137 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2003
I am Japanease and live in Japan.
At first time,Tom Cruise decided to make Samurai movie,most of Japanese must be suspicious about it.
Because all hollywood movie about Japan and Japanese were really strange for us.
I always disappointed and felt didn't want to watch to the end.
But this movie was really great.
I can't belive this movie was made by another country except Japan.
It must be very difficult job and They did it.
Most of Japanese don't understand "samurai"spirit in these days.
And this movie was so fresh and felt like re-educated.
One of Japanese,I would like to say thank you to "The Last Samurai"
158 of 172 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2003
As a Japanese living in the United Staes, I can say totally, that this film is amazing. There're some critics says Tom Cruise's acting and so on, however, this film sucessfully depicts the history of Japan, and people's traditional lives and the end of samurai era.
This is a spectacular movie with sweeping sword actions and it is based on the true history events in japan, I've seen a lot of samurai movies(made in japan for japanese) but i can say this one is GREAT as the other movies, plus this is not usual hollywood movies that awfully depicts samurais and even Yakuzas and brush off the truth.
I can say, however, without Tom Cruise, this movie could have also been great as well. But i would guess that it is because of him, this movie gained more attention among people and so typical americans can get the idea of what samurai really is and what they really think.
so overall i gave this movie 5 stars. I plan to go watch it again.
99 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2004
This film has been compared (a lot) to Dances with Wolves due to the fact that they both share similar themes. A Civil War era soldier who finds himself thrown in the middle of a different culture and ends up embracing it and becoming part of it.
However, Edward Zwick's film differs from the Kevin Costner Oscar winner in that the principal character, Lt. Nathan Algren (Cruise) is down on his luck, having become a drunken caricature of his former self, deeply regretful of his actions, who accepts a job as an instructor for an incipient Japanese army that needs to be prepared to fight against the Samurai.
As he arrives to Tokyo he starts training a useless bunch of would-be soldiers who are sent to fight even if they're not ready for it. As a result, the newly formed army gets butchered by the battle experienced Samurai. During that battle, Algren fights bravely and kills one of the highest ranking warriors, getting the interest of the famed Katsumoto, the last great Samurai leader, who orders him captured and brought to his son's village as a prisoner.
Once there, Algren's life is changed forever as he gets to know the real lifestyle of the Samurai and their people. They turn out not to be the savages that the Japanese government makes them out to be. After spending winter with them, Algren "changes sides" and joins the Samurai in fighting the Emperor's army.
The title of the movie tells the final outcome. The Samurai lose the battle. Progress triumphs over tradition. New over old. But Algren's past demons are redeemed by his courageous actions helping the Samurai.
The true worth of this movie is its look. You can definetely see where the budget went (other than Cruise's salary). A whole village was built and the attention to detail is astonishing. The costumes are simply amazing, especially the battle armors. The costume designer is Ngila Dickson, who also worked in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Also of notice are the battle scenes, which are breathtaking. Very violent, but not gratuitous, they serve the story very well.
As for the acting, Cruise does a fine job, and is slowly but consistently becoming a better actor (even if this particular performance was not nominated for an Academy Award), but the movie belongs to Ken Watanabe (who was indeed nominated) as Katsumoto. His presence demands attention. He is the center of every scene he's in. Koyuki's performance as Taka, Katsumoto's sister and Algren's love interest, should also be noticed.
246 of 286 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2004
It's 1876. Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) has been sent to Japan in order to help the Imperial Japanese Army become more 'modern' and less 'traditional' and ultimately prepare them to fight the legendary Samurai. Events occur that cause Tom Cruise to be a captive of the deadly but extremely polite Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) who is the leader of the Japanese Samurai. At this point, the viewer begins to learn why the Samurai are fighting to preserve their way of life against Western influences and Cruise's character becomes emotionally bound to them and he integrates himself into their society after working hard to earn their trust. However, the film is not solely about the struggle for the Samurai to keep their way of life, another subplot includes the low key and shy love relationship between Algren and Taka, a quiet widow (played with subtlety by Koyuki). Though it isn't a big part in the film, it highlights the emotional aspect of the film and shows that this is not a film about swords.
In my view, Cruise has been a decent actor with fluctuating performances but in this current effort, he has shown that he is improving and learning how to adapt to different styles of acting. He plays the tormented captain with surprising intelligence and conviction. I was very impressed to see him speaking Japanese - I loved the way this film mixed both English and Japanese toghether because it gave it a strong edge. However, The real star of this film is Ken Watanabe (Tom who?). He played Katsumoto with such a commanding and intense presence that it was hard to concentrate on Cruise or any other actor in the film. Without doubt deserves the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Special mention should go to Koyuki and Ujio (played by Hiroyuki Sanada). As supporting roles, they both acted convincingly without saying much but succeeded in showing that there are many more interesting characters besides Algren and Katsumoto.
Great music score by Hans Zimmer and fantastic costume design that will not doubt trigger a trend in Samurai-influenced clothes.
Negative points: While the film was entertaining, it focused too much on Cruise. The supporting characters were great too and people like Taka and Ujio should have had more developed personalities.
What is Billy Connolly doing in this film? A Scottish man impersonating an Irish man? You didn't fool me Braveheart!
But negativities cast aside, 'The Last Samurai' is an enjoyable, violent but immersing cinematic effort that shouldn't be missed if you are interested in Japan, a Cruise fan or if you just love historical dramas.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2003
First of all, if you want to see the real samurai in film, see Kurosawa. He is, and will be, the definite master of the genre (or any genre of film) and "The Last Samurai" does not change his undisputed status. Still Tom Cruise's new film has several merits of its own, and to watch the fictional Japan with great Japanese cast is worth a look.
Disillusioned and alcoholic American officer, Tom Cruise's Nathan Algren, is hired to train the Japanese army. The time is in the 1870s, when Japan's new government is struggling to establish its rule over the country, and rebellious "samurai" (techinically there were no samurai at that time, though) are unstable elements in the new-born nation.
After the bloody battle, Nathan is captured alive by the leader of rebel samurai Katsumoto (brilliant Ken Watanabe). Katsumoto keeps the wounded American within his village, knowing that the coming severe winter will shut down any access from outside. Moreover, Katsumoto says, he wants to "see his enemy."
After the sagging middle part, while the film portrays the gradual understanding between Katsumoto and Algren, it gives occasional actions using Japanese swords (including those of ninjas which tells that Hollywood still do not understand). Wait to see when it finally leads to the big action scene, of which very authentic and dynamic power is undeniable, even though it is still tainted by Hollywood ending. All Japanese audiences know (and grieve to see) that the Japanese soldiers would not "kneel" that way on the battlefield.
If anything should be recommeded, that is its production designs and Watanabe's acting. The sets of Japanese village and Japanese town (of Yokohama 130 years ago) are literally perfect. (Think about they were mostly bulit in the field of New Zealand or the backlot of Hollywood studio.) Being myself a Japanese who experienced many sad cases of misunderstandings of Western films, I can testify that there are no strange things coming from so-called "Orientalism." Surely they did homework.
And Ken Watanabe. Watanabe's samurai is far better and rounded than Tom Cruise's rather (cliched - ?) American. In fact, Cruise is good, but his performance is clearly enhanced by Watanabe's much subtler and more charismatic acting. In him you will be looking at a new Yul Brynner of "The King and I," with his dignity and slight touch of humor this late great actor so easily had shown. And many Japanese audiences know that Watanabe once suffered from leukemia, and this fact might have lent his convincing portrait of "The Last Samurai" a solemn tone.
To be frank, Edward Zwick's idea about "Bushi-do" or ways of samurai looks too "Westernized" to us. The film shows the armoured samurai riding the horse, but actually, this battle style had already been out-of-date around this era. Any Japanese know that before the Meiji era (which the film depicts), we had a very long peaceful time that lasted about 250 years, and during the period the samurai underwent many changes. And though Katsumoto insists on using swords, the fact is samurai used early-style rifes back in the late 16th century. The film is engaging, but just do not take the film as the historical facts about samurai.
Incidentally, there is a book called "The Last Samurai" by Mark Ravina about a real-life, well-known historical figure Takamori Saigo, whose life is one of the possible inspiration of Katsumoto.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2003
I have to admit that I was a bit worried about seeing this film. What, with all the reports of the "White savior" and how the trailer seemed to taunt that idea. I have to admit, my preconceptions were blown out of the water!
The Last Samurai reflects several historical perspectives accurately: the American desire for international influence and power, American ignorance that ran rampant throughout the time (directed towards Native Americans and the Japanese), Japan's desire for modernization and the Samurai's struggle to maintain their dying culture in the midst of westernization. In the end, a little bit of the importance for those themes is lost, but we'll cover that in a bit.
The story itself revolves around the personal experiences of Nathan Algren, played by Tom Cruise. Algren, after leading a successful (and bigoted) campaign against Native Americans travels to Japan to help quell a "Samurai rebellion" in a conflict between the new and the old. However, captured by his enemies, Algren spends the next several months living with the Samurai, coming to appreciate their culture and atoning for his past mistakes in assisting the Samurai in an attempt to preserve the culture they believe in.
I was wholly impressed with Cruise's performance throughout the movie as his character makes a dramatic transformation from a belligerent alcoholic to being appreciate and reflective (Note: Although the scene where Algren is dressed by Naka, obviously lacks any nudity, it's highly sensual!) For what could have easily been a high budget potential summer blockbuster with a shallow performance, Cruise wasted no energy in his character, one of his better performances. Howevever, I have to admit that Cruise's performance was dim compared to Ken Watanabe's performance of Katsumoto, the ACTUAL LAST SAMURAI! Katsumoto's appeal as the intriguing, strong, lighthearted and wise leader of the Samurai, certainly earns him the best supporting actor nomination (if not award), in my opinion!
However, the appeal of Katsumoto also helps to highlight one of this movie's two weaknesses. Katsumoto (Watanabe) is so good, that he deserves more screen time than he receives. The same belief is the case with other characters, such as Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio and Koyuki as Taka. The movie simply centers on Algren's perspective and fails to accomplish any dynamicism by following the storylines of other integral characters whose perspectives and performances certainly command attention. This movie would have been far more moving than it actually is had those avenues been explored.
My second beef with the movie deals with the ending, which is somewhat redeeming, but also corrective of it's initial mistake (I'm not going to ruin it for you). In any case, the director could have taken many different paths with the ending and the product only reflects one. Let's just say I hope the DVD corrects both weaknesses with added scenes and alternative endings.
In the end, you leave a whole appreciation for Samurai culture and beliefs and with a little bit of relief that the delicate cultural themes throughout the movie could have been handled far less sensitively! The ending is forgivable, but the lack of attention to other characters drops my rating to 4 stars. In its released form, the actual product is very moving, however, its needs a little bit more polishing to make it a masterpiece. This will be a remembered movie, nonetheless.
Mr. Watanabe, you may accept your Oscar come springtime!
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I have loved this movie since it was first released and have the original DVD release which I have watched several times. Most all the reviews I see here are either for the Standard DVD and focus on the great story line and acting but not the quality of the DVD itself. Yes, Tom Cruse does shows some wonderful acting chops and, yes, Ken Watanabe steals the show but let's move on. So this one will focus on the Blu-ray DVD's quality.
Bought the Blu-ray version from Amazon and it was delivered post haste. When I first looked at the back cover information I was disappointed that the audio was Dolby Digital 5.1 rather than a lossless DTSHD 5.1, almost thought of returning it before even watching but am glad I kept it. The video quality of the movie is fairly pristine with no artifacting, good details in the shadows and a sparkling clear transfer. While the audio quality is not the higher end DTSHD, never the less, the audio engineers did a fine job with the front and rear surrounds used subtly for action( actually, during the battle scenes, the rears deserved more discreet use of the rear channels) however, during the rainy scenes, of which there are many, the audio is evenly spread to all channels enveloping you in the rainstorm.
The many extras on the single disc are from the 2004 standard release and there are only 2 deleted scenes that, to me, could have been included in an extended version. I wish more extended deleted scenes had been included. The supplied extras were all interesting and, as I said before, had seen them on the original release so nothing new on that front.
Should you buy this on Blu-ray? Yes, the video quality is definitely superior, however, not by that much. The original release was pretty darn good. However, if you don't already have the Standard version, go for the Blu Ray. I remain disappointed with the lossy audio but it still provides an excellent film.
All my movie reviews are of this nature and focus only on the quality of the transfer to BluRay.
Hopefully, this review has been of some help to you in determining your purchase, hope I am on the correct path with a review of the transfer quality as opposed to providing plot summaries.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2003
Before I start with my reveiw,let it be known that I was never a Tom Cruise fan. He is just another pretty face in a long list of Hollywood hunks. Yet I must give Tom my kudos playing the washed up, drunken American soldier who volunteers to live in Japan in the early Meiji era when the whole country was in a big transition to catch up with the Western(Euro) civiliazation in fear that the country may easily colonized, which happend to China and other Asian countries. I studied Japanese history and the character played by Ken Watanabe is loosely based on Saigo Takamori who led the Samurai rebellion in Southern Kushu, Kuwamoto prefecture. Kuwamoto lord was a strong Shogun supporter and held up to fight back the modernization of Japan. There were several Shogun sympathisers scatterd around the country, bur Kuwamoto clan was most well known. In actuality, Takamori joined the Meiji emperor and became one of the most outspoken supporter of the emperor's plan to open the government to the Western world. Knowing history of Japan helps to understand what the director was trying to bring out to the not-so- knowledgeble audience. Tom Cruise did a fine job of portraying an ignorant, cocky post Civil War soldier who ended up in the Samurai culture where only way to live was by Bushido. The movie is all Tom Cruise which is expectd. This is a Hollywood movie with a matinee idol who has star power to attract audience so that the producers will benefit the mega bucks. Do not expect any Kurosawa from this movie. However the movie is not totally without some messages. A similarity between the American Indians and Samurais in which they were victims of the American conquering and destroying cultures foreign to them. In Aldren's mind, the American Indians and Samurais had a common thread; honor and loyalty to their tribes, and lived by their unbreakable warriors code. To break the code meant dishonor to their ancestors. Death to them was never an option. Some reviewers are critical of plot shallowness, cliches, stereo typical portrayals of Japanese women and of course,a handsome white male among the not so handsome natives. Well this is Tom Cruise's film after all. A handsome white Samurai was very attractive even those who never seen them before. Asian countries seem to worship handsome white actors anyway. Tom's ability to master the Samurai swordsmanship in the movie is just as good as Japanese actors. Sutle performance by Koyuki(Taka)is so true to the era when the women were second class citizens and did not have any rights of their own. The women were not permitted to speak unless told to do so by husbands. Bushido was a way of Samurai's life. Takamori's desire to write a perfect poem is contrast to the way Samurai had to live everyday. Maybe that is why the Japanese culture is very Zen like, existential life which the Westerners are not totally in comprehension. I strongly recommend the movie, and enjoy it for what it offers to the eyes and senses.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2003
While no movie is perfect, and all art can be improved, this effort comes pretty close. More than an action movie, a story of personal redemption, or the saga of a nation in turmoil, it is a blending of all three. The film blends the the epic and the personal, the external and the internal in masterful fashion. No movie except Lawrence of Arabia has done it as well.
Cruise does well in his role, but the finest performances come from the Japanese cast. Ken Watanabe's portrayal of the Samurai leader is timeless; an oscar-lock in the supporting category. The technical elements of the film are all impecable, but none distracts from the film. The part never obscurs the whole, the action never eclipses the drama.
This is a film that must be seen, must be experienced. It takes an immediate place on my all-time list, blending the power of Braveheart with the feeling and morality of The Mission. A rare and remarkable achievement.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
In 1876 Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a Civil War hero who became disillusioned with politics and ideals during the Indian Campaigns, and then he became a drunk. An envoy from Japan offers him a job training the Emperor's first modern army, which will be used to suppress an army of Samurai who are rebelling against the Imperial government's modernizing agenda. Mired in self-hatred and disgusted by the irony that killing is what he does best, Algren declares that he'll kill anyone for $500 a month and sails for Japan. Against his better judgment, Algren leads an ill-prepared regiment of novice soldiers against the Samurai, and he is captured. The leader of the Samurai, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), treats Algren well, ostensibly so that he may learn about his enemy. And Algren grows to respect this imposing man and the ancient traditions of the Samurai that Katsumoto is fighting to preserve in the face of a rapidly emerging modern Japan.
"The Last Samurai" is a terrific example of what Hollywood does best. It is a epic of legendary proportions. It sets the personal stories of a few heroic individuals against a sweeping and beautifully photographed historical background. It is a great story, but not a realistic one. It's a grandly entertaining myth. The Samurai culture is idealized. The characters speak not as real people would, but in moving and thoughtful monologues. Even when they are speaking to each other, they are actually speaking to the audience. But Hollywood does these larger-than-life tales like no one else, and "The Last Samurai" is epic filmmaking at its best.
Tom Cruise is an obvious choice for such a large-scale project that requires that its cast have great screen presence so as not to be lost among the fantastic costumes and sets. Cruise's screen presence is up to the task, but I'm not sure his thespian skills are. Cruise's mannerisms are too modern for a man who grew up in the mid-19th century. But that is a minor flaw since "The Last Samurai" does not pretend to historical accuracy in its ideas, only in its environment. Tom Cruise is adequate here, but Ken Watanabe steals the show as Katsumoto, spiritual and military leader of the Samurai. His presence on screen is more than up to the film's epic proportions. I have rarely seen such charisma on a movie screen. He successfully embodies the concept of the warrior-poet in one character. I look forward to seeing more of Ken Watanabe in Western films, as well as Japanese. There are notable supporting performances from Koyuki as Taka, a woman who takes Algren into her home when he is injured and captured, and from Timothy Spall as a British translator.
Much has been made of "The Last Samurai"'s playing fast and loose with history. This is a film that aspires to bring an engrossing and monumental story to its audience before it aspires to accuracy in detail. My knowledge of Japanese history is sketchy at best. But it appears that the larger events of "The Last Samurai" are based in fact, while the details have been invented to serve the story. The rebellion of the Samurai and its great battle with the Imperial Army in the film closely resemble the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, in which the Satsuma Samurai, led by Saigo Takamori, engaged the Imperial Army. It turns out the way it did in real life, too. The film's Katsumoto is based on the very real Japanese hero Saigo Takamori, who helped usher the Shogunate out of power and restore the Imperial family to power before eventually leading an armed Rebellion against the Emperor on account of the policies of the Meiji Restoration, which instituted sweeping reforms intended to modernize Japan. The Meiji Restoration did make it illegal for the Samurai to wear topknots and swords, as we see depicted in the film. The government's Ministers did have more power than the Emperor Meiji, who served primarily as a symbol of national unity. So I would say that the political climate and the major events depicted in "The Last Samurai" are real, while the story itself is not. Writer John Logan has used this environment to tell a story about the personal journey of an American and the clash between modern realities and traditional cultures.
"The Last Samurai" has often been compared to Kevin Costner's 1990 epic "Dances With Wolves". The two films are similar in that they are both about a disillusioned Civil War veteran who finds redemption and a sense of identity in a traditional culture that is on its way to extinction -or at least assimilation. But the Samurai were not harmless or innocent as the American Indians of "Dances With Wolves" may have been. The Samurai were politically influential and militarily powerful. And they were not marginalized after their defeat. Quite the contrary. "The Last Samurai" also departs from "Dances With Wolves" pacifist themes in asserting that the suppression of traditional cultures, by force if necessary, was necessary for Japan's survival in the modern world.
I highly recommend "The Last Samurai" as an excellent example of signature epic filmmaking. It's a well-paced story that holds the audience's interest even at nearly 2 1/2 hours in length. Ken Watanable's performance is thoroughly enjoyable. The battle sequence is breath-taking and utterly spectacluar. It will even appeal to the martial arts crowd; there are lots of sword fights. It's a melange of history and fiction, but I see no reason to sweat the details since "The Last Samurai" isn't claiming to be anything more than that.