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To Serve At All Costs
The Last Samurai (DVD)
Member Name: melodysparksuk
The Last Samurai (DVD)
Date: 13/01/12, updated on 13/01/12 (92 review reads)
Advantages: A strong historical drama with and excellent story outstanding acting and breathtaking scenery
Disadvantages: The length may be long for some viewers
A warrior sits on a hilltop amongst the sweeping mountains and forests of Japan; he is the last leader of an ancient line of warriors, the revered Samurai. Katsumoto's (Ken Watanabe) way of life is crumbling. After a dedicated life of service to the Emperor his future is being replaced with one of survival. Dying are the old traditions and values, fading are the codes of honour the Samurai live by, their homes, their lives, the very fabric of their existence is under threat, The Samurai culture is being annihilated as modern westernisation sweeps in to engulf traditional Japan.
The year is 1876, America, a country recovering from a civil war, civilisation and modern philosophies are spreading westwards. The Union Army still battle against the Native American tribes and former Union Officer Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) sits awaiting his announcement at a rally. He is a war hero, a decorated man of honour and courage, the protector of American life and he is a drunk! He is a man in who is disillusioned, dejected and tormented by the memories of his role in the Indian campaigns, he is in limbo, and unforgiving of himself. He hates what he has become.
He lives in contempt of the authority that commanded him to fight and butcher a tribe of innocent Native American Indians. Custer, the narcissistic, vainglorious and arrogant, general of the union forces has long since made his last stand but at what cost? Algren believes it cost him his soul.
The world has changed, the once fought battles now distant and pointless as the modern civilisation invades both America and Japan the old ideals of honour and courage, old values, codes, and philosophies are drastically becoming a memory. These are two men adrift in a sea of confusion and decline but two warriors whose paths are about to converge.
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The last Samurai is a revealing tale of a culture at a defining moment in its history. Set in 1876 in Japan the movie is fictional but has roots based in the Satsuma uprising of 1876/77, this movie illustrates the violent and epic struggle between two eras and two worlds. An American soldier finds himself at the heart of a rebellion with only his sense and wits and routine to guide him. Cruise exceptionally portrays the drunken Algren who unexpectedly observes the ways of these honourable warriors, becoming impressed, and influenced by their powerful convictions, their ethics code of bushido; the way of the warrior, the philosophical code followed by the samurai of feudal Japan, a code of loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior which remind him of the man he once was and who he still wished to be.
Approached by a former comrade, his sergeant at arms Zebulon Gant (Billy Connelly) Algren is persuaded to go with him to meet with Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn) his former commanding officer in the war against the Native Indians. Bagley is now an arrogant, avaricious, mercenary in the employ of the ruthless, ambitious and acquisitive Japanese minister Omura (sinisterly portrayed by Masato Harada) whom is also chief advisor to the young, immature and very impressionable Japanese Emperor Meiji (Shicinosuke Nakamura). The Emperor reveres the Samurai, many of whom were his teachers but he wants to move his country into the 19th century, to join the modern world. They have a proposition for Algren, a very lucrative proposition.
A rebellion threatens the imperial rule lead by Katsumoto. The minister Omura is contemptuous of the old traditions and the Imperial advisors he controls desire the eradication of the rebels in preparation for a more westernised and trade-friendly government that will line his pockets with a veritable fortune. Omura coerces Algren to train Japan's first modern, conscripted army in the ways of modern warfare enabling the Imperial troops to destroy the savage rebels.
But the rebellion will not fall without a fight. The rebels he speaks of are the legendary Samurai.
Algren journeys to Japan and meets a country on the brink of a turbulent transition, embracing technology and change. Blocks of wooden warehouses and shops are replacing the picturesque pagodas and traditional styled buildings. Telegraph lines and railroads are slowly encroaching upon traditional Japan and the foundation is being built for the technological society the Japanese have become today. It is the birth of an era.
Knowing the imperial troops are undisciplined and ill prepared Algren is ordered into battle against the mighty Samurai warriors where his troops break and run as they face a majestic charge of the mounted warriors in a mist shrouded forest with the eerie and unsettling war cries echoing in the gloom. Battling to save his life, he is wounded when confronted by a warrior of imposing strength and enviable swordsmanship; barely escaping a deadly blow he defeats his enemy only to be taken captive. And so Algren's life changes.
Sensing something different about the American, Katsumoto is curious of this foreigner, this barbarian and sparing his life installs him as a guest in his home, closely guarded by his most trusted followers; his sister Taka (Koyuki), the wife of the warrior Algren defeated and her family. All is not easy, Algren is fevered from his injury and delirious, Taka tends him, her mind is in turmoil, Algren killed her husband, she cannot bear the anguish and hatred she feels. She implores Katsumoto to take the American from their home but her entreaty is rejected. Of Katsumoto's family, his son Nobutada (Shin Koyamada) is the first to extend the hand of friendship, and takes it upon himself to teach Algren the Japanese language. Later his friendship is repaid in a Tokyo street as Algren prevents Nobutada retaliating when and a group of Japanese guards confront the young warrior and attempt to confiscate his swords when the Imperial council outlaw the possession of the mighty weapons.
Thrust now into unfamiliar yet unique environment, Algren's life now hangs in a balance. Recovering from his injuries he comes to appreciate the simple but vanishing culture as he observes their peaceful and honourable customs. He falls in love with the simplicity of their lives and how in all aspects the Samurai strive for perfection. These traditions are a balm to his torment and a new balance forms in his mind as he learns to appreciate life and adopts the philosophy that governs the Samurai. Now he can crawl from the pit in which he has lain for many years.
Already a fine and outstanding swordsman Algren begins to learn the Samurai way and not without embarrassment, he trains under inscrutable masters to fight like one of the renowned Samurai warriors. Katsumoto grows to befriend and accept Algren and after a ninjas assassin's attack of the village where Algren saves his life and the life of his nephew, Katsumoto realises Algren has evolved from a barbarian enemy into a trusted ally. This trust is enhanced when on the morning of a battle Katsumoto presents Algren with a katana engraved with the words, "I belong to the warrior in whom old ways have joined with the new". A poignant yet accurate edict of the changes happening within the Japanese culture. The course of the future for the Samurai is now irrevocably entwined with Algren's as both warriors make a stand against those that would threaten the Samurai honour and values in which both warriors are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and serve at all costs?
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Buoyed by a magnificent script from John Logan the writer of Gladiator, and directed with sheer brilliance by Edward Zwick, Tom Cruise's acting is astounding in this film, you see him take blows and strikes and beatings without a flinch. He learned to speak Japanese and expended a true effort and a dedication to his craft, training intensely in the use of a katana (Japanese long sword) and how to accurately employ the weaponry with economic yet masterly effort. Ken Watanabe portrays the wisdom, poise and elegance of Katsumoto the leader of the last Samurai tribe charmingly and marvellously in his Supporting Actor Oscar nomination role.
The cinematography is incredible; expressing the beauty of the Japanese landscape, the peaceful yet harsh environment of an age now since vanished. The beautiful, exotic yet restive play of light over the mountaintops from a Japanese sunset with the silhouette of Cruise remarkably noticeable against the dying rays of the sun. The battle scenes are an astounding piece of cinematic brilliance that is simply pure genius, the fast paced charge of the mounted warriors driving a force through the battle lines timed perfectly. The swift and deadly training duels of the Samurai are choreography of calculated intelligence. This movie has been designed with care to detail and extreme effort to instil the qualities it depicts.
The soundtrack provided by Hans Zimmer is spectacular, a true reflection of the undertones of honour and duty, bursting with and beauty and sheer brilliance, combining strong yet sensitive strings and the poignant tones of a Japanese flute gentle yet fitting this magnificent composition to enhance the story beautifully. The strong energetic martial theme of battle emphasises the determination and anticipation of the fight with a dark and atmospheric beat.
Once again Edward Zwick creates a wonderfully, emotive and atmospheric historical movie very much dedicated to the honourable and distinguished race of warriors. Those who serve is the actual translation of the word Samurai and the Samurai served their Emperor and their Empire loyally. The Samurai were truly a people of an unparalleled and envied culture.
Running Time 148 minutes
Ken Watanabe .... Katsumoto
Tom Cruise .... Nathan Algren
William Atherton .... Winchester Rep
Chad Lindberg .... Winchester Rep Assistant
Ray Godshall Sr. .... Convention Hall Attendee
Billy Connolly .... Zebulon Gant
Tony Goldwyn .... Colonel Bagley
Masato Harada .... Omura
Masashi Odate .... Omura's Companion
John Koyama .... Omura's Bodyguard
Timothy Spall .... Simon Graham
Shichinosuke Nakamura .... Emperor Meiji
Togo Igawa .... General Hasegawa
Satoshi Nikaido .... N.C.O.
Shintaro Wada .... Young Recruit
Shin Koyamada .... Nobutada
Hiroyuki Sanada .... Ujio
Shun Sugata .... Nakao
Koyuki .... Taka
Sosuke Ikematsu .... Higen
Aoi Minato .... Magojiro
Seizo Fukumoto .... Silent Samurai
Shoji Yoshihara .... Sword Master
Sven Toorvald .... Omura's Secretary
Scott Wilson .... Ambassador Swanbeck
Yusuke Myochin .... Sword Master's Assistant
Directed by Edward Zwick
Produced by Edward Zwick, Tom Cruise, Tom Engleman, Paula Wagner and Marshall Herskovitz.
Story and Screenplay by John Logan
Music by Hans Zimmer
A Double Disc Widescreen Edition DVD
Contains strong violence
Soundtrack album available on Warner / Sunset records / Elektra Entertainment / WMG Soundtracks
Audio 5.1 Dolby Digital
Aspect Ratio 16.9 widescreen / colour
Subtitles are available for hearing impaired.
Websites www.lastsamurai.com www.warnerbros.co.uk
Disc 2 Special Features DVD
Commentary by Director Edward Zwick
History Channel Documentary: History V Hollywood - The Last Samurai
Tom Cruise: A Warriors Journey
Edward Zwick: Directors Video Journal
Making of an Epic: A Conversation with Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise
A World in detail: Production Designs with Lilly Kilvert
Silk and Armour: Costume Design with Ngila Dickson
Imperial Army Basic Training
From Soldier to Samurai: The Weapons
DVD-ROM PC File
Thank you for reading
Melodysparks (c) 2012
Summary: East meets West.An American soldier finds himself at the heart of a rebellion.