by Mighty_Emperor | created - 02 Oct 2011 | updated - 6 days ago | Public

Jidaigeki (時代劇) are, for the purposes of this list, period Japanese movies and TV, ranging from the stately samurai films to the wilder exploitation movies. As well as samurai, we have the ronin, ninja, yakuza and just simple folk. Most are relatively straightly-told tales of swordplay, but some do head off in fantastical directions.

Inclusion criteria: Really anything set before the 20th Century, although I am prepared to be flexible if it is more rural and involves swordplay but occurs in the early 20th Century. I have also included some non-Japanese films that are set in the period and include samurai (or similar).

Recurring themes: Historical stories and characters that we often see cropping up include: Miyamoto Musashi, The 47 Ronin (Chushingura), Jubei Yagyu and Shimizu no Jirocho.

Further reading: Patrick Galloway has released 2 books where he reviews 50 samurai films and gives profiles of the key directors and actors (but doesn't add much analysis or context, however, it is written in a nicely accessible way): Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook (2005) and Warring Clans, Flashing Blades: A Samurai Film Companion (2009); there is also: The Samurai Film (2007) by Alain Silver and Samurai Films (2008) by Roland Thorne. I haven't yet read Thorne's book but Silver's was exactly the kind of book I was looking for with an in-depth analysis of key directors, themes and characters, plus it includes a detailed filmography broken down by director or character/series or year - if you are looking to take your appreciation of jidaigeki onto a new level then that is the book for you.

Links/link: 50 Classic Samurai (Chambara, Jidaigeki) Films, a solid list, Jidai Geki at TV Tropes.

See also: Yakuza and ninja films, which often have a period setting.

Availability: A number of companies have done a lot of hard work finding these films and giving them high quality home media releases: Criterion, AnimEigo, Eureka and the BFI. There are obvious problems with pre-1945 films from Japan but we still have some films from that period.

Comments: As I don't have a Facebook account I cannot interact with the new comments system, so have switched it off. I will start a thread on the message board and link it in here shortly.

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1. Samurai: The Last Warrior (2004 TV Movie)

TV-PG | 67 min | Documentary, History

International Samurai expert, Dr. Stephen Turnbull, provides historical insights into these legendary warriors in this documentary program described as "powerful and intriguing" by the Los Angeles Times.

Director: Charlie Shepard | Stars: Barry Robbins, Stephen Turnbull

Votes: 41

Here to provide the thumbnail graphic, the list starts below:

aka Battle at Honnoji Temple

Shōzō Makino pretty much created the Japanese period film genre and his son Masahiro would follow in is footsteps. They both produced a lot of jidaigeki but problems with availability and information (at least for me) make it difficult to work out which of the hundreds of them belong here, but I've managed to get a few on here (and will be doing more homework on this) and you can see their profiles here for more extensive lists.

This features Oda Nobunaga the man that unified Japan under the Shogunate in the 16th Century, so he is a popular character in jidaigeki.

All of the above means it is a fitting first film for the list.

Shimizu no Jirocho was a bit of a rogue and his story has inspired hundreds of films.

14. Gôketsu Jiraiya (1921)

21 min | Short, Action

The story of Jiraiya, a legendary ninja with great powers who set off on a adventure.

Director: Shôzô Makino | Stars: Matsunosuke Onoe, Suminojo Ichikawa, Kijaku Ôtani, Chosei Kataoka

Votes: 123

Jiraiya is a ninja with supernatural powers, which include disappearing and turning himself into a frog. This means the film is odder than other period films of the time but the lack of translated intertitles makes it a bit tricky to follow the story.

Public domain, get from the Internet Archive

17. Orochi (1925)

74 min | Action, Adventure

The story of a decent samurai who is widely considered a scum and a criminal. His bad luck and numerous misunderstandings drag him down the social ladder straight to the gutter.

Director: Buntarô Futagara | Stars: Tsumasaburô Bandô, Misao Seki, Utako Tamaki, Kensaku Haruji

Votes: 266

aka Serpent

22. Chûshingura (2016)

76 min

Earliest surviving feature film depicting legend of the 47 ronin (see Mizoguchi, Inagaki, Ichikawa, and others)

Director: Shôzô Makino | Stars: Matsunosuke Onoe, Ichinomasa Kataoka, Kitsuraku Arashi, Kijaku Ôtani

29. Rônin-gai - Dai-ni-wa: Gakuya-buro - Dai-ippen (1929)

A representative film directed by Masahiro Makino, son of Shozo Makino ("the father of Japanese film"). This film lent status to ensemble casts that did not rely on famous starts. The ... See full summary »

Director: Masahiro Makino | Stars: Shinobu Araki, Kimie Kawakami, Shimpachi Kiyoura, Tôroku Makino

Votes: 26

33. Zanjin zanbaken (1929)

In medieval Japan, a brutal and corrupt magistrate is planning to kill the child who is about to become the heir to the estate and position of the local lord and substitute his own "heir", ... See full summary »

Director: Daisuke Itô | Stars: Ryûnosuke Tsukigata, Hiroshi Kaneko, Misao Seki, Sôemon Wada

Votes: 17

34. Oatsurae Jirôkichi koshi (1931)

80 min | Action, Drama

The only completely preserved silent film directed by Daisuke Ito, this film relates the life of a legendary thief, Jirokichi the Rat in an exquisite original story and through the ... See full summary »

Director: Daisuke Itô | Stars: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Naoe Fushimi, Nobuko Fushimi, Reizaburô Yamamoto

Votes: 95

38. A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)

Not Rated | 86 min | Drama

A kabuki actor's mistress hatches a jealous plot to bring down her lover's son.

Director: Yasujirô Ozu | Stars: Takeshi Sakamoto, Chôko Iida, Kôji Mitsui, Rieko Yagumo

Votes: 2,654

Released on DVD by Criterion with the remake, Floating Weeds.

41. Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

92 min | Comedy, Drama

A man gets rid of a cheap pot without knowing it contains a map to a treasure. As word spreads, many join in hunting it.

Director: Sadao Yamanaka | Stars: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Kiyozo, Kunitarô Sawamura, Reizaburô Yamamoto

Votes: 862