samurai were hired by a corrupt magistrate to kill a group of bandits who kidnapped her daughter. Shiba, together with the two Samurai, engage in a bloody fight to save the magistrate’s daughter.
This film was directed by Hideo Gosha and was added to the Criterion Collection list of movies. Making it to the Criterion Collection means that this film is absolutely one of the top-rated action movies from Japan!
6. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)
Hitting the sixth spot is the first sequel to the film “Rurouni Kenshin”. The first sequel, entitled, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is also directed by Keishi Otomo.
The film begins where the Japanese Police are tracking down a notorious traitor named Shishio Makoto. One day, Okubo Toshimichi summons Kenshin Himura to find Shishio.
He denied the request at first but was convinced when another official was murdered by one of Shishio’s men.
Kenshin now departs to hunt down Shishio. However, this mission will not only cost him his life, but also the life of his closest friends. This film placed third as Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2014 and received great reviews from various movie critics.
7. Kill! (1968)
Kill or ‘Kiru’ is a 1968 comedy action film by Kihachi Okamoto. This film is based on a story titled, “Torideyama no Jushichinichi” written by Shugoro Yamamoto.
This follows the story of a man named Genta, a Samurai turned into a wandering Yakuza member. Along his way, he met Hanjiro, a farmer who dreams to be a Samurai to become a man of high status. Together they fight a group of rebels, sent out to kill them both.
The film is notable for its exaggeration of Samurai’s life and for its numerous takeoffs from several Samurai films. Its art director Iwao Akune, won the award for Best Art Direction at the Mainichi Film Concours.
8. Harakiri (1962)
The eight spots on our top-rated action movies from Japan goes to another Masaki Kobayashi film in 1962. This film is set between 1619 and 1630, the reign of Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo Period.
Harakiri is about the life of Hanshiro Tsugumo, a lordless warrior or Ronin, who wishes to commit Harakiri within the palace courtyard.
However, the palace declined his request and told him the unfortunate story of Chijiwa Motome, a Ronin who also went to the palace and requested to commit Haraki within the courtyard.
But to everyone’s surprise, Hanshiro revealed his past with Motome that placed the entire palace’s integrity into question.
9. Samurai Assassin (1965)
Next on the list is another Samurai movie by Kihachi Okamoto. Samurai Assassin is set in the Meiji Restoration Period.
The film leads us to the story of Niiro Tsurichiyo, as he lived his life as a sword fighter and a social outcast at the same time. Niiro joined forces with several clans in an uprising against Li Naosuke, the right hand of the Shogunate.
This film was inspired by the famous Sakuradamon Incident, where Lord Li Naosuke was killed at Sakura Gate of the Edo castle.
10. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013)
Paving its way to the 10th spot of our top-rated action movies from Japan is a Sion Sono classic. Why Don’t You Play in Hell will take us to a live-action movie in the making.
An inexperienced, wannabe film crew aspires to film an epic action battle. Ten years back, a Yakuza mid-boss named Ikegami, conspired against the big boss, Muto. On the day of Muto’s revenge, he wants to film an epic action film with his daughter in the lead role.
The wannabe film crew now takes its chance of filming a real, live-action Yakuza battle in a 35mm film.
11. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)
Not long after The Kyoto Inferno’s release, the second sequel to the 2012 Rurouni Kenshin film was released in the same year. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends was directed by Keishi Otomo.
The story continues where Kenshin Himura wakes up in Master Hiko’s home after lying unconscious for three days.
However, Master Hiko was not able to save Kaoru after being thrown to the sea. Kenshin asks Master Hiko to teach him the final Hiten Mitsurugi technique to defeat Shishio Makoto.
Master Hiko agreed to train Kenshin. During his training, Kenshin came into his heart and dealt something in himself that prevented him from killing Shishio. After his training, he embarked on another quest to find and kill Shishio.
Four weeks after its release, this film remained in the top spot at the Japanese box office. It became one of the top five films of 2014 and was well-acclaimed by movie critics.
12. Pale Flower (1964)
Landing on the 12th spot of our top-rated action movies from Japan lineup is a film by director Masahiro Shinoda.
Pale Flower is about the story of Muraki, a convicted killer that was released from prison. It started when he arrives at an illegal gambling parlor, where he meets a woman named Saeko. Saeko became Muraki’s mentor in gambling. Soon after, Muraki fell in love with Saeko.
However, Saeko goes away with another man, a drug-addict that also plays at the gambling house. Murako finds himself in a twisted fate bound with jealousy as he tries to take Saeko from living a destructed life.
13. Sword of the Beast (1965)
Next up on our list is another film by Hideo Gosha, which was also included in the Criterion Collection.
Sword of the Beast is a classic 1965 film set around 1857, during the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
This film tells the account of a low-level Samurai, Gennosuke, who was lured into killing one of the clan’s ministers. As a result, he was accused of treason and was thrown into the mountains as a punishment.
In the mountains, he came across a group that illegally mined gold on one of the Shogun’s lands. There he met another swordsman, Jurota, who will help him to clear his name and regain his honor as a Samurai.
14. The City of Lost Souls (2000)
The City of Lost Souls is a Japanese action movie based on a novel by Hase Seishu.
This film is one of the top-rated action movies from Japan directed by Takashi Miike. It follows the story of a man named Mario and his girlfriend Kei, who accidentally stole drugs from a Yakuza gang lead by Yamazaki.
This led Mario and Kei to sell the drugs to another buyer. With the money, they planned their escape to Australia. However, Kei was abducted by the Yakuza. Mario is forced to go back and save Kei from the gang.
15. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)
Lying on the 15th spot in our lineup is a novel turned movie directed by Hiroshi Inagaki. The movie portrays the story of the epic and famous Japanese swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi.
The story begins during the Battle of Sekigahara, where Takezo and his friend Matahachi are on the losing end. They end up as fugitives wandering the mountains. However, Takezo and Matahachi got separated along the way.
Disillusioned, Takezo went back to his hometown to explain to Matahachi’s family that he went missing. However, they did not believe his story and he was captured and imprisoned. After three years, he was released and was granted a Samurai name, Musashi Miyamoto.
16. The Princess Blade (2001)
The Princess Blade is an epic action film directed by Shinsuke Sato. The film features the story of Yuki, the last surviving royal member of the House of Takemikazuchi.
Yuki lives in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, where people are using their skills as Mikado guards to be hired as assassins.
One day, Yuki hears from the wise old sage Yuka about the information that changed the course of her life forever. Because of this, she decided to leave the House of Takemikazuchi.
This film is the reimagination of the manga entitled Lady Snowblood.
17. Ichi the Killer (2001)
Finally down our last spot on the list! Ichi the Killer is a Japanese action crime film directed by Takashi Miike.
This follows the story if Ichi, a psychologically incapacitated man who is manipulated to assault and kill members of Yakuza gangs. On the other hand, Ichi is being chased and followed by a law enforcer named Kakihara.
Brutal and action-packed, this film was notorious for most moviegoers and is actually banned from some countries because of its violence and graphic depictions of cruelty.
There you go with our 17 top-rated action films from Japan! For sure, you’ll never miss any of the scenes from the beginning ‘til the end.
Whenever you’re up to some chart-topping action films, you can always check and see what these Japanese action films have in store just for you. Enjoy!
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