Here are a few of my favorite books I've read while I paint up my samurai (not listed in any particular order.) I'll try to post my favorite movies in the future, though I suspect we all have the same favorite movies.
I'm actually fairly new to Japanese literature about the period, so it would be wrong for me to call these my favorite books; really, these are about the ONLY books I've read on the period, but I enjoyed all of them. These are also not the only books I've read; I've gone through quite a few of Osprey's titles as well as a few older titles by Stephen Turnbull.
Revenge of the 47 Ronin
by Stephen Turnbull (from Osprey's "Raid" series.)
This book isn't Chushingura, especially at only 80 pages, but it covers all the details well and provides a good framework for wargamers wondering how to arm their collection (lots of spears for samurai!)
A last note on Revenge; Turnbull makes a great observation that though the ronin are praised and made out to be the heroes, we should also consider all the retainers of Lord Kiri who put up a brave defense of their household despite being surprised in the middle of a snowy night.
By Eiji Yoshikawa
Whether you use it for wargame inspiration or not, anyone who games samurai should read Musashi at least once. If you don't, then at least remember to try not to anger any old women named Osugi.
Samurai: The Japanese Warrior's Unofficial Manual
By Stephen Turnbull
The style of writing has plenty of flowery langauge (referring to the Shogun as "His Most Illustrious Highness," or to soldiers who would use guns as "Lewd and sordid persons.") But it's all done in good fun, yet Turnbull still manages to fill the novice with plenty of well-researched details about the samurai life: Do's and Don'ts of the tea ceremony; the hierarchy of bowing; armor and weapons and their use; preparing for battle and what to do after the battle; how to attack castles; how to prepare for head-viewing ceremonies; how to deal with old age and death; and the list goes on.
There are even a couple multiple choice quizzes about how to conduct yourself as a samurai (a few of the options are, "C: Cut his head off.")
It's an easy read. You can pick it up and turn to a random chapter and read.
The Bamboo Sword and other Samurai Tales
By Shuhei Fujisawa
For the wargamer, their are a few fights that can be easily translated into gaming scenarios. For example, in "All for a Melon," a chamberlain has asked a lowly samurai and his friend to be with him when he confronts a senior retainer about a plot; the chamberlain is certain the retainer will need to be killed. The forces involved include the chamberlain, his two samurai bodyguards, the retainer and his two guards. The setting is a small castle room (and possibly the adjoining corridor. I love gaming what I call "micro-skirmishes," (bigger than a duel, but smaller than a skirmish), and this fight is a perfect example of one.
At 256 pages, this book seems too short; I burned through most of the stories in one afternoon, but the book has a little bit of re-readability. Fujisawa apparently has MANY more samurai tales, but the copyright owners, for some reason, will not have them translated.
Hagakure (The Book of the Samurai)
By Yamamoto Tsunetomo
This is another title you can pick up and randomly flip to a page to read. Each story is barely a few paragraphs long.
I, like many people I'm sure, discovered this book after seeing the movie "Ghost Dog, Way of the Samurai," about a assassin for the mob who uses the book as a personal guide to life.
"It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one's sleeve. It may be that when one is sobbering up or awaking from sleep that his complexion may be poor. At such a time, it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge."
Other titlesThere are other books I haven't covered, mostly because I don't own them yet. Here is a short list of some of those books. If any of you have read any of these titles, let me know what you thought. I'm also open to recommendations for anything not in this list. I prefer tales about individuals (such as Musashi) over the grander epics about great lords and large battles (such as "Taiko," by Yoshikawa.)
"Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan"
"Musui's Story: The autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai"
"Katsuno's Revenge and other Tales of the Samurai"
"Pagoda, Skull and Samurai"