The Last Samurai (2003)


“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” – Katsumoto

Number of Times Seen – 2 (17 Oct 2005 and 11 Jul 2017)

Brief Synopsis – A decorated US soldier is hired by the Japanese Emperor in order to train his soldiers in their fight against the samurai.

My Take on it – This is a great epic film that was done right.

The casting of Tom Cruise was a very intelligent choice because he is able to make us truly believe that his character is a tortured soul based on his past.

The idea of a character going to war against a different culture and ultimately siding with them is not a new theme in Hollywood movies and many may believe that this theme has been overused.

Films like Dances With Wolves (1990), Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Pocahontas (1995) and Avatar (2009) also touched upon a similar subject and all of them did a nice job with it.

I think it’s unfair to compare these kind of films and it’s more important to look at the way each of them deals with the varying cultural differences instead.

This film does a wonderful job explaining the complex nature of the Japanese value of honor.  It may seem like a very foreign concept to Westerners about the importance of honor even during battle but they show us in words and in action how this works among their culture.

We also get a clear idea of how much internal suffering Cruise’s character Nathan Algren is tortured by due his involvement in the campaigns against the Indians.

This seems somewhat analogous to the same type of feelings many soldiers have after returning from war.  Prime examples of this are veterans of the Iraqi and Vietnam Wars who suffer because of the acts one must sometimes commit during wartime.

This also ties into the theme of honor because sometimes when these men (and women) suffer from their haunting past actions, they feel that they no longer have any honor because they carried out their duty and the orders given to them.

This film also manages to teach us about numerous other Japanese customs along the way which gives us much more insight into how their culture works.

Bottom Line – Cruise is cast extremely well in this role and we truly believe that he is being tortured on the inside due to his military past. Story is quite reminiscent of other films in the genre yet manages to remain unique based on its main theme staying true to the matter of honor. Gives us a clear view of how the Indian campaign took its toll on soldiers and is quite analogous to modern warfare where soldiers sometimes must follow orders they don’t believe in and question their own honor after having carried out these orders. Gives us very interesting insight into how parts of Japanese customs are observed. Recommended!

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – Contrary to a popular misconception, the title of the film does not refer to Nathan Algren, or even Katsumoto, as the Last Samurai. The word “Samurai” here is in its plural form and is actually referring to Katsumoto’s clan as a whole. (From IMDB)

Rating – Globe Worthy

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3 thoughts on “The Last Samurai (2003)

  1. Enjoyed reading your review. I usually come at this film from a slightly different angle – since I wrote the originally screenplay upon which it is based – a full 10 years before it was made. All the big action set pieces survived pretty much intact from my drafts to the final film. There were some differences in the characters. It was always meant to be a “Western” set in Japan. The leads were meant to be American Cowboys as fish completely out of water. In my version – 2 brothers – Civil War veterans (as was Cruise) – one who’d fought for the North – the other for the South. Down on their luck after the war – who through circumstance – end up on a boat to Yokohama (same as the film) with a hold full of American guns (same as the film) AND – 100 Texas longhorn cattle – which they’re meant to lead on a cattle drive to a warlord’s palace as a way to fend off a (historical) drought that plagued Japan in the 1870s. The boy Emperor, at the urging of his close advisors – decides to import American cattle into a Bhuddist, non-meat eating populace – to tide them over until the drought ends and the crops can be brought back. This creates a rift amongst his samurai – some remain loyal and do his bidding – while others think it is a blasphemous move and refuse – and set out to kill the cowboys – all the cattle – and the 50 loyal samurai who are recruited and trained to lead their first ever cattle drive. It is adventurous, and has a (forbidden) love story (one of the brothers falls for a geisha being transported with the cattle in an enclosed wagon – and promised to the warlord), and action galore – as the brothers – speaking no Japanese, slowly bond with the samurai who (except for one) speak no English. It also has something I felt was sorely lacking in the movie – humor. It too touches on the samurai tradition of honor and seppuku and all the rest that survived into the film – and the brothers, who at first, are appalled by what the samurai are expected to do when some cattle are lost in a stampede (commit ritual suicide) – slowly take on the honor code of the men who started as strangers – and it all climaxes in a huge battle in the midst of a sandstorm – where the longhorns play a crucial role in its outcome.

    It was really cool – if I say so myself. As to the casting of Cruise – he was very good (although I never bought his “acting” as a drunk in the early scenes and he was ultimately out-acted by Ken Watanabe – who garnered an Oscar nod as Best Supporting Actor), but in fact – the role was first offered (very early on) to another Tom – Hanks – who passed. It went through various hands, changed directors – and ultimately Cruise dropped out of Cold Mountain – in which he would have starred with then wife Nicole Kidman – and decided to do The Last Samurai instead.

    The title – which you also discussed in your review – changed a few times. When it was my script, it was called “EASTERN/WESTERN”, a title I never cared for. It changed to “West Of The Rising Sun” which I DID like, and ultimately became THE LAST SAMURAI. I liked that one too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • wow! I was hoping u’d chime in here and gives us all some great insight since I knew from previous conversations that u wrote this film.

      Thanks for the input Michael… as always!

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      • No worries. That was actually the thumbnail sketch version. It’ll make a book some day. The original lawsuit over the credit took 3 years. The appeal went another year and a half. My side had enough bullets for the smoking gun to hold off 6 waves of samurai warriors. There were payoffs and bad faith – from my own union. It came down to a director who felt he’d been burned in the past learning how to “game the system” and having inside help. I actually had the support of the President of the WGA at the time – and she was forced to resign because even though she’d been duly elected – someone dug up the fact that she hadn’t worked in a certain amount of time as a writer – and therefore – shouldn’t have been allowed to run for the office. And she was Hollywood royalty. Her father was screenwriter Robert Riskin and her mother was Fay Wray. Her husband – Emmy winning writer David Rintels – was on the WGA Board of Directors at the time – and along with the writer of Pretty Woman – came to my defense to try to get the Board to overturn the ludicrous decision of the credit department – to no avail. Years later, at a WGA strike meeting in NYC, David introduced me to Nora Ephron as “Michael Eddy – this guy got fucked over worse by the Guild in a credit arbitration than anyone in the history of the union”. Movie came out in 2003. The appeal ended in 2008. To this day, discussing it still feels like ripping off the scab. For all intents and purposes, filing the suit (which I would do again in a heartbeat) ended what was a very good career. I haven’t been able to work since.

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