Living proof that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, comes a collection of films, done outside of Japan, which were heavily influenced by Toho produced, and distributed, movies. As expected, Akira Kurosawa‘s movies are easily the most influential films to have come out of Toho, or Japan for that matter, and their impact is reflected below. However, in more recent years, there has been a outreach to pay homage to other films to have gone through Toho by different directors. As a general note, GODZILLA (1998) and Godzilla (2014) are not listed in this section due to the more direct involvement with Toho and the utilization of Toho copyrighted characters.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Magnificent Seven

John Sturges’ western picture about seven gunfighters who are hired to protect a Mexican village from their bandit oppressors. The film is the first, of many, to take their own swing at Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) while moving the story to a western setting, which would become a popular trend in adapting Kurosawa’s work. The film does credit its source material, though, listing: “This picture is based on the Japanese film Seven Samurai, Toho Company, Ltd.” The Magnificent Seven starred Yul Brynner in Takashi Shimura‘s role, and has Horst Buchholz playing a hybrid of Toshiro Mifune‘s role and Isao Kimura’s role. The film was followed up in 1966 with Return of the Magnificent Seven.

InfluenceSeven Samurai (1954)

Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars

Without question, the most famous film which was inspired from a Toho movie. George Lucas’ Star Wars follows the basic principles of The Hidden Fortress (1958). The movie is told from the perspective of two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO who are obviously playing out the roles of the two thieves in The Hidden Fortress, with the first twenty minutes of Star Wars being remarkably similar to the same scenes in Kurosawa’s 1958 film. Star Wars shares numerous similar plot points with its inspiration as well, including Obi-Wan (playing Mifune’s role, more or less) attempting to escort the princess to safety. Star Wars is a rather large deviation from the source material, though, with numerous twists and characters added in. The film was followed up in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back.

InfluenceThe Hidden Fortress (1958)

Last Man Standing (1996)

Last Man Standing

This mid 1990’s offering by Walter Hill is a different take on Kurosawa’s masterpiece Yojimbo (1961). The Bruce Willis vehicle moves the story to a western setting with a mercenary getting caught between the conflict of local Italian and Irish gangs. This film is a little more faithful to the source, Dashiell Hammett’s The Red Harvest, than Kurosawa was, but still borrows more from Kurosawa’s movie than anything else. The film has Bruce Willis in Mifune’s role and Christopher Walken in Tatsuya Nakadai‘s role.

InfluenceYojimbo (1961)

The Ring (2002)

The Ring

Gore Verbinski’s remake of the 1998 film Ring. Like its Japanese counterpart, The Ring focuses on a cursed tape which will kill those who watch it seven days later. The film is, more or less, a direct remake with several scenes added in to explain the origin of the film’s antagonist, Samara (instead of Sadako) in this version, adding a lot of back story that wasn’t in the 1998 offering. The film was followed up in 2005 by The Ring Two, which is directed by Hideo Nakata, the director behind the original 1998 film.

InfluenceRing (1998)

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

Kill Bill: Volume 1

Quentin Tarantino’s largely different take on the 1973 film Lady Snowblood, which was released in a two volume series. It would be unfair to credit Lady Snowblood full heartily for Kill Bill, as the series is really a homage to so many different sources; however, it would not be unfair to credit the 1973 film as the prime inspiration. To put it bluntly, Kill Bill merges the role of Yuki Shurayuki and her mother into one, and adds one member to the roster of murderers. Kill Bill still keeps the chapter story approach, along with several shots (such as when the murders are peering down at the defeated Mother/Bride) and keeps the main title theme of Lady Snowblood (Flower of Carnage by Masaaki Hirao). The film was followed up in 2004 with Kill Bill: Volume 2.

InfluenceLady Snowblood (1973)

Shall We Dance? (2004)

Shall We Dance?

A remake of the 1996 movie of the same name, Shall We Dance?. Produced by Miramax, the same company which had released the original Japanese production in the United States in 1997, the film took the overall story and made it a vehicle for stars Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon. Although with a similar plot, the new movie focuses more on the supporting cast than the original did.

InfluenceShall We Dance? (1996)

Dark Water (2005)

Dark Water

Staring Jennifer Connelly, the film is a reimagining of the original 2002 production Dark Water. The movie is one of the more faithful remakes of a Japanese production committed to a Toho film, although still adds and removes sequences that in turn separates it from the original.

Unlike other horror remakes, the movie keeps the grim ending of the original source with only minor changes.

InfluenceDark Water (2002)

Pulse (2006)


Following the wave of Japanese horror remakes, this production adapts Pulse (2001) for the US market. Although with a similar plot, the movie is 30 minutes shorter than the original and takes a vastly different approach to the material wherein trying to elaborate on the strange occurrences rather than falling back on a sense of mystery that the 2001 feature did.

The film was followed up in 2008 by Pulse 2: Afterlife.

InfluencePulse (2001)

One Missed Call (2008)

One Missed Call

A remake of the 2003 film One Missed Call, which is faithful to the overall plot but adds new sequences and a totally different ending. This particular “influence” is an interesting scenario as the original 2003 movie was actually made with hopes that it would be remade in the United States, as there was a “remake me” fervor in the Japanese horror genre after The Ring‘s success. In the end, it took five years and the original production studio Kadokawa working with Warner Bros themselves to get the remake they wanted.

InfluenceOne Missed Call (2003)

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven

A remake of a remake. The 2016 production took John Sturges’ original 1960 film, which transplanted Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (1954) in a western setting, and updates the premise with more choreographed action and a more racially diverse cast.

While the Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt vehicle owes more to Sturges’ film than Kurosawa’s, the 2016 production does right by crediting the writing talent behind the 1954 samurai epic.

InfluenceSeven Samurai (1954)


Uncredited or Unauthorized Influences

Not all films are forthcoming with their influence, or sometimes even source material. Below are entries that are influenced by Toho films but are not officially credited. Some of these are up for debate, others, like A Fistful of Dollars where lawsuits are involved, are more clear despite the lack of source citing.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

A Fistful of Dollars

The most famous incident of an unaccredited influence. Sergio Leone’s first entry in his “Dollars Trilogy” is an Italian remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) starring Clint Eastwood in Toshiro Mifune‘s role. The film is set in the old west with the “Man With No Name”, the story’s mercenary protagonist, going up against two rival gangs, who he pits against each other. The film keeps the slightly humorist approach to the story, that was a trademark of Kurosawa’s film. Released just three years after the Mifune vehicle, the production caught the attention of Kurosawa who famously stated it was “a fine movie, but it was MY movie”. Toho intervened at this point with a lawsuit, and the filmmakers settled out of court.

The film was followed up in 1965 with For a Few Dollars More.

InfluenceYojimbo (1961)

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Battle Beyond the Stars

Roger Corman, who will appear again on this list, set out to capitalize on the ongoing science fiction craze by crafting what was called “The Magnificent Seven in space”. While the movie, at least from the cast talking about it, cites influence from John Sturges’ 1960 production, Kurosawa’s original Seven Samurai (1954) is never given similar credit. The similarities to the 1960 Western are sometimes overt, especially with the casting of Robert Vaughn who appears in both.

In terms of plot, the story covers a young man attempting to search the galaxy for defenders to help him protect his planet from an invader called Sador the Malmori. Ultimately, a band of warriors is assembled, although much like the 1954 and 1960 productions they are met with heavy casualties and sacrifices in their quest.

InfluenceSeven Samurai (1954)

The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)

The Warrior and the Sorceress

Produced in the 1980’s, this production attempts to adapt the story of Yojimbo (1961) in a sword and sorcery setting. Although drastically more outlandish than its inspiration, the remake lifts numerous segments wholesale from the original besides the fact that the basic plots are virtually identical.

While the film never fairly credits itself as a remake, star David Carradine freely admits it. In fact, in his book Spirit of Shaolin he recounts a conversation with executive producer Roger Corman. The incident involves Carradine countering a claim that it was “like” Yojimbo (1961) with a response that “it’s not like Yojimbo… it is Yojimbo.” Humorously, Corman diffused the conversation citing that Kurosawa’s film was influenced by Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest and this prevented Toho from suing other films like A Fistful of Dollars… seemingly unaware that Toho had actually sued those filmmakers.

InfluenceYojimbo (1961)

A Bug’s Life (1998)

A Bug's Life

The Disney/Pixar production’s influence from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai(1954) is almost something of an in-joke now, although no one on the production side has ever referenced the connection. The movie places ants in the role of the peasants, with a group of grasshoppers as the film’s bandit antagonists. This time around, a group of eight circus performers are hired to get rid of the colony of bandits.

The Seven Samurai (1954) influence on the film was picked up early, with release date reviews such as this one from the Chicago Tribune noting it. The in-joke part comes from director John Landis’ reaction to the film in respects to his own ¡Three Amigos! movie. This was brought p several times until he erupted in a 2011 interview: “They completely ripped it off! The first Pixar movie about the ants, A Bug’s Life, took the same plot.” The irony being that the ¡Three Amigos! is a bit of a parody of The Magnificent Seven.

InfluenceSeven Samurai (1954)

This article was first published on August 19th, 2004.