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Review: The Last Samurai

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At last! I fulfilled another patriotic duty by seeing another film that was made in New Zealand! [The author is from New Zealand]

The Last Samurai is the kind of story we don’t get a lot of these days – an unashamedly romantic, epic piece.

What’s most unusual is the attitude toward war shown in this film. It doesn’t glorify it, but it does distinguish between fighting with honour (the old Samurai way) and fighting for greed and cowardice (the imperial soldiers mowing down Samurai with a Gatling gun … a horrifying, wonderfully done scene).

Perhaps the best message from the whole film was the message inscribed on the sword given to Tom Cruise’s character, Algren:

“I belong to someone who combines the old ways with the new.”

(Or something like that – it sounded much more profound on screen!)

And that’s the heart of the film. Soulless, tortured Algren comes to fight against the Samurai, who are standing in the way of democracy and progress. He discovers true peace and in return, without really intending to, shows the Samurai leader that while a man may not be able to change his own destiny, he can sure try.

As you watch this, look at the journeys taken by The Last Samurai‘s two main characters. It’s a well-crafted movie, so believe me, as they go through their journey, you’ll be coming along for the ride!


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About Simon Young

  • The topic of old samurai values being lost is probably better covered in “Chushingura.” While the topic of samurai facing the new era is better covered in “Twilight Samurai.”

    The movie, “The Last Samurai,” has its moments, but is heavily influenced by what Americans think samurai were and should be. The vision is romantic, rather realistic.

    The depiction of women is also questionable. Samurai women were also expected to learn martial arts and the women in those areas were somewhat known for their fierce personalities.

    This was a very Hollywood movie.

  • mnc

    I thought that the best thing about the movie was the supporting cast such as Ken Watanabe (love him!!!) and company.

    Also, that scene where the army first comes face to face with the Samurai was just stunning!

    Yes, the movie is romantic but such is the way of hollywood… they romanticize everything as that is how the general public likes their escapism.

  • Was hoping for a bit more from your review.

    I thought this film was a Tom Cruise vanity project and not very good filmmaking. I wouldn’t recommend it or see it again.

  • Tom Cruise’s vanity is a whole ‘nother thread, Triniman…

    For a more nuanced review of the movie, try “You Can’t Handle the Truth” by an American of Japanese descent, Junichi Semitsu.

  • Nuanced indeed. And not to be missed.

  • Er… yes, very nuanced! 🙂 Re romanticism, on the special features of the DVD several of the Japanese actors express their joy at the true nature of Samurai and Japanese culture being revealed to a worldwide audience. Either they were lying or ignorant. Or perhaps they’re telling the truth as they perceived it. Either way, thanks for the National Geographic link.

    One of the interesting special features is the History vs. Hollywood documentary. Worth watching.

  • I enjoyed the movie, though the ending really made me shake my head in the end.

  • Great boiling down of the essence of this film, Simon. I enjoyed it, much more than I thought I would, in fact.

    This is a film in which Cruise — despite the off-screen weirdness — really proves that he can carry a film. The direction and pacing are also excellent here, a very absorbing and entertaining film.

  • I think Cruise proved he could carry a film long before The Last Samurai.

    And I found the film to be enjoyable despite the over the top cheesy ending.

  • Meant to say that Cruise proves that he continues to carry films despite his off-screen machinations.

  • Great film – especially when you accept the fact that it is entertainment and not art. I won’t argue the art point. That’s not my bag. Kung-Fu Hustle was also very entertaining.

  • Yes, for me it was an entertaining and engaging story, thus a good movie.

  • I really didn’t care for this picture. It was relatively entertaining, but when compared to the classic Kurasawa, et al, samurai films from a few decades back the TC version steams.

  • Interesting you should mention Kurosawa. I just saw a documentary about him last week – I’ve only seen Hidden Fortress (spot the Star Wars fan!) but am looking forward to seeing his other stuff, especially Ran.

  • Ran is on my must watch list as well. But do go watch Seven Samurai like now. It’s freaking fantastic. Easily in my top five films of all time list.