R for strong violence and battle sequences
Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly,
Tony Goldwyn, Ken Watanabe, Koyuki
Last Samurai Official Web Site
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The Last Samurai
Special Notes: Cruise worked for eight months to get
in shape for the movie. He learned Kendo (Japanese swordsmanship), Japanese
martial arts, how to handle other weapons and he learned Japanese. His
horseback riding skills paid off, especially when he had to learn to fight
on a horse.
Plot: After taking part in a massacre during the Indian campaign,
a disillusioned Capt. Nathan Algren (Cruise) drowns his regrets with alcohol
and loathes the encroaching progress of the 19th century America that
has dishonorably destroyed the old with the new. Across the ocean, the
last Samurai leader in an ancient line of brave warriors, Katsumoto (Watanabe),
finds himself battling not only the modern army of the young Emperor of
Japan, but a westernized and trade-friendly culture that wants to eradicate
the old ways of the Samurai. Algren's reputation for being an expert marksman
and killing Indians is legendary. He and an old foe who fought the Indian
wars, Colonel Bagley (Goldwyn), are commissioned by the Emperor of Japan
to train his army with modern weapons and techniques that will ultimately
control and destroy the Samurai. During a fierce first encounter, the
novice army is defeated and an injured Algren is taken prisoner to recuperate
and live at Katsumoto's camp in the mountains. As Algren slowly regains
his strength, the prisoner becomes a student of the Samurai culture and
unexpectedly goes through a spiritual rebirth where he regains honor and
a new set of values for life. His unexpected odyssey ultimately leads
him to a place where two eras and two very different worlds collide.
Good: I was engrossed in this compelling saga from the first frame
to the last Samurai! Cruise and Watanabe deliver Oscar-worthy performances
in an epic on the level of Braveheart or Dances with Wolves.
Academy Award-winning director Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends
of the Fall) is bound to have another Oscar nomination for his brilliant
portrayal of an era and people found only in the pages of history. Japan
at the turn of the century is brimming with the mixture of old world alongside
modern civilization. Frame after frame is illuminated with gorgeous scenery,
pristine detail and colorful characters that create a palate of beauty
amidst the battlefields of tragedy exploding onscreen in heroic detail.
Cruise brilliantly portrays a man ravaged by alcohol and a conscience
tormented with daily guilt about who he has become. I appreciate the fact
that instead of resorting to a love scene for Cruise to create an emotional
attachment to the character, the real dynamics and chemistry of the story
come from his scenes with the people of the village, the children of Taka
and his charismatic co-star Watanabe. This Japanese actor's performance
is so electrifying, his presence on-screen so powerful. The two stars
create a unique synergy that propels the story. As I watched Watanabe
almost steal the screen from Cruise, he reminded me of one of my favorite
actors, Yul Brynner (The King and I). Algren lives with Katsumoto's
widowed sister Taka (Koyuki) and her children, who Algren unknowingly
killed in battle. At first, she is understandably resistant to his presence
but after a while, a loving relationship grows between the two -- one
of respect and decency without any nudity or love scenes. There are several
themes to this movie that deal with the importance of honor, valuing life,
a moral code for living that involves a spiritual balance and a respect
for mankind. The Samurai lived by a code called Bushido which means "the
way of the warrior." This way of life encompassed honesty and justice
with no shades of gray -- courtesy even to enemies -- and heroic courage
replaced fear with respect, caution, honor, compassion, sincerity, duty
and loyalty. When you watch a movie filled with characters and situations
that stand for these values, it's not hard to see that these are basically
biblical standards that are time-tested and will always represent the
better side of man. Unfortunately, it's also a sad reminder of how far
modern man has not only strayed but rationalized many of those values.
Bad: The R rating is for violent battle scenes that show men being
cut with Samurai swords as well as warriors being mowed down with machine
guns and rifles. This movie is a realistic depiction of how the old-world
way of fighting a war with swords on horseback collides with modern weapons,
so it naturally lends itself to violent scenes of wartime battle. Bloody
scenes of men being cut by the swords or shot are graphic but not gratuitous.
In a couple of scenes men are beheaded because the Samurai believed it
was an honorable thing to do. There's not a lot of offensive language:
one religious profanity and a few exclamations of "Oh my God"
along with some milder profanity in subtitles. And yes, much of the movie
is in subtitles, but it never interferes with the story. In fact, it enhances
Bottom Line: I am passionate about this movie for many reasons
and feel it's the best epic film of 2003. This is an adult epic adventure
that will satisfy those who love a story of war, heroes, and men of
honor and character. It captures a moment in time in the late 1800s
when the modern 19th century was encroaching on traditions and a way
of life that would forever be changed. Because of the intense battle
scenes, this movie is for adults and possibly mature teens.
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