The Last Samurai
4 / 4 stars
Starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe
Directed by Edward Zwick
There is nothing sweeter than samurai battling ninjas and guys with guns. Of course, “The Last Samurai” is not just about violent battles and awesome old school warriors - although there is plenty of both.
Director/producer/writer Edward Zwick (who is also responsible for classics such as “Glory,” “Courage Under Fire” and “The Siege”) flawlessly mixes action, excellent characters and humor, as well as issues of honor and morality. To top it off, the imagery of Japan’s landscapes and culture is beautifully and very carefully detailed, giving the film a great feeling of authenticity. This authenticity and style of the film pays homage to old samurai films and filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, but still makes the film accessible to current audiences.
The story of “The Last Samurai” revolves around Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), a Civil War hero who was mentally and emotionally scarred by his part in an American Indian massacre. Algren is given a chance to train the Japanese army in the way of firearms and soldiering in general. He accepts the position and is soon forced to lead the inexperienced troops into battle against a warrior clan of samurais who are becoming victims of Japan’s steadily increasing modernization. During the battle, Algren is captured by the samurai, but, he is spared by their leader (Ken Watanabe) because of his fighting ability. Algren is brought to a samurai village to learn about the culture and traditions of the samurai. He begins to train in their ways in an attempt to regain his lost honor.
The action sequences in “The Last Samurai” are amazing to say the least, especially the aforementioned samurai battle with the Japanese army that includes a clan of ninja assassins. However, the movie does not purely center around violence and battles, but instead concentrates on the metamorphosis of Algren’s character. The film also focuses on the cultural differences between Algren and the Japanese family he lives with while training.