Film & DVD Review: The Last Samurai

Director: Edward Zwick, Writing Credits: John Logan (story and screenplay), Marshall Herkovitz. Producers: Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise

Reviewed by Jacqueline

Cast

# Tom Cruise, (Nathan Algren)
# Ken Watanabe, (Katsumoto)
# oyuki, (Taka) Billy Connolly, (Zebulon Gant)
# Hiroyuki Sanada, (Ujio)
# Shin Koyamada’s, (Nobutada)
# Tony Goldwyn, (Colonel Bagley)
# Masato Harada, (Omura)
# Timothy Spall, (Simon Graham)
# Shichinosuke Nakamura, (Emperor Meiji)
# Togo Igawa, (General Hasegawa)

Last Samurai DVD Cover

Click on image to buy DVD

If you are anything like me and find the Samurai fascinating then I highly recommend this film. This is not another Hollywood blockbuster providing fake Japanese accents and stereotypes. The Japanese actors were authentic and that is one reason why Edward Zwick has triumphed. Just to remind you that another of his success stories was directing Shakespeare in Love (which earned a Best Picture Oscar).

John Logan, screenwriter of this film is perhaps best known for being an Oscar nominee for the well-known movie Gladiator. Logan has here provided a masterpiece of war and honour. A film of two enemies in conflict making peace with one another and becoming friends in the process. A love story in which two people fall in love despite differences of culture and perspective and the trials and tribulations of war.

There are no explicitly sexual scenes, (as in nearly every other movie). What you do see is two people who admire each other for their strength who form a deep bond for one another, which goes deeper than physical contact. One of the most erotic scenes is when Nathan Algren is being dressed rather than undressed.

This film deserves an Oscar nomination for best film, as it a highly exceptional and unique film and one that leads you on an emotional rollercoaster. In my opinion this is one of the best surprises that the film industry has had this year. This film should be honored with equal credits for Best Film alongside the latest and last of the Lord of the Rings films.

Not only has Tom Cruise played his best part ever in this film, he co-produced it with Paula Wagner. Throughout the film Cruise as Nathan Algren gives us emotions with great depth. Even when at his weakest he shows great strength in the part. Cruise spent months of rigorous training for scenes involving hand-to-hand combat, riding and double-sword fencing. Cruise is convincing as a Samurai and displays his newfound skills in Kendo, Swordmanship and Japanese martial arts. He did all his own stunts and spent several hours every day for about a year – dedication and discipline that would find favour with samurai warriors. He also learned how to speak Japanese. Cruise had was known to read classic books on the civil war such as The Killer Angels between his takes.

Nathan Algren is a man with a serious drink problem haunted by visions of Indian women and children being slaughtered. He is continually fighting his inner demons. Cruise plays a tormented military man to perfection. It is hard to imagine any other actor doing this part with such intensity and dedication. Cruise is well known for the depth of his film acting. This film seems to have been tailor made for him.

If you were to judge this film on its historical perspective though, I have to point out that the character of Nathan Algren, acted by Tom Cruise is entirely fictional. At the time of this film in 1870 there were no prominent American military advisers in Japan and certainly none that directly drilled troops or took part in battles like Nathan Algren.

It’s fair to say that the director of this film Zwick and writer Herskovitz may have cited Saigo, however, as their inspiration for this film. Zwick let it be known that he had an interest in Saigo. You can obtain information about Saigo in the book The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori, by Mark Ravina.

Ravina’s book examines how Saigo’s understanding of Samurai honour led him first to overthrow the Shogun in the name of the Emperor, then to support a radical reformist government, and finally to rebel against a government he had helped to establish. There is a resemblance in the film as Katsumoto is willing to fight to the death to uphold the Samurai traditions. His loyalty lies with the Emperor, (a foolish Emperor at the beginning bereft of wisdom and leadership skills who appears willing to betray his own people and listen only to outsiders with ideas about modernisation and ‘progress’. Katsumoto is disheartened when his Emperor sends an army to destroy him and his warriors. There are many battles and fight scenes in this film, which are sure to keep you interested. The film leads us to identify with the Samurai and hope that there will be a happy ending for them.

Katsumoto fought the war as a great Samurai warrior who was indeed loyal to his Emperor and even towards the end of his life his sense of duty remains.

Without giving the plot away watch out for Tom Cruise’s best acting at the end of the film, when he begs the Emperor to come to his senses.

A truly wonderful film and with the beautiful New Zealand passing off remarkably well for Japan you are unlikely to be disappointed.

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