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The Last Samurai (2003) - R
With the horrors of the Civil War behind him, Captain Nathan Algren spends his days comforting his wounds with the bottle. Despite his pathetic status Japan strikes a deal hat lands Algren in Japan with the intent to train the "Emperor's troops" so that they can put an end to the Samurai legacy. But when Algren is captured by the Samurai after a failed attack, he finds himself gaining a deep respect for the culture he was prepared to destroy after he is mentored by sansei Omura. With the final battle between Samurai and Emperor's troops on the horizon, Algren is prepared to fight alongside Omura and his men in an attempt to save the Emperor from his crooked associates.
Written by: John Logan (story and screenplay).
Directed by: Edward Zwick.
Tagline: Perfection, Honor, Bravery, in everything you do, in everything you believe.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, War, Romance.
“The Last Samurai” is a brilliantly poignant film. Quoted as “Historywood” by producer Edward Zwick, “The Last Samurai” depicts the historical extinction of the Samurai warriors in high-budget Hollywood flare. But the similarities end there and as Zwick states, “it is up to Hollywood to retell history and not to bolder it” implying that “The Last Samurai” is more documentary than fictionalized, save for the perspective shift and the romantic overtones that help to knit the film into a tightly woven story with many allegorical plotlines.
“The Last Samurai” begins in 1876 in San Francisco where Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), jaded by the horrors of war, has sought solace at the bottom of a bottle. As he slinks closer to a despairing death his life finds purpose once more in the service of warfare. The Japanese, led by the political shogun Omura (Masato Harada), have offered to employ Capt. Algren, his much despised Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn), and his old war buddy Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly) to train the new Imperial regiment for the sum of $500/month.
As the three men struggle to train their incompetent peasant soldiers they converse with Mr. Simon Graham (Timothy Spall), a British translator who has made a life for himself out of political diplomacy in Japan. In his spare time, Mr. Graham explores the way of the Samurai, Algren’s latest enemy. As the Samurai head into restricted areas an early battle is called, against the approval of Captain Algren, and the incompetent army is sent out to overtake a band of warriors who sole purpose has been warfare and servitude for the past thousand years.
As Algren predicts, incompetent soldiers prove futile in the fight against the savage Samurai, gunfire or no. As much of the troops are slaughtered, Algren finds himself a hostage to the Samurai and is taken away to their village. Under the hospitality of the noble Taka (Koyuki), sister to Samurai leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) and widow of the late warrior who was slain by Algren, Algren rests and heals his wounds. His daily expeditions are accompanied by “Bob the Samurai” (Seizo Fukumoto) as Algren names him. As Algren comes to learn of the Samurai way under the watchful eye of Bob, he also begins to take up didactic yet cryptic conversations with Samurai leader Katsumoto. Algren comes to understand that Katsumoto and his men believe that they are acting in service of their Emperor, who is being ill-used by the villainous Omura and his men. In an attempt to rapidly modernize Japan and do away with cultural foundations, Omura has decided to destroy the Samurai, thereby hiring Algren to help him. First an enemy to the Samurai, Algren comes to embrace their ways and becomes overwhelmed by the spiritual power and sincerity of the honorable people.
Poignant moments with Taka’s children, and ironic dialogue between Algren and “Bob” add humor to the rather stoic docudrama. As Algren immerses himself in the Samurai culture he is equally preparing himself for a series of trials that will test the endurance and will of the Samurai people, including a deadly rescue of Katsumoto from Omura’s hideaway. Eventually the film works its way to a climactic war scene, likening the event to “Custer’s last stand’ whereby three hundred trained warriors will take on thousands of Imperial soldiers in hopes that their swords can honor their people before the gun-power obliterates their race.
Leaving their women behind to save their existence, the fated Samurai head out to war. Ironically, thanks to Algren’s innovative war tactics the Samurai withstand the Imperial army for longer than expected. Ultimately however, the Samurai meet their predestined fate and Captain Algren stands alone on a battle field that testifies to the doom of a race more honorable than any he had ever seen. Presenting the Emperor with Katsumoto’s sword, the spiritual gift moves the Emperor and he finally gains the strength to stand up for what he believes is the right choice for his people. The fate of the Samurai as death, Algren, the lone man, returns to the village to settle down, finally finding peace thousands of miles away from his home land.
The Last Samurai was a brilliant film that was as emotion-evoking as it was dramatic, comical, and romantic. The motif of the ‘dressing of the warrior’ was so sincere, the score so brilliantly attune to the scene that, emotions both of actors and audience overflowed. The dramatic battle scenes wrap one up in the adrenalin pounding race to death, and the gripping end will leave you in tears. Despite the predetermined end the audience is still absolutely taken aback by Zwick’s depiction of the Samurai’s final battle. The ironic contrast between honorable warrior and heartless killer is clearly drawn, villain-izing the leader of the Imperial army more than the soldiers themselves, who faithfully execute their orders, despite the pure malice of Omura’s intent. As Samurai fall in every direction the look of horror on the Imperial soldiers’ faces perfectly attests to the truly dramatic historical moment that befell Japan at the end of the nineteenth century. Like its contemporaries, Braveheart, The Patriot, The Gladiator, “The Last Samurai” tells of one man’s war bound epic to overcome the odds and stand up for his beliefs, despite the outcome.
Tom Cruise plays Captain Nathan Algren, U.S. soldier turned Samurai who finally learns to embrace a lifestyle that is doomed to fail.
Ken Watanabe plays Katsumoto, the honorable Samurai leader whose loyalty to the Emperor follows him to his death.
Tony Goldywn plays Colonel Bagley, the mechanic soldier who executes orders without thinking of, or being affected by, the outcome.
Masato Harada plays Omura, the villainous political adviser to the Emperor who bullies around his master, sways political treatises, and heads the abolition of the Samurai.
Koyuki plays Taka, the graceful and humble widow of a Samurai soldier who is slain by the man she is forced to invite into her home; Nathan Algren.
Timothy Spall plays Mr. Graham, the political translator/ journalists who befriends Algren and uses their ironic acquaintanceship to document the fate of the Samurai.