Jidaigekiby Mighty_Emperor | created - 02 Oct 2011 | updated - 02 Oct 2016 | 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.
Here to provide the thumbnail graphic, the list starts below:
2. Honnô-ji gassen (1908)
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.
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.
18. Rakka no mai: zenpen (1925)
aka Dance of the Falling Petals: Part 1
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 »
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 »
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 »
38. Ukikusa monogatari (1934)
Not Rated | 86 min | Drama
A kabuki actor's mistress hatches a jealous plot to bring down her lover's son.
Released on DVD by Criterion with the remake, Floating Weeds.
41. Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryô no tsubo (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.
48. Ninjô kami fûsen (1937)
86 min | Drama
The lives of two slum neighbors, one of a happy-go-lucky gambler and the other of a poor ronin, converge when the two get involved with the affairs of a powerful samurai official and his gangsters.
50. Chikemuri Takadanobaba (1937)
57 min | Action, Comedy, Drama
The ronin Nakayama Yasubei delights in fighting. Various dramas unfold and lead toward Yasubei getting entangled against 18 opponents in a fight to the death.
56. Oshidori utagassen (1939)
69 min | Comedy, Musical
Oharu is in love with ronin who lives next door, but he is being pursued by two of the town beauties. To make things even more difficult for Oharu, her father is obsessed with antiques, ... See full summary »
60. Nishikie edosugata hatamoto to machiyakko (1939)
65 min | Drama
A cheerful period drama, sprinkled with comical scenes tells the story of a loyal and handsome Edo servant who fights to help his older brother marry the woman he loves.
66. The 47 Ronin (1941)
241 min | Action, Drama, History
In 1701, Lord Takuminokami Asano has a feud with Lord Kira and he tries to kill Kira in the corridors of the Shogun's palace. The Shogun sentences Lord Asano to commit suppuku and deprives ... See full summary »
68. Sanshiro Sugata (1943)
79 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
Sugata, a young man, struggles to learn the nuance and meaning of judo, and in doing so comes to learn something of the meaning of life.
About Shiro Saigo, an early Judo proponent.
69. Muhomatsu no issho (1943)
80 min | Action, Adventure
Matsugoro is a poor rickshaw driver whose animated spirit and optimistic demeanor make him a favorite of the town. Matsu helps an injured boy, Toshio, and is hired by the boy's parents.
aka The Life of Matsu the Untamed
71. Miyamoto Musashi (1944)
53 min | Drama
Shinobu and her brother Genichiro plead with the famous swordsman Musashi Miyamoto to teach them swordsmanship to avenge their father's death. The killers of their father see the sister and... See full summary »
73. Meitô bijomaru (1945)
65 min | Drama
Kiyone Sakurai, an apprentice swordmaker makes a sword for his guardian, Kozaemon Onoda. Onoda breaks the sword while defending his lord which eventually leads to his death at the hands of ... See full summary »
79. Mori no Ishimatsu (1949)
97 min | Drama
Mori no Ishimatsu was Shimizu no Jirocho's one-eyed henchman.
80. Jakoman and Tetsu (1949)
91 min | Drama
In a village subsisting on it herring fishery, a one-eyed criminal named Jakoman terrorizes the inhabitants. One of them, the son of the head of one of the fish companies by the name of ... See full summary »
81. The Yotsuda Phantom (1949)
85 min | Horror
Iemon Tamiya is an impovershed masterless samurai who craves a better life, which he cannot have because of his marriage to Oiwa, who is completely devoted to her husband
88. Kanketsu Sasaki Kojirô: Ganryû-jima kettô (1951)
98 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
Master swordsman Kojiro Sasaki is not content with the knowledge of his own power and constantly seeks to impress it upon others. Another great samurai swordsman, Musashi Miyamoto, has ... See full summary »
aka Conclusion of Kojiro Sasaki: Duel on Ganryu Island or Sasaki Kojirô 3
89. Oedo go-nin otoko (1951)
132 min | Action, Drama
During the 17th Century bands of hatamoto, samurai vassals of the Tokugawa shogunate, were causing havoc in the new capital city of Edo. Opposing them was Banzui-in Chobei,whose sole aim ... See full summary »
92. Jirochô sangokushi: nagurikomi kôjinyama (1952)
82 min | Action, Drama
Based on Genzo Murakami's novel series about Shimizu no Jirocho, which spawned dozens of films - Masahiro Makino would hammer out nine of these films in the space of a couple of years.
99. Jirochô sangokushi: Jirochô hatsutabi (1953)
83 min | Action, Drama
Jirocho Sangokushi 2: First Journey