There is something about the Japanese culture that is so unique and fascinating. What’s more amazing is how they were able to preserve their culture and some of their traditions, even to the point of dying for it.
This also explains why their culture and traits are prominent in any book or movie related to the Japanese. These extraordinary traits are embodied in our list of top-rated Japanese war movies.
These movies aren’t just about the epic entertainment of sword-fighting techniques and other action-packed scenes.
Some of these are more about an enriching understanding of Japanese history and wars. Set at different periods from the Sengoku Period to World War II, we hope you enjoy the list!
The 1985 film Ran by renowned Japanese director Akira kurosawa cemented his career as one of the greatest filmmakers in the world.
While budgetary challenges and other issues hampered the ideal pace of the completion of the movie, Akira managed to get it done.
The movie centers on Hidetora, an accomplished old Daimyo and his sons. Hidetora is struggling with the peaceful transition of his power to his sons.
He grapples with internal family conflict, power struggles, and violent political maneuverings during his imminent retirement.
True to the directors’ great film-making tradition, Ran did not disappoint fans and film critics of Japanese war movies. Tragedy, grandeur, desolation, and whatever the scene calls for cinematic excellence are present.
2. The Last Samurai
This Tom Cruise movie is an excellent film to introduce the Samurai culture. Central to the story is the character of Tom Cruise, a former army officer under the command of the infamous General Custer.
The Last Samurai is set in the Meiji Period where western influences take over Japan. The story started when Nathan Algren, the former army officer took a job to train Japanese soldiers in the western way or modern warfare.
However, the conflict started when Algren finds himself in the hands of the enemy and questions which side truly embody the values he believes.
With the rich embodiment of Samurai culture and virtues as opposed to western influences, the movie has a great balance of action and drama scenes that are complemented with great cinematography.
The Last Samurai received numerous awards, including: Outstanding Foreign Language Film at the Japan Academy Prize, Best Director by the National Board of Review, and Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects at the Visual Effects Society Awards; among others.
3. Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima was released in 2006 and is based on the Battle of Iwo Jima. Director Clint Eastwood poignantly captures the emotional turmoil of frontline Japanese soldiers.
His masterful presentation of the movie through the lenses of Japanese soldiers gave viewers meaningful insights into what was going through the minds of soldiers.
Their experience of extreme physical, spiritual, and emotional strain was portrayed. Duty, desperation, and destruction come to the fore as the movie unfolds.
The characters of Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya try to make sense of the chaotic situation. In the end, viewers cannot help but be sympathetic to the two main characters.
The great value of this movie is its attempt to show the universality of tragedy in war. With that, it has won numerous nominations, awards and honors both in Japan and internationally.
It received Cinema for Peace Award from Berlin Film Festival, Best Foreign Language Film from both Chicago and Dallas Film Critics Association Awards, and Outstanding Foreign Language Film in Japan Academy Prize; to name a few.
4. Seven Samurai
Landing on the fourth spot of our top-rated Japanese war movies is a classic good-versus-bad movie that elevates the virtue of the Samurai. Seven Samurai charms the audience by the use of interesting characters and a simple plot anyone can relate to.
This 1954 movie reinforces the principle that evil cannot triumph over the good if there is solidarity. This is portrayed by the ragtag group of Samurai in the Sengoku Period (1586), who will be the last remaining hope of the village against its oppressors.
The film was rated by film critic Roger Ebert with five stars. Indeed, this masterpiece of Akira kurosawa sets a high standard for the successful Samurai genre.
5. Hidden Fortress
The complementary interplay of different genres in Hidden Fortress by Akira Kurosawa produced an epic of a movie that transcends generations.
Comedy, action, and drama are perfectly interspersed throughout the scenes and capably handled by its actors. The 1958 movie is a testament to the creative genius of Akira Kurusawa.
The comedy-adventure movie is about the escorting of Princess Yuki by General Makabe and two prison escapees, Tahei and Matakishi.
The interaction of their colorful character plus their personal motivations equates to a great entertaining comedy action movie; not to mention the battles they’ll encounter.
With great reviews from established film critics like David Ehrenstein, who called this “one of the greatest action-adventure films ever made”; the movie guarantees a fun and entertaining watch.
6. The Wind Rises
A 2013 Japanese highest-grossing animated film in Japan, this is an inspiring movie about Jiro and his fascination with planes.
The Wind Rises presents the story of the designer of the Zero. The Japanese airplane called Zero was used extensively by the Japanese military during World War II.
Under the animation company, Studio Ghibli, The Wind Rises takes flight and rekindles the imagination of children and adults of flying and planes.
The movie reminds viewers that following one’s passion will definitely take them to greater heights while being taken back to the epic aerial battles of World War II.
Animation and film critics are all praises for the superb animation quality and technique utilized. Indeed, it’s an anime classic movie worth watching.
7. Sea Without Exit
The program of the Japanese Navy to build submarines is highlighted in this movie. The story is presented through the life of Koji Namiki.
The movie follows his journey, from being a university student to his eventual participation in the Japanese navy program called Kaiten.
Although the movie does not boast of epic battle scenes, its exploration of the Japanese Navy program named Kaiten makes it a must-watch among Japanese war movies.
Sea Without Exit got a Best Supporting Actor award through Teruyuki Kagawa from an award-giving body named Blue Ribbon Awards in 2006.
8. The Eternal Zero
This movie is made for aviation fans who would like to know more about the Japanese Zero plane and its pilots.
The curiosity of the main character led him to dig deeper into the history of his grandfather’s involvement with the Zero fighter pilots of World War II. The truth unravels before the protagonist’s eyes but instead adds more confusion to his quest.
The movie’s twists and turns make it more engaging and interesting.
Directed by Takashi Yamazaki and based on the novel Eien no Zero, the film was a commercial success in Japan. The Eternal Zero made a mark in the Japanese War film genre because of its engaging story and controversial theme.
The Eternal Zero has a high rating of 7.3 by IMDb. Moreover, it won the Golden Mulberry at the 16th Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy.
9. Battle of Okinawa
Released in 1971, The Battle of Okinawa is a remarkable film about the tragedy of war. The sense of urgency mounts as the impending arrival of the American forces means uncertainty of life and liberty.
The intent of the director of the film to present the event as accurately as possible according to Japanese accounts is praiseworthy.
In fact, this was his highest-grossing film of the year in Japan. Keiju Kobayashi leads the cast of this war drama with Kihachi Okamoto at the helm.
The movie consistently got high ratings from film critics including IMDb, which rated the film with a 7.1 mark.
On the 10th spot of our Japanese war movies is a biopic one based on the life of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. The military brain behind the strategic attack on Pearl Harbor is given a human face in this movie.
His story will surprise and enlighten those who are interested in Japanese World War II history, specifically, the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Released in 2011, the film is an essential resource in the study of the man who orchestrated a successful military offense against the US forces in the inception of World War II.
Film critics described the movie Isoroku as “well-crafted” and successful in the depiction of the man and his legacy.
11. Storm over the Pacific
Storm over the Pacific is a 1960 movie telling the exploits of aviator Koji Kitami. The aviator’s task was to be one of the bombers in the attack against Pearl Harbor.
There is no mistaking that the movie took the perspective of the Japanese side, nevertheless, much is to be appreciated in the film. The Japanese pilot’s achievement was celebrated in the film. The movie may be controversial but, it is indeed inspirational if you are on the other side of the war.
A notable aspect of the movie was the work of special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya. Tsuburaya’s career is backed by so many accolades and awards. His special effects standard adds great value to this film.
This 2005 Japanese war movie gets its title from the World War II battleship Yamato. It is not so much about the battleship itself but the men who are in it. The film is a memorial to the Japanese men who bravely fought for their country.
The movie’s approach to telling the story is reminiscent of Titanic. The film’s right mix of effective elements makes it one of the most compelling Japanese war movies to watch.
A top grosser in the cinema combined with multiple awards from technical to acting, Yamato is undeniably a shoo-in for the top-rated list.
13. Samurai Assassin
A great entertaining Samurai movie that belongs to the best rated of its genre, the movie has stunning cinematography with a perfect performance of the cast.
Samurai Assassin is about a struggling Samurai who dreams of gaining the respect of his father by climbing up the social status. However, his dream faced a hindrance because of a false accusation.
The protagonist in the movie is Niiro, starred by Mifune. The whole cast was praised for their great portrayals and the movie itself got a high 7.5 rating from IMDb.
14. Tora! Tora! Tora!
This movie gets into the details of what transpired before and during the infamous day of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Tora! Tora! Tora! sincerely attempts to capture the crucial moments leading up to tragic attacks through the intense action and the aftermath of the battle.
If not for the battle scenes, then the historic value of the event condensed in this 1970 movie will convince film viewers to watch the movie.
With a cast that delivered an excellent performance and an unforgettable story, this film deserves to be on our top-rated Japanese war movies list.
IMDb rated this film with a 7.5 mark, surely worth watching.
15. Oba, the Last Samurai
Be amazed by the life of a brave Japanese straggler. Based on a true story, Oba, the Last Samurai is a movie about the remaining Japanese soldiers holding out in Saipan for more than 500 days in World War II.
The movie recounts the story of Oba, the captain, as he leads other Japanese with him in refusing to surrender to the Americans.
Released in 2011, the film’s great points are its effective use of the Japanese and American language, the convincing portrayal of the actors, and the directing.
So there you have it! Our list of 15 top-rated Japanese war movies varies from historically based, fictitious, epic in scope, or documentary-like in the presentation.
So sit back, relax and enjoy, and let your emotions be stirred as you are brought back into the interesting, inspiring, astonishing, and even heartbreaking scenes of the past.
If are you interested in the history of Japan and particularly samurai’s, then here is a list of Best Samurai Movies.