The Last Samurai

Year: 2003
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: John Logan, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz


For the second film in a row we have a movie about the last member of a dying culture, starring a white man.  The titles of the films and casting make great fodder for comedians but I do think both movies are great. When this film came out I specifically remember seeing Paul Mooney talking about this movie, his punchline was that he was going to make a movie called “The Last N**** on Earth” starring Tom Hanks.  In fact, with this movie much more than The Last of the Mohicans I hear people making jokes to that affect.  I think that has more to do with what people think about Tom Cruise than it does the actual movie though.  This is an epic movie and I am usually a fan of them when they offer such incredible battle scenes.  I love the portrayal of Japanese culture in this movie and love the specific time in history it covers. The invention of the gun changed warfare forever.  It was the end of the warrior and the ascension of the soldier.  There is a great History Channel special on the subject in the special features of the DVD. I think this film is a glowing example of what westernization can do to foreign cultures, and how in the end greed always wins no matter what is right.

I think Edward Zwick is a very talented director and specifically good at these period pieces.  I like his portrayal of other cultures and think he does an exceptional job of educating his viewers about them. I for one am not overly familiar with Japanese culture but fell in love with this films portrayal of it and hope that it is accurate. I think the character of Nathan Algren has an incredible transition that I have always admired.  He is very much the American man. A good man in truth, but haunted by his experiences and flawed with arrogance.  He is proud, as any heroic American should be, but he has lost his way.  Living with this foreign culture he grows to appreciate and eventually love it. Learning to appreciate this unfamiliar culture he finds a way to live with himself again. He learns to believe in something and he learns that there is more to the world, it’s a realization that humbles him.  There is nothing more riveting to me personally than to see a character in a movie humbled and for that character to learn from the experience to go on and redeem himself. It’s an incredible thing really, and I think the Algren character does it as well as any I have ever seen.

I am and always have been a sucker for a great battle scene.  I sincerely think this movie offers some of the greatest I have ever seen.  Not only are there guns but there is plenty of sword fighting, and sword fighting is always cooler. The Samurai were cool in so many ways, but there is one thing nobody can ever take away from them and that is their bitchin armor.  These guys are scary looking and they are attacking with a dizzying array of weapons with a speed that is unbelievable.  It’s shameful how they are gunned down in the end.  It was a coward that stood behind that gun giving the order.  A coward that sat on a pile of money and was motivated by greed more than anything else.  Not even half the man that any one of those riding after him were but it didn’t matter with the kind of weapons he had at his disposal.  He may be shamed in the end but he still won. and his winning cost the lives of so many incredible people.  He does lose when all is said in done, but only after winning and taking far too much in doing so. As much as what happened sucked, there really is nothing more heroic or powerful then seeing men ride to their death.  Knowing there is no hope but choosing to go anyway because you believe in something so greatly; it’s an inspiring thing to watch. It’s even more inspiring to see the Japanese soldiers bow down to them in the end.  These men were part of their heritage but they had become blinded and done something unspeakable in the name of expansion.  Their show of respect in the end is very moving.  It is a great way to cap one of the best battle scenes I have ever seen.

I think the character of Nathan Algren was incredible and very well written.  I think there are probably many great actors who could have pulled off the role with varying differences.  Yet Tom Cruise played the part and he did an incredible job.  I have said time and time again that I am no fan of Cruise but I thought he gave an incredible performance in this film. I think it is a bit much that Tom Cruise is the man to change Japan in the end of the movie but what are you gonna do? Sometimes you have to accept something ridiculous in light of so much that was great.  Ken Watanabe is really the greatest actor of the film.  I think Watanabe has been great in everything I have seen him in, he has a great voice and pulls off badass really easily.  As Katsumoto he was incredible and I think he was robbed of the Academy Award that year.  He was nominated but lost to Tim Robbins for his performance in Mystic River. It’s a shame but regardless I think his performance was one to remember.

This is a movie that I felt I learned from and it has lesson I do my very best to carry with me everyday.  The lesson I take from it is to not judge other cultures.  We see the Americans in this movie completely disregard the Samurai, referring to them as savages with bows and arrows.  Yet there is so much more to these people than meets the passing eye of an arrogant nation.  Algren learns that because he had no other choice but to take the time to do so.  Had Algren not been captured he might have just as easily continued seeing them as savage people but when he is held in captivity he has nothing to do but study the people holding him.  I think we all have the capacity to judge people we don’t understand in this way and far too often we fall victim to that judgement.  We won’t all have the opportunity to see what Algren saw beneath the surface, but we should all be aware that there is always more than meets the eye.  Foreign cultures always seem confusing and aloof to people who don’t know any better and too often those people have no interest in knowing any better.  I think the kind of arrogance that leads people to be judgmental is shameful.  I do my very best at all times not to be that kind of person and this is one of the many movies that taught me that. Another lesson, one I’ve also taken from several movies, is the danger and shameful nature of arrogance.  We all fall victim to it now and again but it does us no good in any facet of life.

This movie can be easily dismissed because the title and leading star can make it seem ridiculous but I am telling now that isn’t the case here.  This is a rich and beautiful movie with plenty to appreciate about it.  I love this movie as I love any movie I feel I learn from. Aside from all of that is the great action the movie has to offer, the battle in the end is epic and emotionally moving.  Having said all of that I think this movie is without doubt worth your time to see it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


O, yay. Another last of something that isn’t even the something. I think you guys know my stance on these types of movies already, and if you don’t please read The Last of the Mohicans. I am not going to go and elaborate again on how stupid it is to have a movie where a white guy is the last of something he can’t possibly be the last of. So sorry Tom Cruise…you can’t be the last samurai! You. are. from. New. York


Oh my god. Are you serious? Let’s just kern the shit out of the top billing so it stretches across the entire top. And let’s be lazy as possible and just center the typography, and cheese it up by putting a chinese symbol behind it. I understand you have to put Tom Cruise on the front, and there isn’t anything wrong with it, but do you see my point? He can’t be the last samurai  GAH, SMH.

NEXT MOVIE: Layer Cake (2004)

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