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.