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The Last Samurai (DVD, 2009, WS)
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May 11, 2004 (Updated May 14, 2004)
Review by nathantyree
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Watanabe, photography, Samurai
The Bottom Line: Watchable. Watanabe saves the film. Cruise is superfluous. Historical innacuracies are bothersome.
I love Samurai. I am deeply fascinated by this ancient and beautiful system, and could watch samurai movies everyday. My friends find this odd. See, I am a pacifist, so it seems very strange that I should have such a fascination with a martial culture. Yet I do. What I try to explain to people is: the Samurai way is not merely about war. It was an ethical system, an artistic/literary movement, and a system of honor.
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The Last Samurai is about an uprising in Japan in 1876. This uprising actually occurred, but the film makers have taken great liberty with the facts. They have changed the names, created characters, and altered events. All of this was unnecessary. The story was exciting enough on its own, and needed no help.
Tom Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a Civil war veteran who has sunk into despair and alcoholism after his part in the Indian wars. He goes to Japan to train an army to resist the Samurai. The Samurai are led by Matsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Algren is captured. After living with Watanabes band for months he befriends them, and joins their cause.
This is the films central failing. There was no need to insert a westerner into the story. In fact, the appearance of Cruise is a bit insulting to Japan, and to the Samurai. The Samurai needed no help from Americans to fight their battles. They were quite capable of taking care of themselves.
Having said that: this film is certainly worth watching. The battle sequences are exciting, and marvelously choreographed. They are some of the most exciting scenes to appear in the last few years.
Watanabe gives a great performance. He brings a depth and a subtlety to the role that most actors would not be capable of. He was nominated for an Oscar for this role, and he deserved that nomination.
Cruise does a good job, but in the end he is totally superfluous. The film would be better without his character.
The cinematography is wonderful. The film is beautifully photographed, and nearly every scene is a joy to look at.
So, in the final analysis: The Last Samurai is not a great film, but it is worth seeing. It manages to be entertaining, and aesthetically lovely despite the stupid mistakes of the film makers.
A final note: The ending (which I will not reveal) is something of a cheat. The proper ending would be quite different from the one the director (Edward Zwick) has given us.
This review is part of a series called The Samurai Papers To read the first in the series go:
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