The Last Samurai: film Review

Monday, August 08, 2011

“From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seen such discipline.”

This is one of favorite movies so far, Ken Watanabe is such a wonderful actor…good thing he was nominated for an Academy Award for this movie :) As for Tom Cruise, he did well too. :) In The Last Samurai, an American soldier travels across the world to train a newly burgeoning Japanese army in preparation for defeating the Samurai.The title of Edward Zwick’s The Last Samuraiappears to apply to not only the Samurai’s leader Katsumoto, but also Nathan Algren, an American soldier who lives with the Samurai and eventually learns their ways and customs. The film goes to great lengths to analogize Algren and Katsumoto to underline, as well as blur, the cultures that define both characters. It would also seem, however, that despite these obvious similarities, Katsumoto’s clear equal in rank and influence is the American Colonel Bagley. Throughout the film, Zwick makes the differences and similarities between the traditional Samurai and the modernized American most obvious with Bagley and Katsumoto. With the position, relationships, and portray of both Bagley and Katsumoto, Zwick brings out the contrast of new America and time-honored Japan.

When we are first introduced to Colonel Bagley, he is sitting at a table with Japanese representatives in an attempt to make a deal for his – and Algren’s – services. Katsumoto manages to win the heart of the audience before he is ever seen. Later on in the film, Hasegawa elects to die at Katsumoto’s hand for his betrayal.  Though Katsumoto’s actions seem barbaric, it is later revealed that he was truly showing Hasegawa compassion.  To Katsumoto, as well as the rest of the Samurai, they are fighting for their livelihood and love, not for territory and hatred.  Katsumoto fervently believes that he is fighting the rebellion for the Emperor best interest, as he is under the impression that the Emperor is being brainwashed by his advisors:  “No, Highness.  I rise against your enemies… They advise their own interest”.

While this may or may not be true to some degree, Katsumoto does not raise his blade to disintegrate the nation, but to protect.  To Katsumoto and the Samurai, the preservation of tradition and honor is above every individual’s needs. Katsumoto’s relationship with his sister, Taka, immediately seems to counter-act Katsumoto’s compassionate nature.  He gives Taka the obligation to take the wounded Algren, who had killed her husband on the battlefield, into her home to care for him. What seems like a cruel task, however, is truly Katsumoto teaching Taka to make peace with death.  Not to mention, it shows the audience that Katsumoto is just as respectful and honorable to his perceived enemies.  Katsumoto could have had no knowledge that Algren would become his good friend, even if he recognized Algren’s warrior spirit on the battlefield.

Still, to Katsumoto, this proved that Algren was special.  The same can also be said of his execution of Hasegawa.  While it may seem brutal to other cultures, to the Japanese – and especially the Samurai – living with dishonor is far worse than death.  By giving what Katsumoto asserts is an honorable death to Hasegawa, Katsumoto was extending the Samurai’s version of mercy. Although the end part was really heartbreaking, it really made reminisce the 300 movie, they are united till the end. Katsumoto really got my heart here, inspiring story.

I love this movie. The story. The actors. The plot. The place. The script. Everything. I can watch this movie over and over again.  :)

“You have nightmares.”
“Every soldiers have nightmares.”
“Only one who is ashamed of what he has done.”
Katsumoto to Algren under the blossom tree.

watch the trailer here: 

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