The Last Samurai
“I will tell you how he lived.”
Before we kill off all of the real Samurai, let’s hit some previews. But even before that, what the fuck is up with the Regal 20, or whatever the hell they’re calling it? They show this stupid entertainment “show” (it’s really a long commercial) before the movie instead of putting up those slides. Now, I thought that some of the slides were pretty stupid, but at least they advertised local businesses and stuff like that. This advertises freakin’ Britney Spears and Hootie And The Blowjobs. What the fuck?! And then they have the audacity to say, “Did you miss part of the 20? Get to the theatre earlier!” Fuck you! I don’t want to see it all! There was exactly one quarter of it that was interesting at all. They did a short, completely uninformative behind the scenes thing about Peter Pan. Other than that, a complete waste of 20 minutes of film/video/whatever.
TAKING LIVES–Angelina Jolie as not a cop after a serial killer. Ethan Hawke as a possibly insane guy who knows the killer is after him and is the only help to catch him. Keifer Sutherland as yet another killer. I’m so there.
This looks so “been there, done that,” but I think I have to see it at least on video. Good cast and it looks kind of interesting. Plus, Keifer’s good at this sort of thing. We’ll see.
That’s all I can remember for now. Let’s get to the katana-slashin’.
In the mid-1800′s, Japan was in utter turmoil. The Meiji Imperialists had just taken over and started to allow Western influences into their once closed country. After using Samurai to help them come to power, they outlawed the carrying of swords and effectively ended the era of Samurai. (The fact that they put many of them to death, even if they helped them come to power, didn’t slow their end, either.)
It’s amazing what you can learn from anime.
There is a small faction of Samurai who will not let the old ways go. Led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), they are ready to die for their Emperor, for it is him who they believe they are fighting for. If only he would wake up and get out from under the Imperialist’s thumb. Not even Katsumoto, a former teacher of the Emperor, can bring him around.
That’s where Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) comes in. He is an American hero who has fallen on bitter times. He was under Custer up until the Little Big Horn debacle. He has seen his share of battles and killed his share of Indians, not always in a way that he felt was honorable. Now he is an alcoholic who doesn’t see much use for his way of life.
When he is called upon to go to Japan and teach the Imperialist Army how to fight with modern weapons he insults the Japanese official, Omura (Masato Harada), and gets more money out of them than he really deserves.
Of course, after the first battle with soldiers who still don’t know how to aim their weapons, Algren is caught and carried back to Katsumoto’s village. There he is cared for by the wife of a man he killed. Her name is Taka (Koyuki) and she is shamed that she has to take care of this man even if he gave her husband a good death.
And then the inevitable happens. Algren becomes so enamored with the Samurai way of life that he basically becomes one of them. Algren and Katsumoto become friends and fight beside each other.
There are many things wrong with this film. It’s predictable as hell (yes, Taka ends up falling in love with her charge…yes, Algren wears Samurai armor…yes, yes, yes), it’s strangely distant and there are some things that are finished too easily.
And do we really believe that Taka and Algren would fall in love? No. Nothing can make me believe that a woman could fall in love with the man who killed her husband. I don’t care what culture you’re in, that ain’t gonna happen unless she was in on the plot to kill him. Even then it probably won’t happen.
But, personally I loved this film. It’s probably my favorite Tom Cruise movie…and we all know how I feel about him. (And, really, he was kind of wrong for it. Even my Tom-lovin’ roommate agrees that he’s too modern for this sort of story. He did, however, do a good job with the Samurai fighting.) For everyone who just thought that Samurai were a blood-thirsty lot who wanted to kill, kill, kill, I say, “Watch this movie.” It will completely change your mind. There is an honor in the way they kill and serve their masters. Samurai, as is mentioned in the movie, means “to serve.” That is what they were meant for. If they can’t serve their masters anymore, they commit seppuku. (Never call it “harakiri” in front of a Japanese with any pride.)
That is really what this movie is all about. Samurai want peace, but they will use violence if they need to.
The embodiment of this honor is Ken Watanabe. Fuck Tom Cruise. This was Ken’s movie. It was Katsumoto that everyone was so interested in. Tom was pretty much just channeling Kevin Costner. Ken was channeling the spirit of Samurai. Besides the cinematography (it is truly a beautiful film–I want a cherry blossom tree), this is the only award that this film should really get.
Edward Zwick has gotten very good at this kind of period epic. The Last Samurai is not as good as Glory (or Michael Mann’s Last Of The Mohicans which I’m surprised no one has compared it to), but it’s a very good film with its share of flaws.