There have been a fair number of direct adaptations of Akira Kurosawa’s films, and an even larger number have been inspired by his works. This page is a brave attempt to make sense of it all, for better or for worse. If there is something that you feel should be here but isn’t, or shouldn’t be here but is, let me know!
Note that there are a number of films that are based on the same source material that Kurosawa used but which are not remakes of Kurosawa’s films. I have not listed those here.
At the Gate of the Ghost (U mong pa meung, 2011)
At the Gate of the Ghost is a Thai remake of Rashomon from 2011. It is a capable film but is ultimately unable to innovate and add to the story in a new and meaningful way. At times very beautifully put together, At the Gate of the Ghost suffers from uneven performances and largely unnecessary narrative additions. As a result, it is not necessary viewing solely for its Kurosawa connection, but can be a perfectly passable film for anyone wanting to travel through familiar paths while enjoying a stylised Asian movie.
I have written a full review, which you can find here. The film is available with English subtitles in both Blu-ray and DVD. Do note that these are American versions, and at the time of writing there are no English friendly releases in other regions.
The Last Princess (隠し砦の三悪人 The Last Princess / Kakushi Toride no San-Akunin: The Last Princess, 2008)
The Last Princess is a fairly big budget Japanese remake of The Hidden Fortress (which is also in the original title of the remake). It is not a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch, but it is still fairly entertaining, and I think that it does give you an insight into how certain people feel Kurosawa needs to be “modernized”. The acting is quite good, and the plot is fairly faithful to the original.
Seven Samurai (七人の侍 / Shichinin no samurai, 2008)
Now, here is something quite bizarre: a remake of Seven Samurai that was apparently made available only through one of those pachinko machines in Japan.
You would think that given the concept, this would be some sort of a low-budget no-name project, but the film was actually directed by Hiroyuki Nakano (Samurai Fiction), and stars an ensemble of big name Japanese actors. Among the crew, we have the costume designer Emi Wada, who worked with Kurosawa on Dreams and Ran, while cinematographer Masaharu Ueda (Kagemusha, Ran, Dreams, Rhapsody in August, Madadayo) worked the camera.
Oh yes, and the soundtrack is supposedly composed of Rolling Stones tunes.
As I said, the film is apparently only available on those pachinko machines, so there seems to be no way to purchase it. I haven’t seen it.
Tsubaki Sanjuro (椿三十郎 / Tsubaki Sanjuro, 2007)
A Japanese remake of Sanjuro, which one reviewer described as “line to line, cut to cut and angle to angle” copy of the original, and I would pretty much agree with that, but also add that the charm of the original was lost somewhere. The main reason may be that the young Yuji Oda is unable to command similar screen presence as Toshiro Mifune.
Tsubaki Sanjuro can be purchased from Amazon.co.jp, but comes without English subtitles.
Ikiru (生きる / Ikiru, 2007)
A made-for-TV remake of Ikiru by TV Asahi, which aired in Japan in 2007. Matsumoto Koshiro IX has stepped into Takashi Shimura’s shoes for the main role, and the story has been adapted to take place in the present day.
Ikiru can be purchased from Amazon.co.jp, but comes without English subtitles — or indeed subtitles of any kind.
High and Low (天国と地獄 / Tengoku to jigoku, 2007)
Another made-for-TV remake by TV Asahi, which like Ikiru aired in Japan in 2007. As with Ikiru, the story has been brought from post-war Japan to the present day. The location has also been changed to Hokkaido. Written and directed by Yasuo Tsuruhashi, and starring Koichi Sato, Hiroshi Abe, Kyoka Suzuki and Ken Watanabe’s modelling daughter Anne Watanabe.
High and Low can be purchased from Amazon.co.jp, but comes without English subtitles — or indeed subtitles of any kind.
Samurai 7 (サムライセブン / Samurai sebun, 2004)
A Japanese animated series based on Seven Samurai, but with the action moved into a futuristic steampunk-like society with flying castles and whatnot.
Being 26 episodes, or about 10 hours long, there is obviously some extra content added to the story. For more information, you could check out the Wikipedia article. I lasted for two and a half episodes, until I stopped watching. I’ll have to try again one day, as many people do actually seem to like this one.
Last Man Standing (1996)
A 1996 remake of Yojimbo starring Bruce Willis and Christopher Walken, and written and directed by Walter Hill. Last Man Standing moves the samurai story into a prohibition era town in Texas, where gangsters, bootleggers and prostitutes abound.
It is not a bad film — in fact, it is well worth watching, if only for the Kurosawa reference. I have written a treatment that compares the film to Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars; you can find it here.
Stray Dog (野良犬 / Nora inu, 1973)
A remake of Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, directed by Azuma Morisaki. Appears to be unavailable on home video.
Sanshiro Sugata (姿三四郎 / Sugata Sanshiro, 1965)
Kurosawa re-adapted his original Sanshiro Sugata scripts and produced and edited this remake which was directed by Seiichiro Uchikawa. Kurosawa had originally planned to film the remake himself, but decided to give it to Uchikawa due to the financial and schedule pressures imposed by his work on Red Beard. The film was a commercial success and a critical failure.
It seems that the film has been released on home video at some point, but it appears to be unavailable these days.
A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pungo di dollari, 1964)
Sergio Leone infamously took Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and turned it into a western, launching his career in the process. Kurosawa and his studio were never asked for the rights and were not happy, and successfully sued Leone, receiving a cut from the money the film made internationally. Kurosawa is in fact said to have made more money from A Fistful of Dollars than he ever did from Yojimbo.
Whatever you think of the morality of Leone’s actions, A Fistful of Dollars is by no means a bad film. In fact, it is a brilliant film, and stands well on its own next to Yojimbo, even if it is at times an almost shot-by-shot remake (while at other times it deviates from its source). Clint Eastwood’s screen charisma as the “Man with No Name”, while different from Toshiro Mifune’s is just as fascinating, and the story works very well when adapted into the western setting.
A Fistful of Dollars is available on DVD from Amazon.com (also on Blu-ray) and from Amazon.co.uk, among other places. Also consider the various box sets that collect Leone’s full “dollars trilogy”, including also For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
The Outrage (1964)
Directed by Martin Ritt, The Outrage is a remake of Rashomon with a western setting. Not entirely successful but nevertheless an interesting attempt at an adaptation.
A 1961 UK television film directed by Rudolph Cartier, which uses the same source as the 1960 US film of the same name. Unavailable, to the best of my knowledge. For more information, see below.
A television drama directed by Sidney Lumet from a play by Fay Kanin and Michael Kanin, also titled Rashomon. The film, like the play, claims Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s original short stories as their source, but according to Galbraith (141) is clearly indebted to Kurosawa’s film. The play was later adapted onto the big screen as The Outrage (see above) where Kurosawa was also recognised as a source.
Unavailable on home video, as far as I can see.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Directed by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven is an adaptation of Seven Samurai which is fairly close to the original, despite moving the setting to wild west. An entertaining and critically acclaimed film, it does not quite rise to the level of Seven Samurai, but is very much worth seeing. The film spawned three sequels and was later adapted into a television series which ran from 1998 to 2000.
Sanshiro Sugata (姿三四郎 / Sugata Sanshiro, 1955)
Shigeo Tanaka directed this 1955 remake, which appears to be unavailable on home video formats.
FILMS INFLUENCED BY KUROSAWA
A full list of films influenced by Kurosawa would be very long, if it would even be possible to compile such a list considering the nature of “influence”. What we have below is a list of the most important and interesting films that have a fairly direct link to Kurosawa or his works.
Biutiful is an award-winning film from the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. Many reviews of the film have linked it to Kurosawa’s Ikiru, as both films are about a man diagnosed with cancer and trying to make peace with his existence. I have yet to see this one.
13 Assassins (十三人の刺客 / Juusannin no shikaku, 2010)
Takeshi Miike’s 2010 samurai epic is a remake of a 1963 film of the same name. Miike has mentioned Kurosawa and Seven Samurai as an influence in a number of interviews, and the film apparently also displays that connection. I have not yet seen it, but further discussion of the film can be found here.
Tajomaru (Tajomaru, 2009)
A Japanese film directed by Hiroyuki Nakano and based on the bandit character from Rashomon. It’s not very good. Actually, it’s quite horrible. See my review for more information about the plot.
The 8th Samurai (2008)
The 8th Samurai is a short film directed by Justin Ambrosino, and tells the (fictional) story of a man who was to play an eighth samurai in Seven Samurai until Kurosawa (again, fictionally) had a dream and decided that seven was a better number. For my full review of this well directed and fairly entertaining film, see here.
I know that DVDs of the film have been pressed, but they do not appear to be publicly available at this point.
Vantage Point (2008)
Often referred to as a “rashomonesque” film, at least by promotional materials, Vantage Point directed by Pete Travis ultimately has very little to do with Kurosawa’s film, or even the concept of the “Rashomon effect”. It is also not a very good film. For more of my thoughts, see this thread.
Hoodwinked is an animated film that owes its narrative structure to Rashomon and the 1995 film The Usual Suspects. Don’t expect it to equal Rashomon‘s depth, however.
Kaze No Yojimbo (旋風の用心棒 / Kaze no yojimbo, 2001)
Kaze no yojimbo (Yojimbo of the Wind) is an animated TV series co-produced by Kurosawa Production and loosely based on Yojimbo. It is a modern day story of a young man in search of a girl who wanders into a small town and gets caught up in a violent conflict between two rival criminal organisations. I’m not entirely sure what to think of this one. It is fairly slow, but in some ways quite interesting.
Kaze no yojimbo is available on DVD from Amazon.com.
A Bug’s Life (1998)
A Bug’s Life is an animated film from Pixar whose basic premise is loosely based on Seven Samurai. An ant sets out to hire a band of bugs to fight off a band of grasshoppers that are terrorising the ant colony in which he lives. Not really among Pixar’s best efforts.
An Obsession (冷たい血 / Tsumetai chi, 1997)
Aoyama Shinji’s loose adaptation of Kurosawa’s Stray Dog. I have not seen it yet, so cannot comment on the quality.
Available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Too Much Sleep (1997)
A film directed by David Maquiling and apparently inspired by Kurosawa’s Stray Dog. The story is about a young security guard who loses his gun and sets out on a journey in New Jersey underworld in order to recover it. I have not seen this one, so cannot comment about the quality of the film.
Too Much Sleep appears to be unavailable on home video.
A Japanese film by Kenki Saegusa and based on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove”, therefore sharing a source material with Kurosawa’s Rashomon. I have not seen Misty, but Martinez in her book Remaking Kurosawa discusses it in length as part of the permutations of films that originated with Rashomon.
Appears to be available only in Japanese. Try Amazon.co.jp.
The Wild East (Дикий восток / Dikiy vostok, 1993)
The Wild East is a Kazakhstani film directed by Rashid Nugmanov. It was inspired by The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, and tells the story of a group of runaway circus midgets whose community is terrorised by a Mongolian motorcycle gang. The midgets therefore hire seven tough heroes to defend them.
The film has been released on DVD in Russia, but as I have no experience with Russian online shops I don’t dare to recommend any particular place. But if you do a Google search with the film’s original name, you should be given a number of options.
Iron Maze (1991)
A Hollywood crime film directed by Hiroaki Yoshida, based on Ryûnosuke Akutagawa’s stories and apparently also influenced by Rashomon. A Japanese business tycoon is assaulted and nearly killed, and as the investigation into the matter develops, it uncovers an erotic triangle and a maze of conflicting accounts of just what actually happened. I have not seen this one, so I cannot comment on the execution of this premise.
The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)
A rather poorly received fantasy / science fiction film that bears some influence from Yojimbo. A warrior stumbles into a small village torn apart by two rival warlords and decides to bring them both down and save the village.
The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (I sette magnifici gladiatori, 1983)
An Italian swords and sandals film that is based on the Seven Samurai formula. A peasant village is raided by bandits who are in possession of magical powers. To find help, the village women go in search of a hero who could wield a magic sword and come to their aid. Directed by Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei.
Available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, this Roger Corman produced cult science fiction film took its inspiration from The Magnificient Seven and Seven Samurai. The story is very similar to the two films that it adapts, with a space setting.
Star Wars (1977)
The first of the Star Wars films and later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, George Lucas’s space opera probably needs no introductions. Star Wars was influenced by Kurosawa’s films in general and The Hidden Fortress in particular — so much so that the first drafts of the film read like a straight space adaptation of Kurosawa’s adventure film.
Karate Warriors (子連れ殺人拳 / Kozure satsujin ken, 1976)
A spin-off of the Street Fighter series, this martial arts film directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi is loosely based on Yojimbo with two rival town gangs and a hero who sets off to deal with them.
Available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Four Times That Night (Quante volte… quella notte, 1972)
This Italian film directed by Mario Bava uses the Rashomon technique by introducing multiple conflicting stories of a single night’s event.
Available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Django is an Italian spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci. Although not a direct remake like A Fistful of Dollars, Django shares much with Kurosawa’s Yojimbo: a town divided by two feuding gangs, a mysterious but charismatic gunslinger, and a violent confrontation waiting to happen. A bloody but brilliant film which can stand tall even when compared to the two other films mentioned here.
Youth of the Beast (野獣の青春 / Yaju no seishun, 1963)
A violent gangster film directed by Seijun Suzuki in which the main character plays two opposing yakuza bosses against each other. Influenced by Yojimbo, which was released only two years earlier.
Available on DVD from Amazon.com.