Chris & Marcey’s March Movie Exchange: Week 3 – The Last Samurai (2003)

Movie Exchange

What’s a Blog-a-thon? This movie exchange is a challenge, its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.
Chris’ criteria for Marcey: Samurai Films
Why Chris Chose This Film For Marcey: In Japan 1877 a rebellion which resulted in the creation of a modern Japan one that could rival its western counterparts ended. The Satsuma Rebellion which was led by Saigo Takamori marked the end of an era in Japans history, the end of the traditional ways of the samurai and the beginning of the new imperial government under the new emperor Meji. The rebellion was a clash of the old and new traditions of Japan, as the ancient laws upheld by the samurai and the Shogunite were rapidly replaced. Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory) and written by acclaimed screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) working of a treatment by executive producer Vincent Ward, the Satsuma Rebellion was finally brought to the screen in the form of an epic Hollywood blockbuster starring Tom Cruise. The script follows a sub-genre known as retreat from the global, a sub-genre used in other historical epics such as The New World and Dances With WolvesThe Last Samurai may be a major American film but it is very respectful to his Japanese roots as well as casting some of Japanese greatest actors who were able to become known to world wide audiences, such as Ken Watanabe and Hiroyuki Sanada. The Last Samurai is an epic film that I fell in love with long before it was released in Australian cinemas back in January 2004 as I followed every update that was provided and watched every trailer that was put online. This is a great film with some amazing cinematography, acting and epic battles that will remind you of those from any Kurosawa film. I hope that Marcey enjoys it as much as I do.


Marcey’s Review
Firstly, yes I know it is a crime to have not seen The Last Samurai until now. I really should have when it first came out, one of those things where unfortunately I just never got around to seeing it. So I am very happy that Chris gave me this one for this month. Happy to report that yes I absolutely loved this film, and I feel pretty silly for not having seen it sooner.

Tom Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a military advisor who is hired by the Japanese to train their soldiers in an effort to modernise the culture. Things change for Algren when is captured by the Samurai, who the soldiers are being trained to fight. Algren embraces the Samurai and fights against their destruction, and fights for them. The mirror for Algren is he was a part of the massacre of a Native American villages an act he regrets and still haunts him. This time around however he has the chance to redeem his honour by becoming samurai.

Of course the basic story of the outsider joining with the village is not a new story, different versions have been told time and again. This time however it takes place in Japan and there are truths to the story, even if a lot of it was fictional. When done right this story can be very moving, and quite the experience, and The Last Samurai is an example of this story being told right. You have a very torn up character with Algren, and knowing what he has been through and how he feels, he is a character that is easy to connect to. As well as Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe in his first American film), the leader of the Samurai. Their way of life is easy to embrace, and at times I actually really wanted to be there and live the way they do.


The scenes of Algren learning about their way of life and embracing it is the heart of the film, there is something special about that life and it is so sad that it did get torn down to make way for more modern living. This film has some amazing action and battle scenes, they don’t hold back on the horrors of war and battle either. Another reminder of why I really hate any kind of war, lives lost in an instant for reasons that usually could be worked out in another way. Other really strong points are the cinematography, this is a beautiful film to look at. The score as well is incredible and definitely heightens each and every scene.

The Last Samurai is a brilliant film, it does tackle something familiar but it does do its own thing as well. I can really see why for the most part this film was really well received in Japan despite being American made. I felt it did justice to the Samuari, who are what the film is really about. Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe turn in Oscar worthy performances and they shared a very special kind of chemistry. That bond they form is a really special one, and they made it work so very well. Performances all round are very good, I really enjoyed Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio, an actor I have discovered more recently and am very fond of.

I am so happy I had the chance to finally see this film, it brought forth a lot of emotions and it was an epic adventure.


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