Rated R for strong violence and battle sequences.
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: John Logan
Staring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Will Atherton, Chad Linberg, Masato Harada, Timothy Spall, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shin Koyamada, Koyuki, and Shichinosuke Nakamura
Winter, 1877. What does it mean to be Samurai? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles. To seek a stillness of your mind. And to master the way of the sword. -Algren
An American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle.
There was a period where I felt this movie was a Japanese rendition of Dances With Wolves, but after some time it was clear these movies were very different even though some of the themes were parallel. With some outstanding performances, engaging cinematography, and a powerful story, this became a very memorable movie for me.
Early on, there is the feel of a similar theme to Dances With Wolves. The setting is in Japan and the oppressed tribe happens to be the Samurai instead of the American Indian. It’s a time where the remaining Samurai are few, and though once revered, it seems Westernization has found little use of them. Not unlike the American Indian. The differences are subtle, but begin to develop into it’s own film, with it’s own distinct point of view once Captain Algren is taken prisoner to the Samurai village. Their culture then begins with the same objective observation as was the case with Lt. Dunbar and the Indians, and the integration into their beliefs and their culture begins with Cruise as it did with Costner.
These familiarities between the two films could have been disappointing if not for the performances by Ken Wantanabe, Koyuki, and Cruise and the magnificant camera shots. Once in the Samurai village the cinematography is stunning. The beauty and peace of their country and their land is fully captured. Even in rain soaked scenes, there is a simplistic beauty and visual stimulation. The spiritual setting opened the door for some powerful performances, namely KenWatanabe , who commanded the screen with his quiet confidence. It was easy to engage and feel the power and the wisdom of his character. CaptainAlgren’s peace of mind that follows his “imprisonment” and his attachment to the Samurai way of life, is 100% believable, and mostly due to the performance ofWatanabe.
The finale of the film and what follows Cruises imprisonment is what largely makes it mark. Even though the most enjoyable part of the story is the season spent with the Samurai, the inevitable conclusion emoted all it intended. Still, the best part of the entire film was when the Samurai’s were having a celebration when their village is attacked by NINJAS. Yes, ninjas. Besides the fact that I have an unnatural adoration of ninjas, the age old rivalry between them and their enemy the Samurai made this battle increasingly intense and authentic. The personal revelation of Cruise’s and Watanabe’s character’s was perhaps the most important stepping stone in the story. It was those events that really made this portion of the movie so poignant, yet so superficially enjoyable as well.
I enjoyed The Last Samurai. There were some pacing issues, the similar theme to Dances With Wolves that were a bit irksome, but overall it was an entertaining movie that had a soul to it. KenWatanabe’s performance alone is worth watching. The beauty of the film, with it’s powerful score, and well scripted story made it a good epic to take in. This is a good one.