The Last Samurai

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This article is about the film. For the unrelated novel, see The Last Samurai (novel). For the 2011 Japanese film, see Oba: The Last Samurai.
The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward Zwick
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by John Logan
Starring
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography John Toll
Edited by
Production
companies
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 5, 2003 (2003-12-05)
Running time
154 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Japanese
Budget $140 million[1]
Box office $456.8 milion[1]

The Last Samurai is a 2003 American epic war 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.

Tom Cruise portrays a formerly retired officer of the United States 7th Cavalry Regiment, 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 foreign powers, though in the film the United States is portrayed as the primary force behind the push for westernization. To a lesser extent it is also influenced by 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 Japanese army.

The Last Samurai was well received upon its release, with a worldwide box office total of $456 million.[1] It was nominated for several awards, including four Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two National Board of Review Awards.

Plot[edit]

In 1876, Civil War veteran of Gettysburg U.S. Army captain Nathan Algren is traumatized by his participation in atrocities during the Indian Wars, and has become an embittered alcoholic. Algren is approached by his former commanding officer, Colonel Bagley, on behalf of Japanese businessman Omura, who wishes to hire distinguished US soldiers to train the Imperial Japanese Army to suppress a samurai rebellion, lead by Katsumoto Moritsugu. In exchange, Japan would ratify a lucrative trade agreement that would grant the U.S. exclusive rights to supply arms to the Japanese government. Although Algren despises Bagley for having ordered atrocities during the Indian wars, he accepts the job for the money and sails to Japan. Most of the soldiers being trained are little more than inexperienced peasants and farmers. The training is interrupted when the samurai rebels attack a railroad owned by Omura; Bagley orders the regiment to mobilize, overruling Algren's objection that the soldiers are not ready. Algren is proved correct, during a battle in a foggy forest in Yoshino Province, the inexperienced and intimidated soldiers panic and are quickly routed by the samurai horsemen. Algren kills several samurai with his revolver and saber but is eventually knocked from his horse. Algren desperately fights using a spear tipped flagstaff with a flag of a white tiger until he collapses from complete exhaustion. As he is about to be vanquished, he kills his would-be executioner with the staff's spear tip. As he is about to be killed, his ferocity and refusal to surrender, as well as the image of the white tiger on the flag he is fighting with, reminds Katsumoto of a recurring dream. As a result, Algren is spared and taken captive to the rebels' village in the mountains.

In captivity and under guard, Algren is relatively free to explore the village and interact with its inhabitants. He meets with Katsumoto, who wishes to have civilized conversations with him for the purpose of mutual understanding. Algren grows to respect the humble, yet disciplined lifestyle of the samurai and their families. As time passes, he integrates more fully with their society, learning samurai martial techniques as well as the Japanese language. From Katsumoto, he learns that the rebellion opposes the speed of Japanese westernization, and that he believes the samurai are acting in the best interest of Japan. Algren is housed with Katsumoto's sister Taka and her family; she initially dislikes him, but after Algren learns it was her husband (the samurai that was going to execute him) he killed in combat, he apologizes and the two grow closer. His stay in the village allows him to overcome his alcoholism, come to terms with the horrors of his past and learn the samurai way. Algren earns the samurai's respect and acceptance after he helps defeat a band of ninjas sent by Omura to assassinate Katsumoto.

Katsumoto is given safe passage to Tokyo in order to meet with his master and former student, the Emperor, and releases Algren. Algren learns that the Imperial Japanese Army has become much better trained and armed over the wintertime. Katsumoto realizes that the Emperor's influence in the government has been overshadowed by his advisers, led by Omura, who support westernization and intend to use the strengthened army to crush the samurai. In a council meeting, Katsumoto is arrested for carrying a sword. Rather than fulfill Omura's request to lead the Imperial Army against the rebellion, Algren organizes the samurai to free Katsumoto. The raid is successful and many soldiers are killed. Already mortally wounded, Katsumoto's son Nobutada sacrifices himself to allow everyone else to escape.

Mourning the loss of his son, feeling defeated and dishonored, Katsumoto contemplates committing seppuku, believing that the samurai are no longer necessary. Algren convinces him that "nothing could be more necessary", and vows to fight the imperial army at Katsumoto's side.

Algren and the samurai return to the village to prepare for the army's coming assault. Before the warriors depart for battle, Taka dresses Algren in the armor worn by her husband, and the two share a kiss, while Katsumoto presents Algren with a katana. As the battle commences, the samurai deploy several traps and tactics to gain the edge over the Imperial Army. The Imperial soldiers are lured away from the protection of their artillery and cut off by a fire trap set by the samurai, and following a lethal hail of arrows Algren and Katsumoto lead a wave of swordsmen in a charge against them. As both sides clash, more Imperial platoons arrive, only to be countered by samurai infantry and cavalry flanking them. The struggle persists, leaving many dead on both sides before the remaining Imperial soldiers retreat. Knowing that they cannot withstand another assault, Katsumoto orders a final horseback charge that breaks through the Army's defensive lines (scaring Omura) and is only stopped by his ordering of last-minute Gatling gun fire. During the charge, Algren spots Bagley firing on Katsumoto, and kills him by throwing his samurai sword at him. In a very short space of time, the Gatling fire decimates the remaining samurai and grievously injures Algren, who nevertheless helps Katsumoto achieve an honorable death by performing seppuku. Disobeying Omura's demand that they kill all the last of the samurai, the Imperial Army collectively kneels and bows in a show of respect for the fallen.

Days later, as negotiations over the trade agreement conclude, an injured Algren interrupts the proceedings and presents Katsumoto's sword to the Emperor, stating that Katsumoto would have wanted him to have it and to remember the cause for which he and his ancestors had died. The Emperor realizes that while Japan must modernize, it must also grow strong in line with its own history and culture. He rejects the trade agreement and confiscates the Omura family's assets to give back to the people. As the film closes, questions are raised to what happened to Algren, whether he died from his wounds or traveled back to America. The film shows Algren returning to the isolated mountain village to live with Taka and her children in peace.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Engyō-ji in Himeji

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. American Location Manager, Charlie Harrington, saw the mountain in a travel book and encouraged the producers to send him to Taranaki to scout the locations. 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. Some scenes were shot in Kyoto and Himeji, Japan. There were 13 filming locations altogether[2] Tom Cruise did his own stunts for the film.

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 (Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Weir), until he became interested with 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.

Music[edit]

The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score
Film score by Hans Zimmer
Released November 25, 2003
Genre Soundtrack
Length 59:41
Label Warner Sunset
Producer Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer chronology
Matchstick Men
(2003)
The Last Samurai
(2003)
King Arthur
(2003)

The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score is the score to the 2003 film of the same name, released on November 25, 2003 by Warner Sunset Records.[3] All music on the soundtrack was composed, arranged, and produced by Hans Zimmer, performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, and conducted by Blake Neely.[4] It peaked at number 24 on the US Top Soundtracks chart.[4]

Track listing

All music composed by Hans Zimmer.

No. Title Length
1. "A Way of Life"   8:03
2. "Spectres in the Fog"   4:07
3. "Taken"   3:35
4. "A Hard Teacher"   5:44
5. "To Know My Enemy"   4:48
6. "Idyll's End"   6:40
7. "Safe Passage"   4:56
8. "Ronin"   1:53
9. "Red Warrior"   3:56
10. "The Way of the Sword"   7:59
11. "A Small Measure of Peace"   7:59
12. "The Final Charge [Apple exclusive bonus track]"   4:39
Total length:
59:46

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The film achieved higher box office receipts in Japan than in the United States.[5] Critical reception in Japan was generally positive.[6] 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."[7]

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.[citation needed]

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."[8] 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.[9] 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".[10]

Accolades[edit]

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).[11] 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.[12]

Criticism and debate[edit]

The Seikanron debate of 1873. Saigō Takamori insisted that Japan should go to war with Korea.

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."[7]

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."[13]

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."[14]

The fictional character of Katsumoto bears a striking resemblance to the historical figure of Saigō Takamori, a hero of the Meiji Restoration and the leader of the ineffective Satsuma Rebellion, who appears in the histories and legends of modern Japan as a hero against the corruption, extravagance, and unprincipled politics of his contemporaries. "Though he had agreed to become a member of the new government," writes the translator and historian Ivan Morris, "it was clear from his writings and statements that he believed the ideals of the civil war were being vitiated. He was opposed to the excessively rapid changes in Japanese society and was particularly disturbed by the shabby treatment of the warrior class." Suspicious of the new bureaucracy, he wanted power to remain in the hands of the samurai class and the Emperor, and it was for this purpose that he had joined the central government. "Edicts like the interdiction against carrying swords and wearing the traditional topknot seemed like a series of gratuitous provocations; and, though Saigō realized that Japan needed an effective standing army to resist pressure from the West, he could not countenance the social implications of the military reforms. For this reason Saigō, although participating in the Ōkubo government, continued to exercise a powerful appeal among disgruntled ex-samurai in Satsuma and elsewhere." Saigō fought for a moral revolution, not a material one, and he described his revolt as a check on the declining morality of a new, Westernizing materialism.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Last Samurai (2003). Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  2. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0325710/locations?ref_=tt_dt_dt
  3. ^ The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score (CD liner notes). Hans Zimmer. Warner Sunset Records. 2003. 
  4. ^ a b "The Last Samurai – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Rovi Corp. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  5. ^ "The Last Samurai (2003) – News". CountingDown.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  6. ^ "Sampling Japanese comment". Asia Arts. UCLA.edu. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Rich, Motoko (January 4, 2004). "Land Of the Rising Cliché". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2012. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 5, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  9. ^ "The Last Samurai". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  10. ^ "The Last Samurai". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  11. ^ "The 76th Academy Awards (2004) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Awards for The Last Samurai (2003)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  13. ^ McCarthy, Todd (November 30, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Variety. Reed Elsevier Inc. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  14. ^ Schultz, Cathy. "The Last Samurai offers a Japanese History Lesson". History in the Movies. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  15. ^ Ivan Morris (1975), The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan, chapter 9, Saigō Takamori. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 10-ISBN 003010811X/13-ISBN 978-0030108112.

External links[edit]