The Last Samurai
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Last Samurai can be found here.

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.

No. 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 (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.

What is sake?

Sake or sak (pronounced 'sah-key') is a type of rice-based alcoholic beverage of Japenese origin. Sometimes referred to as 'rice wine', sake is actually brewed more like a beer and has a higher alcohol content (18-20%) than sweet rice wine (mirin). Traditional sake is served at a temperature of 98.4 degree f.

Capt. Algren was a veteran of the US Army's famed 7th Cavalry during both the civil war in 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.

Were ninjas used?

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.

How does the movie end?

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) and A Man Called Horse (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) or Akira Kurosawa's Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) (1954). The classic epic Lawrence of Arabia (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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