The Last Samurai

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The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdward Zwick
Produced byEdward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Tatiana Le-bour
Paula Wagner
Scott Kroopf
Tom Engelman
Screenplay byJohn Logan
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Story byJohn Logan
StarringTom Cruise
Ken Watanabe
Music byHans Zimmer
CinematographyJohn Toll
Editing byVictor Du Bois
Steven Rosenblum
StudioRadar Pictures
Bedford Falls Company
Cruise/Wagner
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 5, 2003 (2003-12-05)
Running time154 minutes
CountryUnited States
Japan
LanguageEnglish
Japanese
Budget$140 million[1]
Box office$456,758,981[1]
 
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The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdward Zwick
Produced byEdward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Tatiana Le-bour
Paula Wagner
Scott Kroopf
Tom Engelman
Screenplay byJohn Logan
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Story byJohn Logan
StarringTom Cruise
Ken Watanabe
Music byHans Zimmer
CinematographyJohn Toll
Editing byVictor Du Bois
Steven Rosenblum
StudioRadar Pictures
Bedford Falls Company
Cruise/Wagner
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 5, 2003 (2003-12-05)
Running time154 minutes
CountryUnited States
Japan
LanguageEnglish
Japanese
Budget$140 million[1]
Box office$456,758,981[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.

Cruise portrays an American officer, 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 colonial powers, though this is largely attributed to the United States in the film for American audiences. It is also 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 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, Captain Nathan Algren is traumatized by his participation in the massacre of Native Americans in the Indian Wars and has become an alcoholic to stave off the memories. Algren is approached by former colleague Zebulon Gant, who takes him to meet Algren's former superior Colonel Bagley, whom Algren despises for ordering the massacre. On behalf of businessman Mr. Omura, Bagley offers Algren a job training conscripts of the new Meiji government of Japan to suppress a samurai rebellion that is opposed to Western influence, led by Katsumoto. Despite the painful ironies of crushing another tribal rebellion, Algren accepts solely for payment. In Japan he keeps a journal and is accompanied by British translator Simon Graham, who has a long-standing interest in and great knowledge of the samurai.

Despite Algren's objections to wait until they are better prepared, Omura has Bagley order the peasant conscripts to fight and they are routed by the samurai. Gant is killed and Algren kills leading samurai warrior Hirotaro. Katsumoto is reminded of a vision of a tiger while watching Algren fight with a tiger embroidered spear and orders his capture. Taken to the samurai village, Algren is treated by Hirotaro's widow Taka and Katsumoto's son, Nobutada and recovers from his trauma. He begins to converse with Katsumoto, study swordsmanship under warrior Ujio and apologizes to Taka for Hirotaro's death, which she accepts. He later helps defend the village from a night attack by assassins sent to kill Katsumoto. Algren deduces the attack was ordered by Omura.

In spring, Algren is taken back to Tokyo as promised. The Imperial Japanese army has become better organized with American weaponry, including Howitzers and Gatling guns, and Omura offers Algren command if he reveals information on the rebels. Algren declines, so privately Omura orders his death. Katsumoto offers his counsel to the young Emperor, but finds the Emperor's control is weak. Katsumoto is then arrested after refusing to obey the new law to not display swords. Algren frees him with the assistance of Ujio, Nobutada and Graham. Nobutada is severely wounded as they escape, sacrificing himself to slow the guards. Katsumoto mourns, but receives word that a large Imperial Army group led by Omura and Bagley will engage them. Five hundred samurai are rallied as Algren compares their predicament to the Battle of Thermopylae, pointing out to Katsumoto how a smaller force can use the terrain and their enemy's overconfidence to their advantage. On the eve of battle, Algren is presented with a katana, kisses Taka and wears Hirotaro's red armor as a symbol of respect.

In battle, the samurai fall back, so that Omura orders his infantry to advance straight into their fire trap. The samurai then unleash a rain of arrows as a wave of swordsmen, including Katsumoto and Algren, attack. A second Imperial infantry wave advances, only to be countered by Ujio's samurai cavalry, leaving many dead on both sides before the Imperial forces retreat. Realizing that more are coming, the samurai resolve to fight to the death. In a final charge, Algren hurls his sword at Bagley, slaying his nemesis, but the samurai are finally cut down by Gatling guns. Moved by the sight of his dying countrymen, the Imperial captain stops the fire, defying Omura's orders. Katsumoto, observing Bushido, asks Algren to assist in his seppuku. As Katsumoto dies, the Imperial soldiers kneel and bow around the fallen samurai.

Later, the American ambassador prepares to have the Emperor sign a treaty granting the USA exclusive rights to supply Japan's army, but an injured Algren interrupts the proceedings, offering Katsumoto's sword to the Emperor. The Emperor realizes that whilst Japan must modernize, it must chart its own path and never forget its own history and traditions. The Emperor dismisses the American ambassador and confiscates Omura's fortunes to be given to the people. Graham, who was given Algren's journal to help write a book, speculates that Algren may have found peace, as he indeed returns to Taka and the village.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

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. 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]

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
ReleasedNovember 25, 2003
Recorded2003
GenreClassical
LabelElektra Records
ProducerEdward Zwick
Danny Bramson
Hans Zimmer chronology
Matchstick MenHans ZimmerSomething's Gotta Give

The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score is a soundtrack to the film of the same name, released on November 25, 2003 in the United States by Elektra Records. All music on the soundtrack is composed by Hans Zimmer and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, conducted by Blake Neely.[3]

Track listing[edit]

No.TitleLength
1."A Way of Life"  8:03
2."Spectres in the Fog"  4:08
3."Taken"  3:36
4."A Hard Teacher"  5:44
5."To Know My Enemy"  4:49
6."Idyll's End"  6:41
7."Safe Passage"  4:57
8."Ronin"  1:53
9."Red Warrior"  3:56
10."The Way of the Sword"  7:59
11."A Small Measure of Peace"  8:01

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The film achieved higher box office receipts in Japan than in the United States.[4] Critical reception in Japan was generally positive.[5] 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."[6]

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."[7] 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.[8] 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".[9]

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).[10] 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.[11]

Criticism and debate[edit]

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."[6]

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."[12]

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."[13]

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

The fictional character of Katsumoto draws from 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 bureaucratic-capitalist structure and of the values it represented, he wanted power to remain in the hands of responsible, patriotic, benevolent warrior-administrators who would rule the country under the Emperor." He 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.[14]

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 Soundtrack". Allmusic.com. Rovi Corp. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  4. ^ "The Last Samurai (2003) – News". CountingDown.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  5. ^ "Sampling Japanese comment". Asia Arts. UCLA.edu. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Rich, Motoko (January 4, 2004). "Land Of the Rising Cliché". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2012. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 5, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  8. ^ "The Last Samurai". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  9. ^ "The Last Samurai". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  10. ^ "The 76th Academy Awards (2004) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Awards for The Last Samurai (2003)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  12. ^ McCarthy, Todd (November 30, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Variety. Reed Elsevier Inc. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  13. ^ Schultz, Cathy. "The Last Samurai offers a Japanese History Lesson". History in the Movies. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  14. ^ 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]