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EntertainmentNutz Feature

The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai
Buy this Double-sided poster
 at AllPosters.com

Release Date: December 5, 2003
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director:
Edward Zwick
Screenwriter:
John Logan, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Starring:
Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Ken Watanabe, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shun Sugata, Shin Koyamada, Seizo Fukumoto, Schichinosuke Nakamura, Koyuki, Masato Harada, Sosuke Ikematsu, Aoi Minato
Genre: Action, Drama
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and battle sequences)
Official Website: LastSamurai.com

Plot Summary: After examining the ravages of 19th century America in his Academy Award-winning Civil War drama "Glory", director Edward Zwick explores the birth of modern Japan in "The Last Samurai," a sweeping epic set in Japan during the 1870s. Tom Cruise stars as Capt. Nathan Algren, a respected American military officer hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country's first army in the art of modern warfare. As the Emperor attempts to eradicate the ancient Imperial Samurai warriors in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly government policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai, which places him at the center of a struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his own sense of honor to guide him.

Review by Peter Veugelaers © 2004
- Take a pot shot but be warned.

The American Government, as with any government, should be made to look at itself through a cinematic lens. Whether it has any impact is another story; the point has at least been raised in the public arena.

The Last Samurai is a confrontational film; in this case the American Government is targeted for their so-called profit motive in interfering with the interests and business of other countries.

Whether we disagree or not with what the American Government is doing today or in the past, the style of Samurai’s political point is bold and brave. Samurai is serious, like those who voiced their vehement opposition to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq last year - these kinds of films are the meat of American cinema although the execution is potentially off-putting and unremarkable.

Satire does a similar job in challenging the status quo, but because of the flippant humour in satire the message might not be as powerful as something like this. Samurai is assertive – when the central character puts down Colonel Custard it’s bold, and sticks in the memory because the idea behind the comment is relevant today. Custard got proud, which is what America has become.

Set during the 1870s, a military adviser called Nathan Algren, played by Tom Cruise, is assigned to train Japanese soldiers under Emperor Meiji who is negotiating with American interests in the modernisation of Japan into Western technology. The soldiers will fight against a rebellious faction – a village of samurai intent in keeping with tradition – and when they do conflict Nathan is taken hostage during his men’s defeat. Nathan immerses himself in samurai culture and may find his purpose in life there, and so when its time to confront the army he once fought for, his sympathies lie in a different direction.

For an historical action movie this is quite sentimental in that it moves along in a tone of gentle reverence and curiosity for Japanese life, depicting them without blemish and negation, and is reserved towards the Americans.

This is not a homage to those historical epics of recent time although Samurai seems like a smorgasbord of good films rolled into one. It fuses elements from epics of the last fifteen years, such as Dances with Wolves - the American soldier assimilates into another culture where he is on a journey of enlightenment; Glory - vast and well mounted, with striking cinematography and production design, set among the times of the Civil War; Saving Private Ryan - the code of honor in battle, the tradition of the samurai warriors, is an ethic that is reminiscent in principle of how the D-Day soldiers were regarded as heroes in Steven Spielberg’s homage (without the American patriotism); Braveheart - the unflappable heart of the hero fighting for a cause; and, Seven Years in Tibet - eastern spirituality is encountered by an American. The result in The Last Samurai is mostly unremarkable all the same.

Most of the aforementioned films worked because of their compelling and convincing drama. Samurai flows through the clichés in almost every scene. Like when Nathan has a personal vendetta against his Colonel and wishes he could kill him. The Colonel (Tony Goldwyn) is thinly sketched as villainous – a gung-ho American headstrong patriot who is more caricature than character - because he murdered innocent red Indians during warfare, a rather manipulative development because of its brevity and skimming over the complexities of character motivation.

Or when Nathan, rather wisely, so it is depicted, has foresight into the lack of readiness of the platoon he’s heading. Of course, Nathan is wise enough to know the difference and his superiors don’t. This mars Nathan’s otherwise interesting characterisation, inflating him as a hero when put alongside his superiors who are merely cardboard cut-outs.

There are moments of strength, however, but also scenes that strain hard to squeeze significance out of them and you’re left with film making that is formalised and overly deliberate. It’s as if the filmmaker is in the excruciating labour of giving birth to this wonderful creation he has in mind and you get a still birth.

The experience of Samurai is not moving, either. The few, but long, violent samurai battle scenes are not only unwatchable for their violence but are rudimentary, nothing to write home about in a cinematic age of bigger action and special effects and better stunts. There are several set-ups for audiences to get a lump in the throat – like the conclusion of Nathan and Katsumoto’s (an impressive Ken Watanabe) relationship – but I was only touched by the films’ finality, feeling empathy for Nathan.

He’s a man disillusioned with the American dream, a John Dunbar from Dances with Wolves, described by himself in voice-over as beset by the ironies in his life. His voice-over provides a telling glimpse into his mind, and his journey into Japanese culture is a point of connection away from the battle fields of American soil. His restlessness is evident, his search for that elusive catharsis, maybe redemption, unvoiced but dormant. This is the strongest part in the film, played like the star Tom Cruise but also transcending it. The breaking down of walls between him and Katsumoto, and the sensitively handled developing reconciliation with the wife of a samurai he killed, are also solid portraits.

In spite of the pretence that paints a biased picture historically and ideologically, there are several, what we could call, transformative moments, moments that when reflected on can potentially be life-enhancers that transcend cultures because of their universal applicability. Samurai is anti-war, anti-aggression, and pro-inner and community peace, and the samurai’s are portrayed as defenders more than aggressors. The anti-war sentiment in film is always unrealistic yet hopeful about humans to resolve conflicts diplomatically because everyone shares the same basic humanity. The final scene of Samurai, the attempted on going reconciliation between victim and offender (Nathan), and the climax, evoke strong images of humanity’s deepest aspirations.

Trailers
Teaser:
QuickTime, Full Screen
QuickTime, Hi-Res
QuickTime, Med-Res
QuickTime, Lo-Res

Trailer:
QuickTime, Hi-Res
QuickTime, Med-Res
QuickTime, Lo-Res
Windows Media Player, Super Hi-Res
Windows Media Player, Hi-Res
Windows Media Player, Med-Res
Windows Media Player, Lo-Res
Real Player, Super Hi-Res
Real Player, Hi-Res
Real Player, Med-Res
Real Player, Lo-Res

Japanese Teaser:
Windows Media Player, Hi-Res
Windows Media Player, Med-Res
Windows Media Player, Lo-Res
Real Player, Hi-Res
Real Player, Med-Res
Real Player, Lo-Res

Clip 1 - 'Rain and Pain':
Real Player

Clip 2 - 'Center Village':
QuickTime, 5.7MB

Clip 3 - 'Ship' (no audio):
QuickTime, 2.1MB

Clip 4 - 'Dock':
QuickTime, 5.1MB

Clip 5 - 'He's Mine':
QuickTime

Clip 6 - 'Good Conversation':
QuickTime

Clip 7 - 'Can You Change Your Destiny?':
QuickTime

Clip 8 - 'I'll Look for You on the Field':
QuickTime

Clip 9 - 'This is My Son's Village':
Windows Media Player/Real Player, Various

Clip 10 - 'Ronin Fight':
Windows Media Player/Real Player, Various

Clip 11 - 'I Don't Want You to Go':
Windows Media Player/Real Player, Various

Clip 12 - 'Take Your Own Life in Shame':
Windows Media Player/Real Player, Various

Featurette:
Windows Media Player/Real Player, Various

Clip - From Script to Screen:
Macromedia Flash

The MovieNutz Store

The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai
Buy this Double-sided poster at AllPosters.com

 
 

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