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In The Theaters
I just saw it and boy does it...
318

Last Samurai
Topic by: JBellows
Posted: December 6, 2003 - 3:04 PM PST
Last Reply: May 10, 2004 - 10:26 AM PDT

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author topic: Last Samurai
JBellows
post #1  on December 6, 2003 - 3:04 PM PST  
I know a lot of us had been waiting to see who would be the first one to post. Ha ha. It was me. Neener neener.

But the irony is, I'm not going to post my views until I've let a few people contribute first. Really: tell us what you thought of this latest Cruise vehicle.
zophar
post #2  on December 7, 2003 - 3:57 PM PST  
first of all, the scene where you first see the samurai coming at the soldiers in the forest.. that was awesome, and aside from some really cool battle sequences i really didn't find myself liking the movie. Nothing really surprised me at all, and the characters didn't really pull me into it. All in all i think it was a good nod towards the samurai and i noticed a few things that stood out as paying some homage to old samurai movies, at least i thought, and was well worth sneaking into the theater, i just wish i had a fast forward.
Ayato
post #3  on December 8, 2003 - 9:43 AM PST  
I liked the movie, it wasnt perfect but still worth watching. Ill probably buy the DvD when it comes out.
dpowers
post #4  on December 8, 2003 - 5:58 PM PST  
also anybody who saw both, want to take a shot at comparing it with lost in translation?
dpowers
post #5  on December 8, 2003 - 6:00 PM PST  
and maybe kill bill 1/2... but there's too much missing info yet... cultural interface isn't clear.
underdog
post #6  on December 9, 2003 - 4:49 PM PST  
> On December 8, 2003 - 6:00 PM PST dpowers wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> and maybe kill bill 1/2... but there's too much missing info yet... cultural interface isn't clear.
> ---------------------------------

How about comparing it to Dances With Wolves, of which it seems fairly similar in plotting.... ?
Eoliano
post #7  on December 9, 2003 - 6:18 PM PST  
>also anybody who saw both, want to take a shot at comparing it with lost in translation?

I'll pass on that comparison.

What about renaming the film The Lost Samurai?

>How about comparing it to Dances With Wolves, of which it seems fairly similar in plotting.... ?

Exactly!

However, I thoroughly enjoyed Ken Watanabe's performance. He reminded me of Yul Brynner (!) at his best and I wish that Hiroyuki Sanada's character had more on screen time.
JBellows
post #8  on December 10, 2003 - 12:24 AM PST  
Here's the deal, Watanabe and Shinosuke(sp?) are both regulars (Watanabe is one of the hosts) of Hey!Hey!Hey!, a comedy talk showy Japanese show. The Emperor is a popular teen idol who plays ultra cool roles. The Omura guy (ie, the villain) was in a recent tv series where he played an Archie Bunker type (but always totally ignored by his family).

Having watched all of these actors in totally different genres for which they are loved, I had a hard time adjusting to their roles in this movie. But this is my problem, not yours. You see, they're all actors and it shouldn't matter what role they play so long as it is effective...and they were. I'm not going to go japanophile on you and say they are superior because of some cultural bias. Watanabe has said he trained long and hard for the movie role.

Comparisons to 'Dances With Wolves'. The Oscar grabbing formatting. The period otaku writer. Its all coming together. This film is so formulaic and devoid of energy that I never had the opportunity to sympathize with any of the characters. I genuinely did not care a whit about anyone on the screen. And about halfway through the movie, I said to myself, "such-and-such is going to happen." And about four seconds later, such-and-such did. I even guessed, I kid you not, that there would be a final battle, everyone would die but the white guy and the white guy would hand over the treasured sword to the emperor and the emperor would make some sort of about face. And all of this happened!

This movie screams rental just before Oscar night.

I wish I could have asked for my money back but that would have been so,I dunno, formulaic and Hollywood. There are times when I just want to give up on American filmmaking. But then I remember Cruise in 'Jerry Macquire'(sp?), Star Wars, Twin Peaks, etc. And then I feel a little less guilty. But I must admit I feel so let down by 'Samurai', especially since I used to live in Japan and followed the history as a total otaku; actually, I feel like we, as movie makers and an audience, betrayed the Japanese by saying, 'we can reinvent your history...because it wasn't as entertaining in real life and sorta sucked cuz the samurai were actually brutal dictators...so we'll make them romantic heroes instead. Here's your latte.'

Forgive my rant. I did actually pay to see this movie. And I'm glad other people responded to this posting. But I will never see this film again.
hamano
post #9  on December 10, 2003 - 7:56 AM PST  
I just saw it!

TAGLINE: War Fantasy cloaked in Historical Drama clothing!

What a perfect Christmas present for President George Bush and the families whose loved ones are risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course the Iraqis and Palestinians and even Al Quaida members could take comfort from this as well. Noble and deeply spiritual men are killed on the field of battle against impossible odds... all glory to those men who fight for the sake of being warriors. And Tom Cruise even gets the girl in the end, the wife of a man he killed in battle. Everyone else who was fighting with Cruise dies in a mad rush against a bank of gattling guns. But that's fine, that's how true warriors WANT to die. I can imagine Bush sitting in the White House screening room with a tear rolling down his cheek, patting himself on the back for giving some of the men and women under his command a chance to die that way... Algren mutters ONE throwaway line, that he's fighting to protect the village and people that he loves, but that intent is not shown anywhere else in the film. The love of the art of swordfighting and battle strategy is quite AMPLY shown throughout.

The film starts off with a blatant lie. In the legend Katsumoto is quoting, male and female deities Izanami and Izanagi dipped a spear into the ocean to create Japan, not a sword as the scripters would ask you to believe! (see my summary in the Magical Girl forum) From that point on, the Japanese history presented in the film is about as authentic as the depictions in Sakura Wars and Steel Angel Kurumi. The Kenshin series pays much more respect to actual historical events and characters... Maybe live action films should have a genre called "Historical Fantasy"...

It was also ironic that the film drew comparisons between the samurai and Native Americans. Samurai warriors were an instrument of oppression used by the Tokugawa Shogunate to subjugate and filet native populations in distant provinces, among them the people of the Ainu race in Ezo (Hokkaido), and the peoples of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands, among others. And let's not forget the Japanese Christians, on whom the samurai took particular pleasure in providing martyrdom by the most painful methods.

It's great timing for a film that portrays what perfect warriors the Japanese can truly be, as Koizumi's Parliament declares that Japan will be sending "Self Defence Force" troops into Iraq to give support to the American effort... I hope the Iraqi resistance find good days for them to die worthy deaths (just kidding mobidly!).

Ignoring the creation of an alternate history, and Tom's use of trademarked facial expressions, for a minute, the battle scenes were pretty exciting, and great care was taken on set decoration, architecture, props and culture. One thing they missed, when the Emperor Meiji bends down to take Katsumoto's sword from the prostrate Algren, the other Japanese men in the room would have instantly prostrated themselves. In those days no one would have been allowed to hold their heads higher than His Imperial Majesty. It took a coupla atom bombs to change some customs.

Overall, this is a fine-looking film with wonderful music and sound. I'm still not sure what Zwick's thing about the romantic ideal of the fighting man is (Courage Under Fire, Glory). He seems to be fascinated by the idea of the noble, transcendental soldier on the screen, while his TV shows (Once and Again, 30 Something) seem more intent on exploring solidly middle class American values. I'm curious to see if anyone detected an anti-war sentiment in this film? I did not, despite the deliberate inclusion of a couple of lines and some shots of peaceful village life that implied the senselessness of the carnage to follow. I felt those sentiments were included in a half-hearted attempt to make the film seem less reactionary and more PC...

> What about renaming the film The Lost Samurai?

They didn't seem to have any trouble finding their way between Katsumoto's distant southern village and Tokyo in a flash. There was very little sense of how distant in time and place the two locations were. Poof! You're in Tokyo. Poof! You're back in Katsumoto's province.

This also brings to mind dpowers' thoughts on how traditional agrarian societies are depicted in film... For all the talk of the pure tradition of the samurai, there was no indication that this was the result of a formal social segregation system that divided Japanese into 4 strata, Shi-No-Ko-Sho, Warrior - Peasant - Craftsmen - Merchants. The Meiji restoration WAS a chance for industrialists and merchants who had grown materially wealthy to obtain formal political power (and titles like Baron and Count) as Omura is trying to do. However, this character is wasted, turned into the standard American Western "evil railroad magnate" stereotype, slaughtering Injuns to make way for the Iron Horse (and becoming an arms trader in the process! EVIL!). Remember the character Kenneth Branagh played in Wild Wild West?

> >How about comparing it to Dances With Wolves, of which it seems fairly similar in plotting.... ?

In my mind, I'm gonna compare it to the Rings trilogy, when the final chapter arrives! Since I found the politics of Last Samurai to be so reprehensible, I'll have to see if Peter Jackson is showing me the same sentiments which are more palatable in a fantasy setting...

> However, I thoroughly enjoyed Ken Watanabe's performance. He reminded me of Yul Brynner (!) at his best

!! To think he was Goro's young, boyishly handsome sidekick Gun in Tampopo! He's developed quite a presence in the 20 years or so since then...

> and I wish that Hiroyuki Sanada's character had more on screen time.

GreenCiners may be more familiar with his other recent role as the evil and hammy sorcerer Doson in Onmiyoji. Sanada is featured very prominently in the DVD trailers for Onmiyoji. What a contrast!
Eoliano
post #10  on December 10, 2003 - 8:40 AM PST  
> GreenCiners may be more familiar with his (Hiroyuki Sanada) other recent role as the evil and hammy sorcerer Doson in Onmiyoji...

as well as in Ringu and Ringu2. Sanada is very recognizable to Japanese audiences.
JBellows
post #11  on December 10, 2003 - 9:47 AM PST  
> On December 10, 2003 - 8:40 AM PST Eoliano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> > GreenCiners may be more familiar with his (Hiroyuki Sanada) other recent role as the evil and hammy sorcerer Doson in Onmiyoji...
>
> as well as in Ringu and Ringu2. Sanada is very recognizable to Japanese audiences.
>
> ---------------------------------

That's right. I'd forgotten to mention Sanada. He's great!

dpowers
post #12  on December 10, 2003 - 1:24 PM PST  
study questions:

1. how are americans' relationships with japanese people in japan depicted differently in lost in translation and the last samurai? how are they the same?

6. compare and constrast the scene in which bill murray's character is taught to act for japanese television with the scenes in which tom cruise is taught samurai traditions.

2. based on the course of the two stories and the endings, do the films narrate a possible future of the relationship between america and japan? what is that possible future?

E. in each film main characters have found their way to japan having lost something important in america. the journey to japan is framed as a spiritual journey, and yet the two countries have been industrial competitors, including a massive war, for almost a century. WTF?

45. tom cruise and bill murray both became famous during a period of heavy rivalry between the two countries, when "made in the USA" almost entirely meant "not made in japan." during the 1980s, murray (in stripes) and cruise (in top gun) both starred as renegades inside the american military establishment - a doubly romantic statement of american pride. do these two films represent a reconciliation between rivals? could they also represent a nostalgia for the occupation?

6. as a second part of that question, imagine the roles reversed: bill murray as the american general in the last samurai, tom cruise as the american actor in lost in translation. what elements of our understanding of japanese society and history would have been betrayed by this role shift? (are samurai funny? is modern japanese media culture heroic?) what elements would still have fit?
Ayato
post #13  on December 10, 2003 - 4:16 PM PST  
>How about comparing it to Dances With Wolves, of which it seems fairly similar in plotting.... ?

Seemed alot like Lawrence of Arabia too.
Eoliano
post #14  on December 11, 2003 - 9:00 AM PST  
> Seemed alot like Lawrence of Arabia too.

Not quite, since T.E. Lawrence had spent much of his graduate years in the Middle East doing archeological work before the campaign in the desert, was a fluent speaker of the language, and had a scholarly knowledge of the history of the Arab people. A fish out of water, perhaps, but not nearly in the same sense as Algren.
kamapuaa
post #15  on December 11, 2003 - 10:26 PM PST  
> E. in each film main characters have found their way to japan having lost something important in america. the journey to japan is framed as a spiritual journey, and yet the two countries have been industrial competitors, including a massive war, for almost a century. WTF?

I was slow to see the movie because it's such a cliche in movies and especially books, Japan being an exotic land. Cambodia or Sierra Leone are pretty fucking dissimilar to the US, but nobody goes there to bask in, and learn from, the different-ness of it all.

I don't think there's a good answer. Just, the cliche of an exotic Japan got started, and everybody else joined in on it. Maybe if Japhy had gone to Seoul at the end of _Dharma Bums_, it would be "Lost in Korea"???



> 6. as a second part of that question, imagine the roles reversed: bill murray as the american general in the last samurai, tom cruise as the american actor in lost in translation.

In the future, DVD players will be able to switch actors using Pixar technology.
dpowers
post #16  on December 11, 2003 - 11:19 PM PST  
> In the future, DVD players will be able to switch actors using Pixar technology.

gone with the wind, starring vivian leigh and godzilla
dh22
post #17  on May 8, 2004 - 6:15 PM PDT  
I just saw it today. Sort of Dances with Wolves meets Braveheart meets Shogun. It made me sad though. In the past few years I've become increasingly anti-concrete, and this only stirred the pot of my emotions. The world is so beautiful when you don't tear it all down to build condominiums, and cookie-cutter homes.
Eoliano
post #18  on May 9, 2004 - 8:52 PM PDT  
> I just saw it today. Sort of Dances with Wolves meets Braveheart meets Shogun. It made me sad though. In the past few years I've become increasingly anti-concrete, and this only stirred the pot of my emotions. The world is so beautiful when you don't tear it all down to build condominiums, and cookie-cutter homes.

Yeah, Matsumoto's village was definitely a place I could call home for a while, though far from the beach, but then I'm in the desert and all I think about is green foliage and the sea.
hamano
post #19  on May 9, 2004 - 9:15 PM PDT  
> On May 9, 2004 - 8:52 PM PDT Eoliano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Yeah, Matsumoto's village was definitely a place I could call home for a while, though far from the beach, but then I'm in the desert and all I think about is green foliage and the sea.
> ---------------------------------

Curiously, it reminded me quite a bit of the idyllic woodcutters' village in Return of Daimajin, the most beautiful and picturesque of the Daimajin Trilogy.
Eoliano
post #20  on May 9, 2004 - 9:27 PM PDT  
> Curiously, it reminded me quite a bit of the idyllic woodcutters' village in Return of Daimajin, the most beautiful and picturesque of the Daimajin Trilogy.

I haven't seen any of the Daimajin movies, so I can't make any comparisons. An idyllic setting, nonetheless, and as the summer heat steadily intensifies here in the Mohave, a desire for more verdant landscapes and the coolness of the sea will increasingly beckon me.
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