The Last Samurai (2003) An Epic Tale

Take an American and put him into an exotic decor. Most of the time that goes very wrong. Occasionally it doesn’t and what comes out is an entertaining guilty pleasure like The Last Samurai, a movie midway between The Last of the Mohicans and Memoirs of a Geisha. Although it is not at the same level of Glory, one of my Top 10 war movies and Edward Zwick’s masterpiece, Last of the Samurai is equally beautiful.

Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a hardened, disillusioned and alcoholic veteran of the Civil War. Touring as special attraction with some sort of circus, he has clearly seen better days. He is haunted by what he saw in the war, the killings of the Indians, the battles. While in this sorry state, he is approached  by some Americans who want to hire him as military advisor for a newly established Imperial Japanese Army. If it pays good money, he would probably sell his mother, so he doesn’t hesitate long and follows the men to Japan.

The army consists mainly of peasants with no experience whatsoever in warfare. Despite their not being ready, one of the emperor’s advisors wants Algren to lead them to battle against rebellious Samurai who do not want to accept the changing of the times.

The moment when they are surrounded by these warriors in their incredible armour, it’s obvious they will lose the fight. In the chaos and mayhem that follows, Algren who has been severely wounded is taken prisoner by the Samurai and brought to their village high up in the mountains.

The landscapes and images are extremely beautiful, the ways of the Samurai seem mysterious and we can easily understand that Algren is fascinated. The moment he arrives in the village – and not only because the woman who takes care of him is very beautiful – he tries to immerse himself in the culture and the rituals of this ancient tradition.

In the months that he spends with them he learns their ways of living and fighting and becomes the friend of the their leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). When the imperial army attacks, he fights with him until the last.

I enjoyed the final battle and seeing the battle formations, it reminded me a bit of Waterloo.

I was surprised that I liked this movie I had thought it would be tacky but it is really not bad at all. Plus I have a thing for the Samurai armour. It’s one of the most beautiful armour in history. And their weapons are also quite fascinating, they didn’t use firearms.

It’s a very visual movie, with a good story. In other words, excellent entertainment.

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10 thoughts on “The Last Samurai (2003) An Epic Tale

  1. […] Last Samurai (2003) I just watched this, so the review is upcoming. Very beautiful movie starring Tom Cruise as hardened Civil War veteran who is hired to teach combat techniques to Japanese soldiers. (See my review) […]

  2. Novroz says:

    lovely review. I quite like Last Samurai, not bad for an American movie…I mean Japanese still the best in making samurai movies.

    My main annoyance is in how good Ken talks in English…even now, there are not too many Japanese who can speak that well, let along in ancient Japan.

    Unfortunately for Tom, I see Ken and Hiroyuki outshine him everytime they are in the same scene. Your review makes me want to see the movie again.

    • Thanks Novia. I didn’t think it was all that bad with the language, I’ve seen far worse. Not 100% logical but yeah well. I have bigger problems when they let American actors talk in fake accents.
      They do outshine him, that’s for sure but he is decent in this movie too.
      I still haven’t seen the big Samurai movies by Kurosawa… I’m looking forward to Rashomon.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    Good review. Tom Cruise is a good actor, in spite of his sometimes unstable personal life. And Watanabe is a great actor. The ending was a little far-fetched. It is much closer to Dances with Wolves than any other movie. Not as good, however.

    • Thanks Kevin. Watanabe is great, yes. I need to watch Dances wit Wolves gain. I can hardly remember it. I had my problems with her at the time. I thought it was a totally wrong cast.

  4. warmoviebuff says:

    The similarities are several: ex-Civil War soldier down on his luck / learns about the culture / falls in love / has a mentor / fights with the people he was supposed to fight against

  5. lifewith4cats says:

    Im so in love with Samurai movies that I always avoided this one. I feared that since it was an american movie and Tom Cruise is considered to be so good looking, well… I figured it would be a real bad misrepresentaion of old Japan. But if you guys found it acceptable, I think Ill give it a try.

    I truly detested last of the mohicans for the way it twisted both history and the native american Indians into a Harliquin romance novel.

    Dances with Wolves was good enough for me to watch twise. My only bone to pick with that one was that the female lead character looked a little too saggy, baggy, like her life was too hard. I think that as a daughter of a high ranking member of the tribe, she should have looked more rigorously healthy. (native americans distributed meat according to rank) They should have got a different person to play the role.

    • I think they tried to do it justice. What happens is basically that an disillusioned American meets an old culture and learns to appreciate it. In this respect it is closer to Dances with Wolves that to The Last of the Mohicans. But of course, it will never equal a Japanese movie.
      I must admit I did like Last of the Mohicans but mostly as romance.
      I had the very same feeling about the female lead in Dances with Wolves. She looked far too American for me.
      I’ll be interested to know what you think of The Last Samurai once you have seen it.

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