For most Americans, samurai cinema begins and ends with the films of the late Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, whose epics such as "Seven Samurai," "The Hidden Fortress" and "Ran" made the Asian cinema staple jump stateside to wild critical acclaim. But for whatever reason — xenophobia, ignorance, allergy to subtitles — that still leaves a wide gap of Americans who've never seen a samurai flick at all.
They should grab Roland Thorne's book "Samurai Films" and start filling their Netflix queue. From the 1950s to today, he offers a host of great suggestions to taking in some cinematic exploits of kung fu's smarter, older brother. These include "Lone Wolf and Baby Cart," a series of ultra-bloody films of a samurai and his toddler son, whom he pushes around in a blade-equipped wagon; "Lady Snowblood," a violent tale of female revenge, from which Quentin Tarantino lifted several sequences for "Kill Bill"; and "Zatoichi," a 2003 update on Asia's blind, sword-slinging wandering hero.
Unlike the publisher's recent "Horror Films" volume in the same series, there's no DVD stuffed with examples to be found in this one. You're on your own! —Rod Lott