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NUMBER 7

The Last Samurai

Director: Edward Zwick

Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Koyuki, Timothy Spall

Year: 2003

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

In 1999 a videogame was released for the Sega Dreamcast called Shenmue (you’ll start to notice a connection now between my love for films and videogames). The game was set in 20th century Japan and told the story of Ryo Hazuki, a martial artist out to avenge the death of his father. My love for all things Japanese was instigated by this game and what followed was a healthy interest in manga and anime, along with other videogames set in Japan – particularly the feudal era. I started to collect Japanese trinkets and even had CDs of traditional Japanese music. When I was 15 I made a pact with one of my best friends that we would one day go to Japan – a promise we are yet to fulfil.

However, despite my love for all things Japanese, when I first heard of The Last Samurai I wasn’t interested. I can’t remember if it was my reluctance to watch anything featuring Tom Cruise or my stubbornness of not being the first one of my friends to discover it. My friends were badgering me to see it, claiming I would love it; citing my interest in Japan and love for another film that they felt shared similarities with The Last Samurai. I refused to see it while it was out at the cinema. It wasn’t until a year later that my aforementioned best friend sat me down and demanded that I watch it. My first viewing of this film blew me away and subsequent viewings all yield the same result

The Last Samurai is an epic war film that depicts the Westernisation of 19th century Japan. In a bid to economise on Japan’s new interest, the US government sends distinguished Civil War heroes to Japan to train the Imperial Japanese Army in exchange for an exclusive arms deal. One of these veterans is Tom Cruise’s character, Nathan Algren, who is now an alcoholic and traumatised by his part in the atrocities of the American Indian Wars. A penitent man, Algren is tasked with suppressing a samurai rebellion, but is given little time to train the army. He is quickly captured by the men he was sent to defeat and is surprised to discover a civilisation that is both humble and disciplined, and that they are not the savages he was led to believe. Say what you want about Tom Cruise as a person, but the guy acts with conviction.

The story is written with an American audience in mind, and I’m sure you could find countless tropes in the plot that have appeared before and since this movie. The Last Samurai isn’t a great depiction of Japanese culture, however it’s one of my favourite films as it manages to capture a particular majesty of feudal Japan, as if Japan is a fairy land in a storybook. Add in one of Hans Zimmer’s greatest soundtracks, and you’ve got my seventh favourite film. I suppose I should be thankful to that friend of mine who demanded I watch it.

Trailer for The Last Samurai:

One of the great scenes from the movie:

Helen said that the above scene reminded her of the following scene from Kung Fu Hustle:

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