The Last Samurai
|The Last Samurai|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Edward Zwick|
|Produced by||Edward Zwick
|Screenplay by||John Logan
|Story by||John Logan|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Editing by||Victor Du Bois
Bedford Falls Company
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Running time||154 minutes|
The Last Samurai is a 2003 American epic drama film directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Logan. The film stars Tom Cruise, who also co-produced, as well as Ken Watanabe, Shin Koyamada, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Timothy Spall and Billy Connolly. Inspired by a project by Vincent Ward, it interested Zwick, with Ward later serving as executive producer. The film production went ahead with Zwick and was shot in Ward’s native New Zealand.
Cruise portrays American officer Nathan Algren, whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into contact with samurai warriors in the wake of the Meiji Restoration in 19th Century Japan. The film's plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and on the westernization of Japan by colonial powers, though this is largely attributed to the United States in the film for American audiences. It is also based on the stories of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier Boshin War and Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who helped Westernize the Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious Army.
The Last Samurai was well received upon its release, with a worldwide box office total of $456 million. It was nominated for several awards, including four Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and two National Board of Review Awards.
In 1876, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is traumatized by his massacre of Native Americans in the Indian Wars and has become an alcoholic to stave off the memories. Algren is approached by former colleague Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly), who takes him to meet Algren's former Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn), whom Algren despises for ordering the massacre. On behalf of businessman Mr. Omura (Masato Harada), Bagley offers Algren a job training conscripts of the new Meiji government of Japan to suppress a samurai rebellion that is opposed to Western influence, led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Despite the painful ironies of crushing another tribal rebellion, Algren accepts solely for payment. In Japan he keeps a journal and is accompanied by British translator Simon Graham (Timothy Spall), who intends to write an account of Japanese culture, centering on the samurai.
Despite Algren's objections, Omura has Bagley order the peasant conscripts to fight early and they are routed when engaging the samurai. Gant is killed and Algren kills leading samurai warrior Hirotaro. Katsumoto is reminded of a vision of a tiger while watching Algren fight with a tiger embroidered spear and orders his capture. Taken to the samurai village, Algren is treated by Hirotaro's widow Taka (Koyuki) and Katsumoto's son, Nobutada (Shin Koyamada) and recovers from his trauma. He begins to converse with Katsumoto, study swordsmanship under warrior Ujio (Hiroyuki Sanada) and apologizes to Taka for Hirotaro's death which she accepts because of the honor of battle. Growing closer to her and her children, he later helps defend the village from a night attack by ninja sent by Omura to assassinate Katsumoto.
In spring, Algren is taken back to Tokyo as promised. The Imperial Japanese army have become better organized with American equipment, and Omura offers Algren command if he reveals information on the rebels. Algren declines, so privately Omura orders his death if he visits Katsumoto. Katsumoto offers his counsel to the young Emperor, but finds the Emperor's control is weak. When Katsumoto refuses to obey the new law to not display swords, he is arrested. Algren frees Katsumoto with the assistance of Ujio, Nobutada and Graham. Nobutada is severely wounded as they escape, sacrificing himself to slow the guards. Katsumoto mourns, but receives word that a large Imperial Army group led by Omura and Bagley will engage them. Five hundred samurai are rallied as Algren compares their predicament to the Battle of Thermopylae. On the eve of battle, Algren is presented with a katana, kisses Taka and wears Hirotaro's red armor as a symbol of respect to her.
In battle, the samurai fall back, preventing the Imperial army from using its full firepower. As they expect, Omura orders the infantry to advance, straight into their fire trap. The samurai then unleash a rain of arrows as a wave of swordsmen, including Katsumoto and Algren, attack. A second Imperial infantry wave advances, only to be countered by Ujio's samurai cavalry, leaving many dead on both sides before the Imperial forces retreat. Realizing that fresh Imperial forces are coming, the samurai resolve to fight to the death in a final charge. Algren hurls his sword at Bagley, fatally wounding his nemesis, but the samurai are finally cut down by Gatling guns. Moved by the sight of his dying countrymen, the Imperial captain stops the fire, defying Omura's orders. Katsumoto, observing Bushido, asks Algren to assist in his seppuku. As Katsumoto dies, the Imperial soldiers kneel and bow around the fallen samurai.
Later, the American ambassador prepares to have the Emperor sign a treaty, but an injured Algren enters and interrupts the proceedings, offering Katsumoto's sword to the Emperor. The Emperor comes to realize that whilst Japan must modernize, it must chart its own path and never forget its own history and traditions. The Emperor dismisses the American ambassador and confiscates Omura's fortunes to be given to the people. Graham, who was given Algren's journal to help write a book, speculates that Algren may finally have found peace. The film ends as Algren returns to Taka.
- Tom Cruise as Captain Nathan Algren, a Civil War and Indian Wars veteran haunted by the massacre of Native American civilians at the Washita River. Algren was born in the British Empire but is a naturalized American. Following a dismissal from his job, he agrees to help the new Meiji Restoration government train its first Western-style conscript army for a hefty sum. During the army's first battle he is captured by the samurai Katsumoto and taken to the village of Katsumoto's son, where he soon becomes intrigued with the way of the samurai and decides to join them in their cause. His journal entries reveal his impressions about traditional Japanese culture, which almost immediately evolve to admiration. The character is inspired by the French officer Jules Brunet.
- Ken Watanabe as samurai Lord Moritsugu Katsumoto, a warrior-poet who was once Emperor Meiji's most-trusted teacher. He is displeased with Mr. Omura's bureaucratic reform policies, which leads him into organizing a revolt against the Imperial Army. Katsumoto is vaguely based on real-life samurai Saigō Takamori.
- Shin Koyamada as Nobutada, the son of Katsumoto who is lord of the village that the Samurai are encamped in and befriends Algren. Katsumoto, the leader samurai, advises Nobutada to teach Algren in the Japanese way – Japanese culture and Japanese language. He is killed during Katsumoto's escape.
- Tony Goldwyn as Colonel Bagley, Captain Algren's commanding officer in the 7th Cavalry Regiment who was to train the Imperial Army. Algren despises Bagley for his role in the Washita River massacre of the Native Americans that Algren cannot get over. In a flashback, we see Bagley murdering children and women in the Indians camp. Bagley bears close resemblance to General Custer (whom Algren dubs "a murderer who fell in love with his own legend"). Bagley is killed by Algren in the final battle when Algren throws his sword into his chest.
- Masato Harada as Omura, an industrialist and pro-reform politician who dislikes the old samurai and shogun related lifestyle. He quickly imports westernization and modernization while making money for himself through his railroads. Coming from a merchant family that was like many repressed during the days of Samurai rule and cause for his extreme dislike for their nobility, he assumes a great deal of power during the Meiji Restoration and takes advantages of Meiji's youth to become his chief advisor (wielding power similar to those of the Shoguns). His image is designed to evoke the image of Ōmura Masujirō, a leading military reformer during the Meiji Restoration. Masato Harada noted that he was deeply interested in joining the film after witnessing the construction of Emperor Meiji's conference room on sound stage 19 (where Humphrey Bogart had once acted) at Warner Brothers studios.
- Shichinosuke Nakamura as Emperor Meiji. He is credited with the implementation of the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the Emperor is eager to import Western ideas and practices to modernize and empower Japan to become a strong nation. His appearance bears a strong resemblance to Emperor Meiji during the 1860s rather than during the 1870s, when The Last Samurai takes place. After Algren offers him Katsumoto's sword, Meiji realises that even though Japan must modernize, it can't forget its own history and should chart its own path.
- Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio, one of the most dedicated, loyal and fierce samurai under Katsumoto. He teaches Algren the art of Samurai sword fighting, none too gently but eventually grows to respect him. He is one of the remaining samurai to die in the final charge in the last battle.
- Timothy Spall as Simon Graham, a British interpreter for Captain Algren and his non-English speaking soldiers. Initially portrayed as a typical practical-minded Englishman, he later comes to understand the Samurai cause. This character is shown to have some resemblances also to the real-world Corfiote photographer Felice Beato.
- Seizo Fukumoto as the Silent Samurai. He is an elderly man assigned to follow Algren (who later calls the samurai "Bob") as he travels through the village. Ultimately, the Samurai saves Algren's life (and speaking for the first and only time, "Algren-san!") by taking a fatal bullet for him. He bears a marked resemblance to Kyuzo from Seven Samurai.
- Koyuki as Taka, the sister of Katsumoto and the wife of the red-masked Samurai Hirotaro, whom Nathan Algren killed earlier. She has two sons, both of whom grow close to Algren.
- Billy Connolly as Sergeant Zebulon Gant, an ex-soldier who served with and is loyal to Algren, talked him into coming to Japan. He, along with Algren, train the imperial army before confronting the samurai. He is later killed in the opening battle by Hirotaro (Taka's husband).
- Shun Sugata as Nakao, a tall judo jujutsu and naginata-skilled samurai who takes part in Katsumoto's rescue, and is later killed in the final battle.
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Filming took place in New Zealand, mostly in the Taranaki region, with Japanese cast members and an American production crew. This location was chosen due to the fact that Egmont/Mount Taranaki resembles Mount Fuji, and also because there is a lot of forest and farmland in the Taranaki region. This acted as a backdrop for many scenes, as opposed to the built up cities of Japan. Several of the village scenes were shot on the Warner Brothers Studios backlot in Burbank, California.
The film is based on an original screenplay entitled "The Last Samurai", from a story by John Logan. The project itself was inspired by writer and director Vincent Ward. Ward became executive producer on the film – working in development on it for nearly four years and after approaching several directors (Coppola, Weir), he interested Edward Zwick. The film production went ahead with Zwick and was shot in Ward’s native New Zealand.
The film was based on the stories of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier Boshin War and Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who helped Westernize the Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious Army. The historical roles of the British Empire, the Netherlands and France in Japanese westernization are largely attributed to the United States in the film, for American audiences.
|The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score|
|Film score by Hans Zimmer|
|Released||November 25, 2003|
|Hans Zimmer chronology|
The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score is a soundtrack to the film of the same name, released on November 25, 2003 in the United States by Elektra Records. All music on the soundtrack is composed by Hans Zimmer and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, conducted by Blake Neely.
Track listing 
|1.||"A Way of Life"||8:03|
|2.||"Spectres in the Fog"||4:08|
|4.||"A Hard Teacher"||5:44|
|5.||"To Know My Enemy"||4:49|
|10.||"The Way of the Sword"||7:59|
|11.||"A Small Measure of Peace"||8:01|
Critical response 
The film achieved higher box office receipts in Japan than in the United States. Critical reception in Japan was generally positive. Tomomi Katsuta of The Mainichi Shinbun thought that the film was "a vast improvement over previous American attempts to portray Japan", noting that director Edward Zwick "had researched Japanese history, cast well-known Japanese actors and consulted dialogue coaches to make sure he didn't confuse the casual and formal categories of Japanese speech." However, Katsuta still found fault with the film's idealistic, "storybook" portrayal of the samurai, stating: "Our image of samurai is that they were more corrupt." As such, he said, the noble samurai leader Katsumoto "set (his) teeth on edge."
The Japanese premiere was held at Roppongi Hills multiplex in Tokyo on November 1, 2003. The entire cast was present; they signed autographs, provided interviews and appeared on stage to speak to fans. Many of the cast members expressed the desire for audiences to learn and respect the important values of the samurai, and to have a greater appreciation of Japanese culture and custom.
In the United States, critic Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, saying it was "beautifully designed, intelligently written, acted with conviction, it's an uncommonly thoughtful epic." Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 65% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 214 reviews, with the site's consensus stating: "With high production values and thrilling battle scenes, The Last Samurai is a satisfying epic", and with an average score of 6.4/10, making the film a "Fresh" on the website's rating system. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 55, based on 44 reviews, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Ken Watanabe), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Sound (Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer and Jeff Wexler). It was also nominated for three Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Watanabe), Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama (Tom Cruise) and Best Score (Hans Zimmer).
Awards won by the film include Best Director by the National Board of Review, Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects at the Visual Effects Society Awards, Outstanding Foreign Language Film at the Japan Academy Prize, four Golden Satellite Awards and Best Fire Stunt at the Taurus World Stunt Awards.
Criticism and debate 
Motoko Rich of The New York Times observed that the film has opened up a debate, "particularly among Asian-Americans and Japanese," about whether the film and others like it were "racist, naïve, well-intentioned, accurate – or all of the above."
Todd McCarthy, a film critic for the Variety magazine, wrote: "Clearly enamored of the culture it examines while resolutely remaining an outsider's romanticization of it, yarn is disappointingly content to recycle familiar attitudes about the nobility of ancient cultures, Western despoilment of them, liberal historical guilt, the unrestrainable greed of capitalists and the irreducible primacy of Hollywood movie stars."
According to History professor Cathy Schultz: "Many samurai fought Meiji modernization not for altruistic reasons but because it challenged their status as the privileged warrior caste. Meiji reformers proposed the radical idea that all men essentially being equal ... The film also misses the historical reality that lots and lots of Meiji policy advisors were former samurai, who had voluntarily given up their traditional privileges to follow a course they believed would strengthen Japan."
See also 
- Foreign government advisors in Meiji Japan
- Ōmura Masujirō
- French Military Mission to Japan (1867)
- Mark Rappaport (creature effects artist)
- Satsuma Rebellion
- Jules Brunet
- White Man's Burden
- The Last Samurai (2003). Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- "The Last Samurai – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Rovi Corp. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- "The Last Samurai (2003) – News". CountingDown.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- "Sampling Japanese comment". Asia Arts. UCLA.edu. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Rich, Motoko (January 4, 2004). "Land Of the Rising Cliché". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
- Ebert, Roger (December 5, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "The Last Samurai". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- "The Last Samurai". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- "The 76th Academy Awards (2004) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- "Awards for The Last Samurai (2003)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- McCarthy, Todd (November 30, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Variety. Reed Elsevier Inc. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Schultz, Cathy. "The Last Samurai offers a Japanese History Lesson". History in the Movies. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
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- Official website
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- The Last Samurai at Box Office Mojo
- Does The Last Samurai have the saddest movie death? at AMCTV.com