Friday, March 25, 2011

Popcorn On - The Last Samurai

So, what with all of the Spring storms going on lately, I decided it was movie time, since that's basically what I do when there's the possibility of losing power/internet.  Because if my computer or PS3 go out when the power does, they might not come back.  My TV?  Reliable as hell, so I don't even have to worry.  And like 99% of the time, nothing happens anyway.  Anyways, I was looking through my library of movies (that feels smaller and smaller every time I look at it) and decided, "Y'know what, I've been on a Sengoku Era kick lately, let's watch The Last Samurai."

Now.  Anyone who has seen The Last Samurai knows just how I made myself feel like an idiot with that.  Because, in my head, I really thought it was based about 200 years earlier than it actually is in the movie.  For absolutely no reason; I've watched the movie before, nothing is a surprise about it.  I just completely forgot about the trains, weaponry, the war with the Indians as pretty much a major plot point, and all of that.  So instantly, I go, "D'oh." but it's a good movie anyway, so I went ahead and kept with it.

"At least they're all pointing the same way."  Pretty much a direct quote, actually.
So, the premise of the movie, without giving too much away, is that former Captain Nathan Algren, "Hero" of the wars with the Native Americans, took to selling armaments after an incident with his troop to finance his new hobby:  boozing.  Towards the start of the movie, he's approached by one of the only remaining members of his troop with an opportunity to sell arms to Japanese Soldiers training to subdue the remaining Samurai, banded together under one charismatic leader.  The job pays great, he's under the impression that it'll be an easy gig, so he accepts, and quickly enough they're on a boat to Japan.

Shortly after arriving, he finds that the term "Rag-Tag" can't really adequately describe the army that's amassed under the Emperor (or, rather, the Emperor's Mouthpiece) that he has to train, but, still attempts it, given that he's there with a rather upstanding couple of Generals and an old friend.  There's a few scenes that give a good look into the character of Nathan, who's clearly suffering from some issues from his time in the war; always a specific event that's left vague for a good portion of the movie, but still, everything to this point has been a warm-up to the real meat of the movie.

Now, I'm not going to act like you can't see.  This is slightly spoilerific, but come on, Tom Cruise is on the goddamn cover with Samurai Armor.  So it should come as no surprise that through certain circumstances, he's captured by the Samurai he's been hired to fight, and ends up spending a lot of time with them (given that it's Winter, and battle has all but halted under the conditions.).  And also, clearly, he ends up warming up to them and their way of life, their customs, and their understanding of the situation.  This is basically what the movie wants to express.

"So, why haven't we killed each other already?"
When you watch the middle area of the movie, if you're not enjoying it on any level, you are not going to like the movie, because it's clearly the best part of it, since it was clearly the most worked-on portion.  The beginning feels more like backstory, and the ending feels....well, it just falls short.  And even with a half-baked love story buried in it, the middle still ends up being really enjoyable, provided you like seeing a character completely transform his image over the course of a few movie months.  Or if you like seeing Tom Cruise get smacked around with a Bokken.  Because that happens a lot.

I should state here that I'm not necessarily a Tom Cruise fan.  Neither am I someone who dislikes him, it's just that I really couldn't name any movie other than this and Legend (which I bought for my girlfriend a couple years ago and watched it with her) that I've seen, so I can't really comment on his ability.  Oh, Tropic Thunder.  I saw that.  He was pretty great in that, if only because he must have completely lost his mind prior to agreeing to it.  Actually, prior to volunteering for it.  As far as this movie goes, he does pretty well, really well, in fact, but is actually a little outshined for me by the others in the movie itself.

Like a Baws.
I will say, that, for a movie that is sort of based on history, or at least inspired by a real guy, it doesn't feel all that historical.  The speech seems a little too modern, they don't really play up on just how new of a technology the guns used in the movie is (to the point where I really questioned if these things really existed then), and it just feels a little more concerned with giving you it's moral, than teaching you anything from the past.  That's likely more of a peeve of mine than it would be to most, since, well, I am a bit of a history nerd.  Still, it's an enjoyable movie to watch, even if you know how it ends.  And come on, you know how it ends.


  1. I loathed The Last Samurai, thanks entirely to Tom Cruise's character, and performance. I think the last movie I really liked him in (Tropic Thunder is, yes, a standout) is the first Mission Impossible movie.

    Oh, actually Knight And Day was surprisingly good, too.

    But The Last Samurai just pissed me off to no end. If you want a really interesting story of a white man showing up in Japan while they were still swinging Samurai swords at each other, check out a book called Shogun, by James Clavell.

    The first time I read it I was like "bullshit - sure, it makes sense to have a white dude show up in Japan, so we can have all the customs and such explained to us - but the fact that he has such a rise in power? As if!"

    Then I found out it's based on a real-life dude named William Adams, who came from England as a ship's navigator and became the first foreigner ever given the title of Samurai.

    I've probably read that book about twenty times - easily my favorite novel ever.

    Hm, I should blog post this. Not sure the last time I mentioned a book...

  2. It's actually a little funny, because as I was writing this post, I became less and less fond of the movie as I remembered parts. I think it kind of came off that way, ('The middle is the part the director liked the most, if you don't like it, you just won't like the movie', implying bad pacing, etc.) too.

    I completely didn't intend for that, since, like, when I watched it, it was pretty alright. Kind of like FFX. Sure, I liked it when I played it, but when I thought back on it afterward, it was just so......less good.