Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Review of "The Last Samurai," DVD version

Review of
The Last Samurai, DVD version

Five out of five stars
 This is a great war movie, the action is fierce, unforgiving and intense. Even though the viewer knows what the outcome of the climactic battle will be, the goal of the “good side” is not to win, but to lose gloriously.
 As the title suggests, the backdrop is Japan in a time of great transition. Although Japan was closed to foreigners for 200 years, there was enough leakage so that the rulers of Japan were well aware of what the British and other western powers were doing in China, essentially subjugating it. They also knew that they had no weapons that could stand against those of the colonial powers.
Therefore, when the American Commodore Perry sailed into Edo Bay in 1853 and carried out a show of arrogance and force, the Japanese government had no choice but to accede. This led to a national crisis in Japan, where the rulers knew that they had two choices, modernize the country or be subjugated like China was.
 The internal conflicts within Japan in the rush to modernize forms the background for this movie. For centuries, the warrior class of Japan were the samurai, skilled soldiers that fought using only hand weapons, most commonly swords, bows and spears. They resisted the modernization efforts, so the government formed a modern army with firearms and cannons to defeat them.
 Tom Cruise plays Captain Nathan Algren, a highly decorated soldier that is now in a love affair with the bottle. Algren is recruited to train the fledgling Japanese Army, but after the initial skirmish, he is captured by the samurai leader, Katsumoto, played by Ken Watanabe. During his lengthy captivity, Algren learns to appreciate the discipline and beliefs of the samurai, taking their side in the hopeless fight against the modern Japanese Army.
 The performances of Cruise and Watanabe are superb, the viewer becomes very empathetic towards the samurai, all while knowing that their cause is hopeless. While these exact events did not happen, there is enough historical truth to make it a history lesson. The mindset of the samurai also will help viewers understand the Japanese unwillingness to surrender in World War II. For they were only following the bushido code.

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