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Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last Samurai (2003) - starring Tom Cruise

The Last Samurai is set during tumultuous times in both the United States and Japan. The movie is set during the 1870's, a decade after the American Civil War, a time when the United States fought an intense internal war between the forces of the Union and the Confederates. Similarly, there were dramatic changes going on in Japanese society at that time. The 'samurai' (warrior class) that were a major elements in Japanese society were losing their position and influence, and a proper military was starting to form. This was the time of the Meiji Restoration of 1867-1868 (wikipedia).
The story of the movie is about an old warrior, named Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), who is a veteran of the Indian wars (where the United States Army fought the Native Indian tribes), and who is traumatized by his role in a massacre of Native Indians. He is wandering around pretty aimlessly, making a living by recounting his adventures in gun shows, something that earns him a living, but does nothing to enliven his life.

Movie poster - The Last Samurai (2003) - starring Tom Cruise

However, he is a perpetual drunk, and is finally fired from his job; now he has pretty much no options other than to accept an offer to train the Imperial Japanese army (part of the growing western influences in Japan post the Meiji Restoration). This offer is made to him by his former commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn). Algren pretty much blames Bagley for his transgressions during the war, and has no love lost for him. This offer from Bagley is made on behalf of a Japanese businessman who has stakes in the restoration, called Mr. Omura (Masato Harada).
Algren goes about this task, training peasants and farmers in how to handle rifles as part of this training. However, in their first conflict, they come into battle with a group of rebel samurai warriors, led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe); the army is unequal to the battle and gets defeated by the samurai. One of Algren's colleagues is killed in this attack, and Algren himself fights valiantly, defeating and killing the brother-in-law of the samurai leader. In this fight, he uses a spear with a flag of a white tiger, and Katsumoto believes that to be an omen, and spares Algren's life and takes him prisoner.
Algren is now prisoner at a remote village, living in the house of Hirotaro, whom he had killed. In this village, Algren finally starts to become more at peace him himself, and also starts to really learn the art of wielding the samurai sword as well as learn the Japanese language. In a fight with ninja assassins who had attacked the village, Algren fights along with the samurai, and manages to give a good account of himself even though the samurai take several losses.
With spring, Algren is now back in Tokyo, but now refuses to support Omura in his battle with the samurai, and at the same time, Katsumoto is arrested even after offering advice to the emperor. Algren manages to help Katsumoto regain his freedom, even though in this effort, Katsumoto's son, Nobutada (Shin Koyamada) is killed. After regaining his freedom, Katsumoto learns that a better equipped army unit is going to attack a much smaller samurai force, and it is there that Algren recalls the Battle of Thermopylae, where a much smaller force used better technology and the advantage of terrain to defeat a much larger army.
This comes true as the samurai are able to lead the larger army into a trap, however, soon the samurai realize that the army will get backup units, and another such battle will mean defeat. They resolve to make an attack of their own. However, they face canon fire, something that proves murderous, and then a second unit of infantry. In a battle, Algren kills Bagley when Bagley attacks Katsumoto; but then the second line of Gatling guns hit the samurai as they advance. The Japanese army, then ceases fire in respect of the samurai. Katsumoto ends his life.
In the end, as the emperor prepares to sign a deal with American ambassadors that would make the US as the exclusive dealers for firearms, Algren presents Katsumoto's sword to the emperor; the emperor understands the message and refuses to sign the deal, and also reduces Omura's powers and influence when he objects. Algren returns for the peace he finally found to the small Japanese village.

Track listing:
"A Way of Life"– 8:03
"Spectres in the Fog"– 4:07
"Taken"– 3:36
"A Hard Teacher"– 5:44
"To Know My Enemy"– 4:48
"Idyll's End"– 6:40
"Safe Passage"– 4:56
"Ronin"– 1:53
"Red Warrior"– 3:56
"The Way of the Sword"– 7:59
"A Small Measure of Peace"– 7:59

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