Five Legendary Chambara Actors and Their Respective Fighting Styles

Orochi / The Serpent (1925)

If you think you can kick this poor guy's ass, you're dead wrong

1. Onoe Matsunosuke – Kicking Ass Kabuki-Style
Distinctive Feature: A fighting style similar to Kabuki, with slow, simple movements that are meant to make the hero look cool, and everyone look incompetent
Why It’s Cool: This style emphasizes proud and powerful stances, with minimal strikes to dispatch enemies.
Seen In: Gôketsu Jiraiya / Jiraiya, the Ninja (1921)
Possible Special Attack: The Honorific Strike – Onoe goes on a Kabuki monologue full of honorifics and complicated archaic Japanese words, which can confuse even well-versed Japanese Kabuki fans, and suddenly unleashes an unexpected strike to his opponent’s abdomen.

Gôketsu Jiraiya / Jiraiya, the Ninja (1921)

His frown looks a lot more deadly than that fake looking prop

2. Ichikawa Utaemon – Dancer of Death
Distinctive Feature: A fighting style somewhere in between Kabuki and dance, but much quicker
Why It’s Cool: Probably the most beautiful style to look at, until Ichikawa removes your eyeballs with the tip of his sword.
Seen In: Dokuro / The Skull (1927)
Possible Special Attack: The Ballet Disemboweler – Ichikawa performs successive Fouetté en tournants with two blades and his arms extended, dispatching multiple enemies at once and creating a giant mess for his servants to clean up later.

3. Arashi Kanjuro – Slippery Samba Swordfighter
Distinctive Feature: A fighting style with complicated footwork and movement that makes him very elusive
Why It’s Cool: Arashi looks like he could be better than Cristiano Ronaldo with a football. Hopefully, he’s allowed to bring his sword on the pitch and chop him up good.
Seen In: Kurama Tengu (1928) and Kurama Tengu: Kyôfu jidai / The Frightful Era of Kurama Tengu (1928)
Possible Special Attack: The Seven Slash Shuffle – Move like a butterfly, sting like a rabid wolverine. Arashi quickly steps around his opponent repeatedly, burying seven slashes to his enemy’s two legs, two arms, liver, neck, and head.

Kurama Tengu (1928)

According to GameFAQs it's R1 + Square + 360, followed by L2 + L3 + Triangle and finish off by throwing your controller at your brother

4. Bando Tsumasaburo – The Manic Panic Frantic Fantastic
Distinctive Feature: A realistic fighting style where Bantsuma stumbles, slips and makes mistakes, yet somehow still kicks everyone’s ass.
Why It’s Cool: He looks like he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing sometimes, yet somehow prevails if only because he’s a badass. If only life were that simple.
Seen In: Orochi / The Serpent (1925) and Gyakuryu / Backward Flow (1924)
Possible Special Attack: The Panic Attack – Bantsuma goes apeshit crazy and f-in kills everyone near him randomly and with no real plan. This move also allows him to deflect all roof tiles and large sticks thrown at him while making funny faces.

Orochi / The Serpent (1925)

I seriously need to find a picture with those flying roof tiles

5. Ôkôchi Denjirô – Slapstick Samurai
Distinctive Feature: A style that employs jumps, awkward semi-acrobatics, and weird postures and movements, either to throw the enemy off or to make him die laughing
Why It’s Cool: Chicks love guys with humor, so I’m assuming Ôkôchi gets a lot of action.
Seen In: Oatsurae Jirokichi goshi / Jirokichi the Rat (1931) and Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935) [No acrobatics, ’cause he’s only got one arm, but that’s one funny looking stance if you ask me]
Possible Special Attack: Banana-peel Bash – Ôkôchi throws a banana peel at his opponent’s feet, and then stabs him after he slips and weeps in embarrassment.

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

Am I too late to audition for Scar in The Lion King?


Though all five chambara superstars are more or less contemporaries, there is an obvious evolution in the way these films portray swordfights. Stemming from the tradition of Kabuki, where most early actors were trained, most early films retained not only its acting style, but also the way action was depicted: beautiful, strictly choreographed, but rather slow and predictable. Eventually, pioneers of new fighting styles emerged, some as a reaction to Kabuki tradition and their desire to break away from it (see the extras of Digital Meme’s Talking Silents series for more information). By the time the golden age of chambara came along (50s – early 70s), all films used more realistic sequences and styles, with films such as Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari highlighting the brutality (and not the supposed beauty) and harshness of fights-to-the-death. Still, its always interesting to look back at where things came from, and we should all be glad some of these films are still with us today.

For more information about some of the above mentioned movies, see: this feature.