The Last Samurai (2003) – Should I Watch It?

Intro to… The Last Samurai
An American army Captain that regrets killing Indians crosses the ocean to kill the Japanese instead.

The Plot
War has taken its toll on Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise). He has seen and done too many unspeakable deeds, and it has turned him into a barely functioning drunk. But his reputation as a war hero proceeds him, and he gets offered a job training Japanese soldiers in the American way. He accepts.

His assignment is to prepare an army to take on a group of renegade samurai led by their charismatic leader Katsumoto Moritsugu (Ken Watanabe). Against his objections, Nathan is ordered to lead a charge against the samurai. But his men are heavily undertrained and they suffer a crushing defeat. Nathan gets captured and is forced to spend the winter in the samurai village.

Should I Watch It?
The Last Samurai is a period piece set in 1800s Japan. Progressive advisors are pushing for modernisation, but the samurai want to preserve their, and Japans, heritage. As a result these two opposites sides war against each other.

The story is told from Algren’s perspective, and at times his narration takes over. Typically to summarise his growth over a small time skip. Cruise does an excellent job playing Nathan. The tranquillity of his surroundings and the discipline of the people around him really affect him, and allow him to grow. Watanabe functions as the wise and honourable mentor, a role that suits him well. The two seem to be an odd couple at first, but they are actually very similar people that have been raised very differently.

Nearly every actor stands out. Even General Hasegawa (Togo Igawa), who does not even speak, feels like a fleshed out character. Cruise is obviously the star of the movie, but everyone gets enough screen time for the audience to build a sense of familiarity with them. When battles ensue you will know who they are, they are not just another fighter.

Most of the Japanese people in this movie do not speak English, so a lot of Japanese gets spoken throughout the film. This creates a more realistic dynamic between the Japanese and non-Japanese characters, which really benefits the movie experience.

The Last Samurai tells a very obvious message: that culture and tradition should not casually be discarded for modernisation. But, less obvious, it also tells the exact opposite: that abhorring change and stubbornly holding to out-dated beliefs and methods only leads to ruin and devastation. Old and new do not have to be opposites; they can coexist and complement each other. I approve of both this movie and this message.

Yes, watch it.

Hi guys, I hope you enjoyed reading this review. If you have any comments or suggestions on what I should watch next let me know in the comment section below.


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