5 Movies Like Yojimbo (1961)

Staff & contributors
The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

, 1985

An attempt to articulate just how vast and magnificent the scope of Akira Kurosawa’s 乱 (Ran) is will inevitably fall short. Recognized as a master of epics, including his 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai, 1954), Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear set in medieval Japan. Each shot is labored and precise, as sublime landscapes overwhelm the screen, dwarfing the armies of men fighting below. 

At the center of the ensuing wars is Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging warlord. Ichimonji divides his conquered land between his three sons, Taro, Jiro, Saburo. The Ichimonji clan, however, will not settle for less than everything. Father and sons scheme against one another, leading to violent plots for control over the kingdom. Greed poisons the Ichimonji’s bloodline, pervasive and all-consuming. The tragedy that unfolds is indeed as poignant as any great Shakespeare work. 

The road ahead is lined with bodies, blood, jealousy, paranoia—and it’s a long way to the bottom from the throne. Kurosawa, confronting his own mortality and legacy, achieves a titanic masterpiece with Ran. Few films so deeply grasp the tragedy of war at this visceral level. While Ran is not an easy watch, it’s a must-watch for all.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Akira Terao, Daisuke Ryû, Haruko Tôgô, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Ueki, Jinpachi Nezu, Jun Tazaki, Kazuo Katô, Kenji Kodama, Kumeko Otowa, Mansai Nomura, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Norio Matsui, Pîtâ, Reiko Nanjo, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Susumu Terajima, Takeshi Katō, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuo Yamashita, Tokie Kanda, Toshiya Ito, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Zushi, 井川比佐志

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Running on Empty is a movie that covers many timely themes including capitalism, education, and social class. It tells the story of a family who have to go on the run and hide their true identity for the rest of their lives. Director Sidney Lumet’s light touch on heavy topics gives the movie a tender and intimate atmosphere throughout. Aside from the great script, River Phoenix's performance is definitely one of the biggest highlights of this movie, where he successfully delivers a restrained yet fascinating performance. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch also give a top-notch performance that adds to the movie’s thrill. In short, Running on Empty is the kind of movie that shows there is courage in running away when it's the right thing to do.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Drummond, Angela Pietropinto, Augusta Dabney, Bobo Lewis, Burke Pearson, Christine Lahti, Daniel Dassin, David Margulies, Donna Hanover, Ed Crowley, Elżbieta Czyżewska, Herb Lovelle, Jenny Lumet, Jonas Abry, Judd Hirsch, Justine Johnston, L.M. Kit Carson, Leila Danette, Lynne Thigpen, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Martha Plimpton, Michael Boatman, River Phoenix, Ronnie Gilbert, Sloane Shelton, Steven Hill, William Foeller

Director: Sidney Lumet

Rating: PG-13

, 1992

Slow, contemplative, but captivating, Baraka uses no narration, dialogue, or text to connect its images. The documentary stitches together shots with different subjects from different locations around the world. At first, it seems very peaceful—gorgeous, high-definition shots of nature paired with a soothing, resonant score that lulls you into hypnosis—but as the film progresses, director and cinematographer Ron Fricke presents more scenes with people, from the cities to the countryside, to places rarely documented on film. Depending on how you look at it, Baraka will either feel like just a compilation of screensavers or a profound meditation on how intrinsically connected everything is. It’s totally breathtaking either way.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Patrick Disanto

Director: Ron Fricke