Commonly referred to as the “samurai sword” the katana, with its curved razor-sharp blade and perfectly bound handle is the epitome of elegance. The weapon of choice for the samurai, feudal lords of Japan, became the embodiment of absolute perfection. In film it certainly seems to be the weapon choice not only for samurai warlords but also immortal warriors, Yakuza thugs and avenging angels, it has come to represent clean-cut (pun intended), deadly efficiency.
Come with us as we carefully unsheath some sleek, bladed steel and slice into these Top 10 Samurai Movie Sword Fights! (in descending order)
- Highlander Endgame (2000) – Adrian Paul (MacLeod) vs Donnie Yen (Jin Qe)
- The Last Samurai (2003) – Tom Cruise vs Hiroyuki Sanada
- War (2007) – Rogue (Jet Li) vs Shiro Yanagawa
- Beach of the War Gods (1973) – Jimmy Wang Yu vs Japanese Pirates
- Duel to the Death (1983) – Norman Chu vs Damian Lau
- God of War (2017) – General Qi Jiguang vs Commander Kumasawa
- 13 Assassins (2010) – vs Lord Naritsugu’s Bodyguards
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972) – Final Fight
- Kill Bill Vol.1 (2003) – House of Blue Leaves Battle
Our Top 10 starts with this scene from “Highlander: Endgame” which might appear to be an unusual choice since the films are not known for their heavy martial content, likened more to classic sword and sorcery flicks. Yet that changed with television series’ star Adrian Paul as the immortal Duncan MacLeod whose background in Hung Gar, taekwondo and wing chun as well as training with the katana, was put to effective use.
Here, (Paul as) MacLeod finds himself up against another immortal, Jin Qe (played by Hong Kong martial arts legend Donnie Yen) as the two set about taking off each other’s head, in the ongoing quest to be the victor and win the prize. With Paul truly skilled with the katana and Donnie armed with a vicious looking qiang (spear) this a bladed match-off that leaves you wanting more!
Set in 19th century Japan in a tale inspired by the Satsuma Rebellion, “The Last Samurai” (review coming soon) stars Cruise as a war-torn US Captain, Nathan Algren hired to train the Imperial Japanese Army. A battle with the local samurai sees the ill-prepared army defeated and Algren taken prisoner (by the samurai). Despite being spared by their leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) and invited to stay in the village, Algren’s presence is met with hostility as in this scene where Lord Ujio (Hiroyuki Sanada) shows his disdain with an effective display of swordsmanship with the bokken (Japanese wooden training sword). It is a particularly noteworthy scene as Algren refuses to yield, a quality which the samurai grow to admire.
Another bladed warrior out for revenge, assassin ‘Rogue’ (Jet Li) plays two rival crime organisations against one another – in true Yojimbo fashion. Having already taken down the Triads, Rogue sets his sights on Yakuza oyabun (leader), Shiro Yanagawa. After Rogue takes down his henchmen, the two don lethal katanas in a face off that proves to be as revealing as it is bloody.
Hong Kong Legend Jimmy Wang Yu wrote, directed and starred in the first of two films in our list inspired by the true story of Chinese villagers defending their homes against Japanese pirates. This scene pits our hero, Hsiao Feng, against hordes of Japanese invaders armed with deadly katanas. They are skilled, no doubt about it and formidably so, making Yu’s challenge all the more daring and brave in the face of such adversity. Ever the versatile martial artist, Yu proves his skills with the blade as he takes out each and every attacker invoking and adding a little Mifune-esque cool into the mix.
Wire-fu and metal-fu meet in Golden Harvest’s wuxia epic featuring a climactic showdown between two fine swordsmen, Hashimoto (Norman Chu) and Bo Ching-wan (Damian Lau).
After working together and exposing a plot by the Japanese Shogunate to fix the outcome of the sword duel in their favour, the two combatants decide to have their duel in private (see how the two worked together in our sterling Top 10 Ninja Fight Scenes). The action comes thick, fast and blood-drenched in this exciting blend of acrobatic, hard-clashing swordplay and classic 80’s kung fu.
Directed by Gordon Chan (“Fist of Legend”) this epic tale of tyrannical pirates led by Commander Kumasawa (played by veteran action star Yasuaki Kurata) terrorising a Chinese village, provides the perfect backdrop for sangre-soaked bladed action. “God of War’s” finale features Kumasawa on his boat facing down General Qi Jiguang (played by Vincent Zhao) and the scene is set for a clash between Kumasawa’s katana vs General Qi’s jian. A tense battle with Kurata, who at 72 years old, still shows formidable skill with the curved steel is able to keep up with the younger Zhao.
Master of the bizarre, director Takashi Miike (Yakuza Apocalypse) takes on this remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 Japanese black-and-white film, loosely based on a true story set towards the end of Japan’s Edo period. Seasoned samurai, Shinzaemon is hired to take down Lord Naritsugu of Akashi ending his reign of terror in the town. With 12 other warriors Shinzaemon sets about enacting revenge and in this scene has laid a trap for the evil lord and his men. The drama and explosive set piece provide a brilliant backdrop for this epic samurai battle.
Also known as Shogun Assassin for its US and UK releases, this 6 film-series charted the adventures of disgraced Ronin Ogami Itto (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama) and his three year-old son Diagoro. The films all feature tales of Machiavellian deceit and plots all aimed at taking Itto down who seems to survive every attempt on his life. They are more revered however for their bloody swordplay considered too violent for British censors and were consequently banned – actually being deemed video nasties. This particular film marks the fourth in the series as Itto faces down an old rival in this bloodied battle of nerves and steel.
The ultimate homage to blood and steel from the shock ‘n’ awe master of cinema, Quentin Tarantino. Uma Thurman plays ‘The Bride’ with a specially made katana in hand, seeking bloodthirsty revenge against the assassins who left her for dead. Here she faces up to the first on her kill list, O-Ren Ishii played by Lucy Liu, but to get to her, The Bride must take on O-Ren’s bodyguards, the Crazy 88, led by Hong Kong screen legend Gordon Liu. Cue lots of clashing steel and metal swinging action as heads roll, limbs fly and blood gushes in this epic, stylish showdown.
…and in at #1 is…
Yojimbo (1961) – Final Showdown
Influenced by 1930’s Hollywood Westerns, Akira Kurosawa’s epic tale of gang rivalry and revenge in turn influenced Hollywood for decades to come. This finale has been copied and paid tribute to but never equalled as our favourite Ronin, Sanjuro (a sterling performance from the legendary Toshiro Mifune) faces down gang leader Ushitoro and his sword-wielding samurai henchmen. A tense and gritty battle ensues with Mifune, himself a skilled Kenjutsu practitioner, displaying some awesome, over-before-you-know-it deadly katana skills, taking cool efficiency to another level!