Japan’s action films dealing with the Feudal era are known as Chambara, which is slang for Japanese swordplay or swashbuckler films. These films are commonly referred to as Jidaigeki (era dramas) and are generally set in the Edo period (1603-1868). These films chronicled the exploits of majestic Samurai, mysterious Ninja, and the masterless Ronin.
It happened during the Meiji restoration in Japan (1877-1912), where the Samurai class was abolished and thousands of warriors who had served their lords in battle over many centuries were forced to hang up their swords. Ironically, it was also during this time that moving pictures began to take shape under such visionaries as Thomas Edison (Kinetoscope) and Louis Lumiere (Cinematographe). The ability to record visual images presented a new way to capture and preserve knowledge.
The first Chambara film titled “The Fight at Honno Temple” was released in 1908 and its director, Makino Shozo, became known as the father of Japanese cinema. Because of the films popularity, many renowned sword masters became the primary source of inspiration for developing the techniques that would be used many decades later to create the Samurai and Ninja epics of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Having the wisdom and skill of classically trained swordsmen brought a new sense of “Realism” to these films because the characters actually used historically proven fighting techniques that had been adapted to film. The significance of the Chambara film genre in world cinema is enormous. Stoic heroes fighting against unbeatable odds, honor and loyalty tested, and betrayal at every turn.
Director Akira Kurosawa made many powerful Chambara films that inspired the Westerns of Hollywood. Kurosawa's film “Seven Samurai” (1954) was later remade in America and titled “The Magnificent Seven.” The Hidden Fortress (1957) is acknowledged as an inspiration for “Star Wars,” and “Yojimbo” (1961) was remade as “Fistful Of Dollars.”
Chambara was also popular in a variety of film series including; “Zatoichi”(1962-72), “Shinobi No Mono”(1962-66), “Hanzo The Blade” (1972-74), “Lady Snowblood” (1973-74), and based on the epic Manga comics by Kazuo Koike and Goseke Kojima the amazing “Lone Wolf And Cub” series (1972-74).