The Last Samurai

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The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdward Zwick
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byJohn Logan
Starring
Music byHans Zimmer
CinematographyJohn Toll
Edited by
Production
companies
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 20, 2003 (2003-11-20) (Tokyo)
  • December 5, 2003 (2003-12-05) (United States)
Running time
154 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Language
  • English
  • Japanese
Budget$140 million[2]
Box office$456.8 million[2]

The Last Samurai is a 2003 American period drama war film directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Logan and Marshall Herskovitz. The film stars Tom Cruise, who also co-produced, with Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki, and Shin Koyamada in supporting roles.

Tom Cruise portrays a United States Captain of the 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 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 Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious Army.

The Last Samurai grossed a total of $456 million[2] at the box office and was well received upon its release, receiving praise for the acting, writing, directing, score, visuals, costumes and messages. It was nominated for several awards, including four Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two National Board of Review Awards.

Plot[edit]

Former US Army Captain Nathan Algren, a bitter alcoholic traumatized by the atrocities he committed during the American Indian Wars, is approached by his former commanding officer Colonel Bagley to train the newly created Imperial Japanese Army for a forward-thinking Japanese businessman Omura, who intends to use the army to suppress a Samurai-headed rebellion against Japan's new Emperor. Despite his hatred of Bagley for his role in the Indian Wars, an impoverished Algren takes the job for the money, and is accompanied to Japan by his old friend, Sergeant Zebulon Gant. Upon arriving, Algren meets Simon Graham, a British translator knowledgeable about the Samurai.

Algren finds the Imperial soldiers are actually conscripted peasants that have no knowledge of firearms or battle. Early in their training, Algren is informed that the Samurai are attacking one of Omura's railroads; Omura sends the army there, despite Algren's protests that they are not ready. The battle is a disaster; the undisciplined conscripts are routed and Gant is killed. Algren fights to the last before he is surrounded; expecting to die, he is taken prisoner when Samurai leader Katsumoto decides to spare him. Algren is taken to Katsumoto's village to live among his family. While he is poorly treated at first, he eventually gains the Samurai's respect and actually becomes friends with Katsumoto. Algren overcomes his alcoholism and guilt, and learns the Japanese language and culture. He develops sympathy for the Samurai, who are upset that the pace of spread of modern technology has eroded the traditions of their society. Algren and Taka, Katsumoto's sister and the widow of a Samurai Algren killed, develop an unspoken affection for each other.

One night, a group of ninjas infiltrate the village and attempt to assassinate Katsumoto. Algren saves Katsumoto's life, and then helps defend the village. Katsumoto requests a meeting with Emperor Meiji and is given safe passage to Tokyo. He brings Algren, intending to release him. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Algren finds the Imperial Army is now a well-trained and fully equipped fighting force. Katsumoto, to his dismay, discovers that the young and inexperienced Emperor has essentially become a puppet of Omura. At a government meeting, Omura orders Katsumoto's arrest for carrying a sword in public and asks him to commit Seppuku to redeem his honor. Algren refuses Omura's offer to lead the new army to crush the rebels. Omura sends assassins to kill Algren, but Algren kills them. Algren assists the Samurai in freeing Katsumoto; in the process, Katsumoto's son Nobutada is mortally wounded, and he sacrifices himself to allow the others to escape.

As the Imperial Army marches to crush the rebellion, a grieving Katsumoto contemplates Seppuku, but Algren convinces him to fight until the end, and joins the Samurai in battle. The Samurai use the Imperial Army's overconfidence to lure them into a trap and deprive them of artillery support. The ensuing battle inflicts massive casualties on both sides and forces the Imperial soldiers to retreat. Knowing that Imperial reinforcements are coming and defeat is inevitable, Katsumoto orders a suicidal charge on horseback. During the charge, the Samurai break through Bagley's line. Bagley is killed by Algren, but the Samurai are quickly mowed down by gatling guns. The Imperial captain, previously trained by Algren and horrified by the sight of the dying Samurai, orders all of the guns to cease fire, disregarding Omura's orders. A mortally wounded Katsumoto commits Seppuku with Algren's help as the soldiers at the scene kneel in respect.

Days later, as trade negotiations conclude, Algren, though injured, arrives and interrupts the proceedings. He presents the Emperor with Katsumoto's sword and asks him to remember the traditions for which Katsumoto and his fellow Samurai died. The Emperor realizes that while Japan should modernize, it cannot forget its own culture and history; he rejects the trade offer and chooses to seize the Omura family assets for the benefit of his subjects. While various rumours regarding Algren's fate circulate, Graham concludes that Algren had returned to the village to reunite with Taka.

Cast[edit]

  • Tom Cruise as 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 United Kingdom 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 evolves to admiration.
  • Ken Watanabe as Lord 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 based on real life samurai Saigō Takamori.
  • Shin Koyamada as Nobutada, Katsumoto's son 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.
  • Tony Goldwyn as Colonel Bagley, Nathan Algren's commanding officer in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, who was to train the Imperial Army. Algren dislikes Bagley for his role in the Washita River massacre of the Native Americans that Algren cannot get over. His facial hair is very similar to the way Custer wore his and is intended to evoke that image. Bagley is killed by Algren in the climactic battle When Algren throws his sword into his chest.
  • Masato Harada as Mr. 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 Okubo Toshimichi, a leading 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.[citation needed]
  • Shichinosuke Nakamura as Emperor Meiji: 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 that 1860's rather than during the 1870s, when The Last Samurai takes place.
  • 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 Silent Samurai, 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, Katsumoto's sister and the wife of the red-masked Samurai Hirotaro, whom Nathan Algren kills earlier.
  • Billy Connolly as 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 jujutsu and naginata-skilled samurai, who takes part in Katsumoto's rescue, and is later killed in the final battle.

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 Bros. Studios backlot in Burbank, California. Some scenes were shot in Kyoto and Himeji, Japan. There were 13 filming locations altogether.[3] 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
ReleasedNovember 25, 2003
GenreSoundtrack
Length59:41
LabelWarner Sunset
ProducerHans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer chronology
Matchstick Men
(2003)
The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score
(2003)
King Arthur
(2003)

The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score was released on November 25, 2003 by Warner Sunset Records.[4] All music on the soundtrack was composed, arranged, and produced by Hans Zimmer, performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, and conducted by Blake Neely.[5] It peaked at number 24 on the US Top Soundtracks chart.[5]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The film achieved higher box office receipts in Japan than in the United States.[6] Critical reception in Japan was generally positive.[7] 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." 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."[8]

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."[9] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 66% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 219 reviews, with an average score of 6.4/10. The site's consensus states: "With high production values and thrilling battle scenes, The Last Samurai is a satisfying epic".[10] 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 reviews from 43 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11]

Box office reception[edit]

As of January 1, 2016, the film had grossed $456.8 million against a production budget of $140 million.[12]

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).[13] 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.[14]

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."[8]

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."[15]

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 many Meiji policy advisors were former samurai, who had voluntarily given up their traditional privileges to follow a course they believed would strengthen Japan."[16]

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 Okinoerabu 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.[17]

In 2014, the movie was one of several discussed by Keli Goff in The Daily Beast in an article concerning white savior narratives in film,[18] a cinematic trope studied in sociology, for which The Last Samurai has been analyzed.[19]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Last Samurai". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "The Last Samurai (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  3. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0325710/locations?ref_=tt_dt_dt
  4. ^ The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score (CD liner notes). Hans Zimmer. Warner Sunset Records. 2003.
  5. ^ a b "The Last Samurai – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Rovi Corp. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  6. ^ "The Last Samurai (2003) – News" Archived 2009-02-10 at the Wayback Machine.. CountingDown.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  7. ^ "Sampling Japanese comment" Archived 2010-07-26 at the Wayback Machine.. Asia Arts. UCLA.edu. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Rich, Motoko (January 4, 2004). "Land Of the Rising Cliché". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 5, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  10. ^ "The Last Samurai". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  11. ^ "The Last Samurai". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  12. ^ "The Last Samurai (2003) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  13. ^ "The 76th Academy Awards (2004) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  14. ^ "Awards for The Last Samurai (2003)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  15. ^ McCarthy, Todd (November 30, 2003). "The Last Samurai" Archived 2012-11-12 at the Wayback Machine.. Variety. Reed Elsevier Inc. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  16. ^ Schultz, Cathy. "The Last Samurai offers a Japanese History Lesson". History in the Movies. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  17. ^ Ivan Morris (1975), The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of japanese, chapter 9, Saigō Takamori. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0030108112.
  18. ^ Goff, Keli (May 4, 2014). "Can 'Belle' End Hollywood's Obsession with the White Savior?". The Daily Beast. Retrieved May 14, 2014.
  19. ^ Hughey, Matthew (2014). The White Savior Film: Content, Critics, and Consumption. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-4399-1001-6.

External links[edit]