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Top 10 Akira Kurosawa Movies

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Nolan Moore This fantastic filmmaker put Japanese cinema on the map. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 Akira Kurosawa films. For this list, we’re looking at the greatest, most critically acclaimed and/or influential movies to come from this Asian auteur. Whether he’s directing samurai epics or heartfelt dramas, Akira Kurosawa’s movies are an incredible combo of Eastern traditions and Western influences. And oh, yeah, the man sure knew how to rock a pair of sunglasses. Special thanks to our users jkellis, jwiking62, Nana Amuah and ToroTheShanx for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Nolan Moore

Top 10 Akira Kurosawa Movies


This fantastic filmmaker put Japanese cinema on the map. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Akira Kurosawa films.

For this list, we’re looking at the greatest, most critically acclaimed and/or influential movies to come from this Asian auteur. Whether he’s directing samurai epics or heartfelt dramas, Akira Kurosawa’s movies are an incredible combo of Eastern traditions and Western influences. And oh, yeah, the man sure knew how to rock a pair of sunglasses.

#10: “Kagemusha” (1980)

We’re starting off with a movie that won the Palme d’Or. One of Kurosawa’s later films, this period piece centers on a common thief who makes himself look just like a powerful daimyo. When the warlord is murdered, the crook must take his place, fooling family and foes alike, all while dealing with suspicious enemies and even the daimyo’s angry ghost. Jam-packed with beautiful and startling images, the Oscar-nominated “Kagemusha” is one of Kurosawa’s most grand and gorgeous films.

#9: “High and Low” (1963)

Most people associate Akira Kurosawa with samurai flicks, but you won’t find a single swordfight in “High and Low.” After mortgaging everything he owns to buy out a shoe company, a wealthy businessman finds himself in a tricky situation when his chauffeur’s son is kidnapped. Should he stick with his plan or pay the boy’s ransom? This neo-noir also features a fantastic performance by Toshiro Mifune, one of Kurosawa’s favorite and most used actors.

#8: “Sanjuro” (1962)

A sequel to Kurosawa’s 1961 hit “Yojimbo,” “Sanjuro” follows nine bumbling samurai intent on cleaning up their town. Only these particular warriors know a lot more about honor than they do about fighting. Outnumbered by corrupt government officials, they turn to a rather cranky ronin for help. The result is comedy gold with the titular Sanjuro doing his best to save the day and keep his clumsy cohorts out of trouble.

#7: “Ikiru” (1952)

When Tokyo bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe learns he’s dying of stomach cancer, he suddenly realizes he’s wasted his entire life. For thirty years, he’s worked inside a stuffy office, stamping paper after paper. Depressed he’s never really lived; he tries to drink his sorrows away until he meets an upbeat young woman who encourages him to make a difference. With a newfound purpose, Watanabe becomes a passionate activist – and his touching journey in “Ikiru” continues to inspire audiences to truly live well over half a century later.

#6: “Throne of Blood” (1957)

Basically “Macbeth” set in feudal Japan, Kurosawa’s creepy classic has all the elements of Shakespearian tragedy: murder, ghosts, and people losing their minds. After a spirit predicts great things for General Washizu, the samurai and his scheming wife assassinate the Lord of Forest Castle so he can take his place. Only their plan spins out of control, leading to more murder, insanity, and ultimately, tragedy. Haunting and eerie, “Throne of Blood” warns us greed is never good.

#5: “The Hidden Fortress” (1958)

One of Kurosawa’s most entertaining films, this swashbuckling story follows two greedy peasants who join up with strangers smuggling gold across enemy territory. Hoping to get a few coins for themselves, these bungling buffoons don’t realize they’re helping a hot-blooded princess and her fiercely loyal general, both on the run from bloodthirsty rivals. Fun and fast-paced, this Japanese fairy-tale went on to influence “Star Wars,” inspiring characters like R2-D2, and C-3P0.

#4: “Yojimbo” (1961)

This uber-cool flick centers on a nameless ronin who wanders into a town controlled by rival gangs. Seemingly motivated by greed, he hires himself out as a bodyguard…to both sides. But this sly samurai is actually a hero, playing both groups against each other and protecting an innocent family caught in the middle. With its dusty streets and big showdowns, “Yojimbo” has a strong Western vibe and inspired Sergio Leone’s shoot-em-up, “A Fistful of Dollars.”

#3: “Ran” (1985)

Akira Kurosawa certainly loved his Shakespeare. Nearly thirty years after adapting “Macbeth,” Kurosawa directed this samurai version of “King Lear,” complete with stark colors, amazing visuals, and brilliant battle scenes. Despite his youngest son’s warnings, an aging warlord divides his empire between his three kids, inadvertently plunging the kingdom into chaos. When his two greedy sons declare war on each other, the warlord snaps, leading to a climax that’s as bloody as it is tragic.

#2: “Rashomon” (1950)

The film that introduced Japanese cinema to the West, this twisty tale focuses on a mysterious murder as witnessed by four people. While walking through the woods, a samurai and his wife are attacked by a bandit…but what happens next? Well, nobody’s sure. Every witness gives a different story, and almost everyone claims to know who the killer is. Dealing with themes like truth and memory, “Rashomon” won multiple awards and shoved Kurosawa into the spotlight.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “Drunken Angel” (1948)
- “Dersu Uzala” (1975)
- “Stray Dog” (1949)
- “Red Beard” (1965)
- “Madadayo” (1993)

#1: “Seven Samurai” (1954)

Widely considered one of the greatest films ever, “Seven Samurai” influenced a generation of filmmakers and inspired movies from “The Magnificent Seven” to “A Bug’s Life.” Set in the 1500s, the story revolves around seven ronin hired to protect a village from a gang of vicious bandits. Led by a war-weary veteran, this ragtag bunch must overcome suspicious outsiders and their own inner conflicts to uphold their honor in a world that’s leaving them behind.

Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite Akira Kurosawa movies? For more amazing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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