Season two of Westworld has ventured into several new settings – including Shōgun World, a highly anticipated reveal since it was teased at the end of season one. The park recreates Japan’s Edo period with some heavy-handed nods to the Wild West – and unsurprisingly, the show’s creators drew inspiration from classic samurai films, as well as spaghetti Westerns. Want to spend more time in those vast cinematic worlds? Here are seven titles to get you started.
Hiroyuki Sanada prepares to unhand his opponent on Westworld. Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)
1) Seven Samurai
Yep, this one’s obvious. Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic masterpiece has a brilliant set-up – a humble farming village besieged by vicious bandits hires a ragtag group of ronin to protect them – further elevated by stunning action, incredible attention to detail, well-drawn characters (brought to life by several of the director’s go-to actors, including Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune), and plenty of emotion and a fair amount of humour.
Seven Samurai is one of the legendary Kurosawa’s most enduring films, influencing dozens that came after. And it’s been remade twice by Hollywood, which turned the story into a full-on Western retitled The Magnificent Seven. The 1960 John Sturges version, with its iconic Elmer Bernstein score, handily beats the 2016 re-do – and not just because it stars Yul Brynner, playing a hero 13 years before becoming the villain of the OG Westworld movie.
2) Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx
The second of six Lone Wolf and Cub movies based on the much-loved manga series, 1972’s Baby Cart at the River Styx levels up the violence to cartoonishly excellent levels. (You may know it better by the way more succinct but no less evocative title Shōgun Assassin, a Western-release name given to a version of this movie that has several minutes of the first Lone Wolf and Cub movie, Sword of Vengeance, added in.)
There are a ton of stories about disgraced assassins eking out a dangerous living beyond the fringes of society; there is only one about a stone-cold killer (Tomisaburō Wakayama) who travels with his adorable toddler son and the tyke’s tricked-out, weaponised stroller. It’s a necessary accessory in a landscape filled with deadly foes both male and female, most of which are handily dispatched by our glaring hero with gory, stylised precision.
3) Lady Snowblood
This 1973 revenge thriller starring the inimitable Meiko Kaji was a major inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films – but don’t let that minor detail stop you from enjoying the hell out of it.
Like Lone Wolf and Cub, Lady Snowblood is also based on a manga series. Set around 100 years in the past, it’s about Yuki, a woman born to a wrongfully imprisoned mother who’s trained from day one for a single purpose: Vengeance. She grows up to be as deadly as she is beautiful, and sets out to hunt down the people who wronged her family – making them pay in various horrible, stabby ways.
4) Legend of the Eight Samurai
If you just met actor Hiroyuki Sanada for the first time as Musashi, the Shōgun World equivalent of Westworld‘s dashing outlaw character, here’s a more vintage turn for your enjoyment. Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) directs a cast that includes not just a young Sanada, but also Sonny Chiba, less than a decade past his iconic Street Fighter movies (made well before the game of the same name).
The monster-laden, fantasy-heavy story is very loosely based on a 19th-century epic novel by Kyokutei Bakin; it follows a newly orphaned princess who’s been cursed by an evil, witchy queen, a predicament she’ll only escape with the help of eight special warriors.
Legend of the Eight Samurai may be inspired by a very old story, but the movie is full of elements that telegraph its 1983 release date – including, but not limited to, earnest power ballads and some truly cringe-worthy special effects.
Chiba! Image: Toei
5) Shōgun’s Ninja
Lest we forget, there were ninjas lurking in Shōgun World, going off the script and attacking willy-nilly like every other robot in the joint. Scratch your ninja itch with another delectably campy Hiroyuki Sanada-Sonny Chiba pairing. This one’s from 1980 and also has a very weird soundtrack (is that… a jazz riff?), as well as some excellently acrobatic fight scenes.
Chiba plays a warlord’s top enforcer who’s tasked with tracking down a gang of rival ninjas and relieving them of their gold, though he has to find a pair of swords decorated with a map to the gold first. Sanada, in gleaming teen-dream mode, plays the only member of the clan who survives Chiba and company’s ruthless campaign of death… and years later, mounts a campaign of revenge.
The ensemble cast of this oft-bonkers tale also includes the legendary Tetsuro Tanba, who had an epic career in Japanese film but is maybe best-known in the West for playing Tiger Tanaka opposite Sean Connery’s James Bond in You Only Live Twice.
6) 13 Assassins
Prolific cult director Takashi Miike is no stranger to the samurai world, but this 2010 remake of the 1963 Eiichi Kudo film of the same name is maybe his most entertaining entry in the genre.
In 1844, the murderously ugly behaviour of the Shōgun’s crappy half-brother – a dude who would be right at home in Westeros, to reference another HBO show – is causing big political problems, so a team of 13 samurai (shades of, yes, Seven Samurai) is assembled to take him out. You want action? This movie runs just over two hours and the incredible final battle takes up 45 minutes of that time.
13 Samurai‘s incredible pacing is bolstered by stunning cinematography and production design (make your own “gore-geous” pun here), as well as a script that doesn’t give short shrift to character development amid all that sword-swinging.
7) Massacre Time
OK, this is not a samurai movie or even a Japanese movie at all. It’s a spaghetti Western directed by Lucio Fulci, who’s best-known for Italian horror cult favourites such as The Beyond and Zombi 2. And while Westworld‘s creators name-checked Sergio Leone as having an influence on their decision to explore Shōgun World – specifically mentioning the easy-to-identify similarities between spaghetti Westerns and samurai movies – we figured everyone’s already extremely familiar with Leone classics such as Once Upon a Time in the West.
Besides, all the head-sawing and hand-chopping we saw in Shōgun World is a great primer for Massacre Time, which (as if the name doesn’t tell you) is a supremely brutal tale. Genre favourite Franco Nero plays a man who’s reluctantly summoned to his hometown, where he reconnects with his estranged brother as they band together to fight a local gang of ruthless outlaws. The story isn’t outstandingly original, but the violence is unusually heightened, with a “man vs. bullwhip” scene (glimpsed in the trailer above) and a climactic shootout involving many, many, many bullets.