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An American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle.
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original title: The Last Samurai
duration: 2h 34min
tags: In the face of an enemy, in the Heart of One Man, Lies the Soul of a Warrior.
keywords: japanesehistory, samurai, japan, japanese, seppuku, hairknot, karma, bowing, rickshaw, year1877, japaneseempire, emperor, honor, captain, 1870s, codeofhonor, americancivilwar, rebellion, civilwar, war
An American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle.
Set in Japan during the 1870s, The Last Samurai tells the story of Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), a respected American military officer hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country's first army in the art of modern warfare. As the Emperor attempts to eradicate the ancient Imperial Samurai warriors in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly government policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai, which places him at the center of a struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his own sense of honor to guide him.
Like many people, it seems, I had severe doubts for this film. From the trailer, it seemed very much like a Dances with Wolves knock-off at best, and typical Hollywood tripe at worst. I am grateful to say that this film surprised me and impressed me on all accounts.
Having studied in the field of Eat Asian Languages and Culture, I was worried about the film's historical accuracy, or lack-thereof, given the period, but I was very impressed with how closely they managed to come while remaining far enough away from the actual historical record to make the events of the film plausible. Most of the major characters, with the exception of the Emperor, are either completely fictional, or based on real historical figures, but with different names. Katsumoto (Watanabe), for example, is obviously based on Saigo Takamori, Japan's greatest cultural hero, and the leader of the 1877 rebellion against the Meiji government (but not the Emperor).
In any case, this film is excellently paced, most thanks to the excellent spot-on acting job across the board from the entire cast. You can actually feel the greater ideas and issues at the core of the conflict, and while many of them remain verbally unstated, they are nonetheless clear to any viewer. Visually, this film is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, for the breathtaking backgrounds, the vibrant colors, the attention to minute details such as the cut of clothing, and the ugly beauty of the battles. The soundtrack is perfect.
Just as impressive is Algren's (Cruise) own subplot, about his own quest for personal worth that he is pushed into through the events in the film. Despite what could have been a horribly campy plotline, much of the emotional content of these scenes are implied and left completely unstated, but just as apparent. This act of restraint, so atypical of Hollywood, is one of this film's major strengths.
It's obvious I enjoyed this film, but to put aside many people's apparent fear of the "ethic-woman-loves-minority-killing-white-guy" syndrome, you will not find it in this film (despite the trailer), at least, not as you might expect.
Tom Cruise is excellent in this film, but he is completely overshadowed by the amazing Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto. It should be expected really, as Saigo Takamori, even after his death, defined the very core of the Japanese national mindset. There were only two ways that this character could have turned out, and fortunately for the audience, and this film, it turned out the best way.
I have seen many Kurosawa films, and have loved them all. That is why I did not have many high expectations for this movie, as I usually do not have for any. I had many doubts about it, especially with Tom Cruise playing a samurai...come on now. I had a feeling it was going to be good, but not this OUTSTANDING. It was the most powerful movie I have seen in 2003 and in a long time. The direction, music, and acting were awesome. It puts you in the world of the Samurai and Feudal Japan, especially with the accompaniment of Hans Zimmer's BEAUTIFUL score. You know a movie is good when the music keeps playing in your head and the images from it keep flashing back. I have no idea how it could have gotten a 7.9 average from the reviews when it should be up in the top 50. I noticed that the lower grades are from people who mostly hate Cruise, which is pathetic. This movie deserved the Best Picture Oscar, and I have no idea how it was not even nominated. Seabiscuit?? Come on!People actually clapped at the end of the movie, and that is a rarity. Everything about this movie was amazing, and each scene worth-watching. If you like Braveheart and Dances With Wolves, you will surely enjoy this. This definitely deserves an A in my book. If you have better feelings about the movie after reading this, I advise you to get the DVD and watch it over and over. Absolutely, positively, no doubt whatsoever the best movie of 2003 =)
What it lacks is artistry, those small touches of personality that might have distinguished its lugubrious history lesson from a bunch of pretty pictures with captions telling the story.
Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise
), a disillusioned American war hero who fought alongside General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, is hired to train the Emperor of Japan's troops to use firearms against an uprising of Imperial warriors led by the "last samurai" leader Katsumoto Morito (Ken Watanabe
). After being captured, nursed back to health, and trained to fight like a samurai, Algren must decide just whose side he is on. The Last Samurai is based on a screenplay by American screenwriter John Logan, filmmaker Edward Zwick (who also directed and co-produced the movie), and co-producer Marshall Herskovitz. The film was inspired by an earlier film, also titled The Last Samurai (1988)
(1991), although the stories are not related to each other. The movie begins in 1876 and spans one year of time. Although no attempt at historical accuracy is made, the story was inspired by several real events. The basic story, that of a samurai rebellion against the Imperial Japanese government, was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion during which samurai in the Satsuma domain in Tokugawa Japan revolted against the new Meiji government. Algren's involvement was inspired by stories of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside the Tokugawas in the earlier Boshin War [1868-1869]. Katsumoto spared Algren partly because of his fighting skill but also because he had seen in a vision the crouching tiger that Algren displayed on the banner hanging from his spear. Sake or sak辿 (pronounced "sah-key") is a type of rice-based alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin. Sometimes referred to as "rice wine", sake is actually brewed more like a beer and has a higher alcohol content (like from 18% to 20%) than mirin (sweet rice wine). Traditional sake is served at a temperature of 98.4属F. Capt. Algren was a veteran of the US Army's famed 7th Cavalry during both the civil war (1861-1865) and the Indian wars in the western territories after the war. As an experienced cavalry officer, he was proficient with using firearms and sabers while mounted on horseback though did not take part in the infamous Battle of The Little Bighorn of 4 July 1876 due to his assignment to train the emperor's army in Japan in 1876. Therefore, having been invited by the emperor to Japan basically kept Algren out of the battle, saving his life so to speak. Although firearms had been in use centuries earlier in Japan, they were later rejected as dishonorable. By the early 19th century, the gunsmith's art had fallen into disuse. However, both sides did use firearms in the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion. There are no accounts of ninjas being used by the Meiji government during the Satsuma Rebellion. In fact, it is highly unlikely if they even existed by 1877. The last known use of ninjas in warfare was during the Shimabara Rebellion [1637-1638] during the Edo period, which was 240 years before the Satsuma Rebellion took place. The samurai do well in the first round of the battle but, when the second and third regiments come, they are no match for the Gatling guns. The entire Samurai army is destroyed. Mortally wounded, Katsumoto asks Algren to help him die with honor, so Algren assists him with performing seppuku. At the death of Katsumoto, the entire Imperial army fall to their knees and bow before the fallen samurai. Only Algren survives. Later, as the Emperor (Shichinosuke Nakamura
) is about to sign the treaty between the Americans and the Japanese, a badly-injured Algren appears before the court and offers Katsumoto's sword to the Emperor in hopes that he will remember all that his ancestors have done. The Emperor accepts the sword and rules that this treaty is not in the best interest of his people. When Omura (Masato Harada
) protests, the Emperor informs him that he has decided to confiscate Omura's family's assets and make of them a gift to the people. He offers Katsuomoto's sword to Omura should he not be able to live with the disgrace, but Omura bows and backs away. The final scenes show Algren returning to Katsumoto's village and to Taka (Koyuki
) and her sons. In a voiceover, Simon Graham (Timothy Spall
) says: And so the days of the samurai had ended. Nations, like men, it is sometimes said, have their own destiny. As to the American captain, no one knows what became of him. Some say he died of his wounds, others that he returned to his own country, but I like to think he may have, at least, found some small measure of peace that we all seek and few of us ever find. Although he's been taught some Samurai swordplay, Algren is not Samurai. There is some confusion among viewers because of the fact that the word "samurai" is both a singular word and a plural word. In the singular, samurai can refer to a specific individual, as "Katsumoto is a Samurai." In the plural, samurai can refer to Samurai warriors in the collective, as "Katsumoto is Samurai" or "Katsumoto's Samurai." Therefore, it can be argued that the "Last Samurai" can refer either to Katsumoto himself, to his Samurai army, or to the last of the real Japanese Samurai. In the bonus section on the DVD, the director explains that the title refers to the Samurai as a race or class of people. The whole movie, in fact, is based on the end of the Samurai culture and the emergence of a new way of life in Japan, based on western ideals. The Last Samurai is often compared to Dances with Wolves (1990)
(1990) and A Man Called Horse (1970)
(1970) for the storyline, although both of these two movies deal with Native American Indians, not Japanese samurai. If it's similar samurai movies you want, try the TV miniseries Shogun (1980)
(1980) or Akira Kurosawa's Shichinin no samurai (1954)
(Seven Samurai) (1954). The classic epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
(1962) is another film with a story about East meeting West, a westerner bonding with a group of "natives" that he joins up with, and is critical of westernization becoming intrusive to foreign societies/cultures.
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