Tempted as I am to throw "Star Wars" into this mix, I'll walk the straight and narrow line. However it's worth noting that the Jidai-Geki Knights [link]
does suggest it as an honorary member of the genre. The more samurai films you see, the more you'll find yourself chuckling at the genre tropes that Lucas threw in.
But that's all a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We just want to jump back one or two centuries and cross an ocean… bringing us to number four in samurai cinema countdown, "Sanjuro" by Akira Kurosawa. The legendary Toshiro Mifune didn't play many repeat character roles… in part because this was before the world's media was captured by sequelmania. But his nameless, thirty-something samurai is perhaps his most often repeated role (four times), with the two Kurosawa-directed entries being the stand out winners.
"Sanjuro" is the second film with the character, but easily stands alone as a film. Mifune's character is tough ronin, outwardly lazy (a master of slack-fu!), rough around the edges, but with tendency to do the right thing for people in need… and make a bit of money while he's at it… not to mention downing his share of sake. If it sounds a bit like Eastwood's character from the Leone spaghetti westerns, that's because this is where Leone grabbed the idea. Facing off against Mifune is Tatsuya Nakadai as the baddie master swordsman.
In "Sanjuro" Mifune's character runs into a group of naďve, young, idealistic samurai who find themselves marked men after stumbling into a collision course with a corrupt clan chamberlain. Mifune appears to not care much about their actions, but steps in every time they're about to execute their latest inevitably flawed "cunning plan".
The film has a solid undercurrent of dark humor to it, from the captured vassal in the closet who finds himself uncontrollably drawn to be a co-conspirator to the sword play climax's geyser of blood that makes Python's Black Knight look like he just has a flesh wound. The film celebrates the genre while mocking much of it's core concepts. It's an approach I greatly enjoy.
Have a taste of the Sanjuro trailer, here:[link]