I have grown weary of listening to the misguided proclamations when it comes to the most overrated film of the year The Last Samurai. Let’s be frank folks, this film sucked. And it sucked for many reasons. Let me count the ways.
The ending of The Last Samurai is so stunningly awful as to capsize the entire film. I puked, I heaved, I cried in frustration. This film was a tragedy in the making. To tie up everything in a nice happy-ending bow was a crime on the level of Ted Turner colorization. I ask you, “Can we not see films with tragic endings today?” Has film making become so formulaic we can no longer suffer a hero’s death? I sighed with great sadness when Tom Cruise somehow survived multiple bullets from that fucking Gatling gun. Pale and a bit worse for wear, he then presents a warrior’s sword to the oh-so-prissy lisping emperor. If I was Japanese, and I am not, I would be pissed at this piece of shit movie.
Hollywood’s recreation of Japanese history involving samurai warrior Saigo Takamori in the 1870s is as accurate as a comic book. There were no Caucasian men who trained Japanese warriors in the art of modern warfare. There were certainly no veterans of Custer’s Seventh Calvary who traveled overseas. Cruise’s character is a composite, based mainly on Captain Thomas Weir, a survivor of the Little Big Horn disaster. Weir was severely depressed after the battle, committing suicide a year later in 1877. To place a historical magnifying glass to The Last Samurai would essentially rip this sorry film to shreds. I suppose if one reads little history, one can accept the repulsively gigantic liberties taken with actual fact.
I also could not escape the overall feeling of déjà vu throughout this film, with a predictable chain of Dances With Wolves – like events leading to the redemption of the film’s main character. We’ve seen Kevin Costner do this before, hell, we’ve even seen Peter O’Toole do this before in the classic Lawrence of Arabia. A Caucasian man immerses himself in an alien culture, learning their customs, eventually leading them into battle. Along the way, he learns new spiritual beliefs and the great Caucasian hero is redeemed.
In Lawrence of Arabia, our fine protagonist returns to British civilization and arguably commits suicide. O’Toole’s Lawrence was a changed man, disillusioned, frustrated, unable to completely adapt to his old way of life. Costner’s John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves all but abandons his adopted native American tribe before certain massacre. Oh I know, he said he was going to get the cavalry off their ass. But it was just a matter of time before the U.S. Army made target practice of Graham Greene and company.
In The Last Samurai, Cruise returns to the hidden Samurai village as the lone survivor. He eyes the lovely oriental babe and all things end happily ever after. The profound reality, which this film severely lacks, is the widowed women of the village either committed suicide or entered into prostitution to survive. Their way of life had brutally come to an end, and no amount of Superman heroics by Mr. Cruise was going to change that sad fact.
Director Edward Zwick is responsible for this piece of crap, and since his classic Civil War epic Glory (which amazingly had a tragic ending – go figure), has done nothing but churn out one bad film after another. He details throughout The Last Samurai that this band of colorful and fluffy samurai warriors are headed for a Charge of the Light Brigade conclusion. This is going to be a final, tragic stand for an ancient way of life. So to cop out is insulting and offensive. Why pull the punch? What the fuck was Zwick thinking?!
There have been plenty of financially successful films with sad endings, though the present generation would be hard-pressed to find one. Off the top of my head there’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Love Story, Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch and Night of the Living Dead. Anything more recent than 1980 I cannot seriously recall. Thus, we are stuck with bullshit cotton candy like The Last Samurai.
I like Tom Cruise. He’s easily the greatest movie star of his generation. I also happen to think he is an above average actor, with performances in Born on the Fourth of July, Interview with the Vampire and Magnolia serving as great examples. The chunky heart throb gives a good performance as the haunted captain, and I suppose he looks great in samurai armor. His long hair blows in the wind, he’s strategically unshaven, he gets the shit kicked out of him a couple of times and he screams for Saki during alcoholic withdrawal. Along his predictable journey, Cruise bonds with the warriors’ leader, nicely played by Ken Watanabe. Watanabe just about steals the film in the generic Omar Sharif/Graham Greene role. He is perfectly cast, as he looks oriental, but not TOO oriental. Thus, this Caucasian comic book fantasy remains safe for viewing down at the suburban cineplex.
Zwick has gone on record as stating his admiration for the late-great filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who directed brilliant samurai epics during his day including The Seven Samurai, Ran and Kagemusha. The Last Samurai is not anywhere near as good as those films, and lacks the kind of energy, action detail and eventually, profound tragedy that marks those international classics. Kurosawa touches are evident throughout, though the master is undoubtedly snickering in his grave.
I have seen Kurosawa’s Ran at least 10 times and consider it one of the greatest films ever made. For me, watching The Last Samurai was a torturous experience. I was insulted. I am sick and tired of Hollywood telling me I cannot handle tragedy, that when I purchase a movie ticket all I wish to see are thinly veiled imitations of past great films.
I think I’ll commit hari-kari.