An American soldier embraces the Samurai culture
he was ordered to destroy after he is captured in battle.
The Last Samurai (2003)
Directed by Edward Zwick
Written by John Logan, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Starring Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall,
Hiroyuki Sanada, Shin Koyamada, Koyuki, Tony Goldwyn,
Billy Connolly, Masato Harada, Shichinosuke Nakamura
Oscar Nominations - Best Supporting Actor (Ken Watanabe),
Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing
I went into The Last Samurai expecting a carbon copy of Dances with Wolves. The white man helps the backwards natives prepare for war and stop the bad white men. I've seen it before, even when it was in space. But The Last Samurai isn't that at all. It's a deeply respectful glance into the life of the Samurai towards the end of an era. Tom Cruise plays an emotionally wounded soldier responsible for countless deaths, and he embraces the way of the Samurai with the hopes that it will heal his pain and give him something noble to fight for. Cruise gives one of his best performances, and his chemistry with Ken Watanabe makes this a great film.
In 1876, Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise) is hired to train Japanese soldiers to quell a Samurai rebellion. After their first disastrous battle, Algren is captured by the rebel leader Katsumoto (Watanabe), who treats him with respect, honor, and kindness. As Algren learns about their culture and befriends his people, he realizes he's on the wrong side of the war and becomes a Samurai himself. The battle scenes are incredibly vast and complex, and never once do they lose the emotion. The story is engaging and never wavers, despite the two and a half hour runtime. Honestly, you just get sucked into it because it's a smart, strong movie.
The Last Samurai should be listed among Tom Cruise's greatest films. He delivers the emotional journey of a lost soul on the road towards redemption better than most. Just look at Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia for further evidence. This film showcases Japanese culture at a turning point in their country, when the Samurai were on their way out and Japan was on the verge of modernization. The film itself acts as a metaphor for that transition.