Title: The Last Samurai
Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, William Atherton, Chad Lindberg, Ray Godshall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Masato Harada, Masahi Odate, John Koyama, Timothy Spall, Schichinosuke Nakamura, Togo Igawa, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Shun Sugata
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Date of Release: 2003
Running Time: 154 minutes
When I first heard they were making this movie I was very excited and couldn’t wait for it to be released at the theatre. Then I heard Tom Cruise was cast as the lead and my enthusiasm hit rock bottom. I swore to my family, friends, and students that I wouldn’t waste $9.50 to see this at the movie theatre. And I didn’t.
Even after many people told me the film was very good and that I would enjoy it, despite Tom Cruise, I still didn’t break down and go. Yes, I’m stubborn!
Well, even after all was said and done I did finally watch it on DVD. And you know what? Despite Tom Cruise, I did really like it. I thought the movie was very well done despite some major faults and historical inaccuracies.
Now, I’m not a Tom Cruise basher; he has done some good work over the years. I just couldn’t picture him cast for this part. There would have been so many actors more suited for this role. I do, however, have to admit I really enjoyed watching him get the crap beaten out of himself over and over again. (Funny how many people agree with that statement, even if they have other reasons to feel that way.)
While I enjoyed the movie, I felt many parts of it were too Hollywood, and either could have been left out, or changed.
For example, I would have liked to see more action and/or training sequences, instead of so much romance. After all, it’s really hard to believe that a woman could fall so in love with the man who had killed her husband. Wouldn’t the wife of a samurai seek revenge, especially against a barbarian? I mean at first that’s just what she wants to do.
In addition, how in the hell could have Tom Cruise’s character survived the final battle. Everyone else died, and he was shot numerous times with a large gauge caliber gun. They made sure to show that in graphic slow motion detail. It didn’t make sense.
Then at the very end of the movie he returns to the village where the “rebels” had their base. I would have thought, given the history of Japanese warfare, that such a village would have been burned to the ground. There would have been nothing to go back to, even if the Japanese would have let him return. After all, he was a rebel, a criminal. I would think if, and I mean if, they let him live he would have at least been deported.
Another issue I had with this movie is that technically the audience is made to route for the bad guys. At least they were the bad guys from a true historical perspective. After all, these men were rebels, trying to restore Japan’s old ways. They were anti-government and they killed people (innocents and politicians) to try and push their political agenda.
Those are some of the elements I didn’t like. Fortunately there were plenty of things I did like, which when all totaled makes the movie worth watching.
First of all, I liked the music and the cinematography. The costumes are also great, and I will always be jealous that Tom Cruise got to wear samurai armor before I did. I know that’s petty, but I’m still envious of Richard Chamberlain ever since he did “Shogun,” and wore all those beautiful hakama and kimonos.
Then there was the character played by Ken Watanabe. I really felt his character exemplified the true code of bushido. He was a real warrior, who knew in heart he was fighting a lost cause, but was willing to fight for what he thought was right.
In addition, I liked that his character wasn’t just portrayed as a cold-blooded warrior. He definitely had a sense of grace and refinement about him. He was educated, articulate, and poetic. A true samurai.
I also liked the fact that Tom Cruise’s character was just a man. A flawed man (a drunk) who wasn’t superior, mentally or physically, just because he was a westerner. He was also not a very good fighter, a trait. I truly appreciated since I would have been very upset if he had been depicted as some type of super-warrior who was unbeatable. In fact his lack of skill made the movie more believable.
I really liked that he was not good with a sword, which shows how the west had turned to the gun and abandoned sword work by this period in history. The training sequences where he learns to use the Japanese sword are some of the best moments in the movie. I really enjoyed watching him get battered.
Sort of reminded me of my training, and those days when my teacher would lose his patience and just whack me over and over. It was a quick way to learn a lesson since you only get hit so many times before you learn to either move out of the way, block, or die. This is a lesson Tom Cruise’s character clearly and quickly learns.
Then there is the parallel that was made between the struggle of the American Indians and the Japanese who were trying to hold onto their traditions and way of life. It made a lot of sense that tradition had so much meaning; meaning enough for these men to die for. They simply didn’t want the glory of their past forgotten, especially just to usher in foreign ways.
Naturally, I also liked the action sequences, and fully appreciated they were real and not some digitized special effects. The fight scenes displayed a lot of emotional power and technical finesse, without sacrificing any artistic appeal. They depicted true combat of the period, no holds barred.
Like I said I had mixed emotions when I first heard about this movie, but once I saw it any reservations I had were set aside. It’s not what I would call a great movie, but it is entertaining, thought provoking, and emotionally stirring. I don’t think anyone who watches this movie won’t feel a sense of loss when the rebels are mowed down by gunfire.
Anyone who knows the history of this story knows they’re going to die right from the start, but by the end of this movie you really wish they would win. You are truly drawn to these men, and their way of life. The life they want to preserve.