In the 1870s, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), a cynical veteran of the American Civil War, who will work for anyone, is hired by Americans who want lucrative contracts with the Emperor of Japan to train the peasant conscripts for the first standing Imperial Army in modern warfare using firearms. The Imperial Omura (Masato Harada) cabinet's first priority is to repress a rebellion of traditionalist Samurai, hereditary warriors, who remain devoted to the sacred dynasty, but reject the Westernizing policy, and even refuse firearms. Yet, when his ill-prepared superior force sets out too soon, their panic allows the sword-wielding samurai to crush them. Badly wounded, Algren's courageous stand makes the samurai leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) spare his life. Once nursed to health, he learns to know and respect the old Japanese way, and participates as advisor in Katsumoto's failed attempt to save the Bushido tradition, but Omura gets repressive laws enacted. He must now choose to honor...Written by
When the Samurai are summoned to Tokyo to meet Emperor Omura (Masato Harada), they are seen entering the city on horseback as Simon Graham (Tim Spall) is photographing two geisha with a large 8x10 View Camera. The movie then cuts to what he is seeing on the camera's large focusing screen, two geisha standing close to each other while looking into the camera. However, the image on his focusing screen is shown as a sepia toned black-and-white image, not in true color, as it would be in real life. This was pure creative genius on behalf of producer and director Edward Zwick, since color photography had only been recently invented, was very complex, and not widely available. Instead the 8x10 black-and-white silver halide on glass film plate used by Simon Graham would have had a similar sepia toned look when developed. See more »
General Omura Masujiro who developed the Western-style army during the Meiji restoration was killed in 1869 by a conservative samurai, several years before the movie takes place. See more »
They say Japan was made by a sword. They say the old gods dipped a coral blade into the ocean, and when they pulled it out four perfect drops fell back into the sea, and those drops became the islands of Japan. I say, Japan was made by a handful of brave men. Warriors, willing to give their lives for what seems to have become a forgotten word: honor.
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The opening Warner Bros. logo is light blue on a solid black background. See more »
Performed by Tokyo Gakuso
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An American in Japan
Set in 1870's Japan, `The Last Samurai' is most effective when it sticks to the harsh realities of its blood- soaked battle scenes and avoids the softening effects of its two-bit philosophizing.
Tom Cruise is stoic and stolid as Nathan Algren, a former captain of the United States army who is having trouble coming to grips with the part he played in slaughtering a village of innocent American Indians. Now drifting aimlessly through life, Algren disinterestedly agrees to go to Japan to help train its military in the ways of modern warfare so that the nation's leaders can take on and destroy the sole remnants of the samurai forces who are still using swords as weapons. Once he is captured by the `enemy,' however, Algren falls under the spell of the Samurai Code of Honor and switches his allegiance in battle, ending up fighting with the samurai (whom he views as the equivalent of `Indian underdogs' in the struggle) against the people he was brought over to train. The film, thus, becomes a study in redemption as this one man attempts to find his place in the scheme of things and to erase the life-crippling guilt of his past actions.
Director Edward Zwick, who made one of the best war films of modern times (`Glory'), has had less success here, mainly because he stacks the deck so shamelessly in favor of the samurai that we can't help feeing manipulated all throughout the film. In many ways, `The Last Samurai' is as guilty of one-sidedness as those old time Westerns that used to portray the Indians as faceless savages and the White Man as noble adventurers and heroes. Each perspective seems equally unhistorical and phony. It's hard for us to see much meaning in Algren's redemption when the people he is following spend much of their time garroting themselves and chopping off one another's heads. And all the talk about `honor,' `shame,' the beauty of cherry blossoms and getting in touch with the inner self through a zen-type lifestyle don't amount to too much when we stand back and realize that the samurai were basically bloody warriors who often terrorized the general populous with their acts of brutality and violence. The makers of the film want us to see a vast moral chasm separating the samurai from both the Japanese military and the evil American colonials who support them, but it is, ultimately, a distinction without a difference. So when we are asked to cheer on Algren and his compatriots in battle or weep over their fate, the movie loses its grip on us in a major way. The film becomes just another case of glorifying and romanticizing a way of life that we somehow suspect was a bit less noble and honorable than we have always been led to believe by the countless movies on the subject.
Technically, `The Last Samurai' is a mighty impressive achievement. In addition to the eye-catching vistas of rural Japan and a beautifully recreated 19th Century city, the film's large-scaled battle sequences have been stunningly mounted and executed - though the faint-of-heart should note that the body count on screen is enormous and the blood flows generously throughout. There are, also, some admittedly touching moments scattered throughout the film, though the Hollywood corn is never too far from the surface (particularly in Algren's romantic attachment to the wife of a man he killed).
`The Last Samurai' is a joy to look at, but its unsubtle approach to its material and lack of evenhandedness make it far less meaningful and moving than, I'm sure, it both wanted and intended to be.
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