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The Last Samurai

tn_lastsamuraiBack in 2003, when THE LAST SAMURAI was new, I had a cynical, kneejerk reaction to it. “Yeah, right… Tom Cruise is the last samurai? Who’s next, someone from the brand new TV show this year America’s Top Model?” I was offended that they wouldn’t make a movie just about samurai, it had to be about the white guy that meets the samurai.

Some things I wasn’t taking into account at that time:

I. The DANCES WITH WOLVES type story of a westerner taken in by an enemy tribe of some kind and learning their ways is a longstanding tradition, and it’s a cool idea to do one with samurai instead of Native Americans. In fact it was partly inspired by real stories of a French soldier who did something like that.

II. There are hundreds of great samurai movies made in Japan, and director Edward Zwick of COURAGE UNDER FIRE was not about to beat them at their own game. It’s simply more interesting if he does his own thing here than if he just tries to imitate Japanese samurai movies. Come on.

III. What the fuck are you talking about here 2003 Vern, you LOVE the white ninja tradition of movies – ENTER THE NINJA, NINJA, AMERICAN NINJA, Steven Seagal… how could there not be value in seeing the big expensive studio from-the-director-of-GLORY version of that?

#III was the decisive one when I remembered the movie after it was mentioned in Amy Nicholson’s excellent Tom Cruise essay in the L.A. Weekly (please read that if you haven’t – it’s the best piece of movie writing I’ve read in a long damn time; makes great points about Cruise but is mainly about something much larger than him). It wasn’t until after I’d already rented it that I remembered this was the movie that put Ken Watanabe on the map, and got him an Oscar nomination. That’s funny because I had just seen him in that remake of UNFORGIVEN and was stupidly wondering why he hadn’t done other samurai roles.

mp_lastsamuraiYou know, I thought it made sense for Watanabe to take on the Clint role in UNFORGIVEN because he’d been directed by him in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. This movie made me realize he also has a relationship with Warner Brothers like Clint does. This one is WB, and so are BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION, and GODZILLA. I bet he’s officially on their payroll as Japanese Clint.

Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a washed up (and chest-waxed, I noticed) Civil War veteran full of regret and alcohol, telling war stories on stage for tourists to promote Winchester Rifles. He has a chance for a little more dignity though when the Japanese government hires him to come train their army to suppress a rebellion led by the samurai Katsumoto Moritsugu (Watanabe). After all, you guys did such a good job massacring your natives.

This is supposed to be 1876, just a couple years before the UNFORGIVEN remake, a period when guns are replacing swords, the old ways are being shunned and the government is trying to weed out the old warriors who won’t step in line. (Watanabe’s character in that might even be kind of a meta reference to this one, almost what could’ve become of him.) This guy Algren’s supposed to teach them how to do that. The soldiers wear Civil War type uniforms and carry rifles but they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. They can’t shoot for shit! In one intense scene Algren yells at one soldier to shoot him. He keeps yelling until the poor guy actually tries to do it. I’m not sure if Alrgren has that little faith in the guy’s marksmanship or if he hates this job so much he’s trying to commit suicide. Either way, he survives and continues to be the star of the movie (spoiler).

So where do you think this is going? A Bad News Bears type deal where he has to mold this ragtag band of scamps into true warriors? And at first they kinda hate him and he gives up hope but then they start to warm up to each other and he comes to one of their houses to talk to their parents about something and you know he really does care and then they try really hard to come through for him and he really starts to care and they just might be able to come out on top? Good guess, I’m proud of your effort. But no, instead a bunch of samurai just show up right away and just horribly murder a bunch of them and the rest run away like sissies. Tom does manage to kill a red-armoured bigshot in a sword duel, which impresses Katsumoto enough that he takes him prisoner instead of chopping his cute little white head off.

They don’t keep him in a cage or anything, they let him walk around and stuff. They treat him like a guest who just isn’t allowed to leave the village and has to be chaperoned. Most of the movie is about Algren staying with Katsumoto’s sister and nephews, the family of the guy he killed. Awkward. They act very polite but hate having him there, partly because he smells like ass.

You’d think this would be one of those pictures where everybody speaks broken English, but instead he just can’t communicate with any of these people except Katsumoto, who’s very studied and likes to speak English to him. It’s largely a Japanese language movie with subtitles. Just one example of how it’s not as dumb as I assumed back then.

The turning point for both the character and the movie is one night when everybody’s gathered around a stage watching their leader and some other guys put on a comedy show. This is like 40 minutes in and all the sudden a bunch of ninjas come out of the shadows and attack the village! Algren proves himself by crying out and helping foil the assassination attempt, and the movie proves itself by giving us out of the blue ninja attack. You gotta respect that.

Obviously our boy is going native. He starts to learn the language, the customs, some katas, some sword moves. He makes friends with the kids. He finally tries to have conversations with the old guy that follows him around all day to keep an eye on him. But he doesn’t pretend to be Japanese, he insists on one American tradition: men help women carry the groceries.

It gets a little uncomfortable when you’re wondering if he’s trying to get it on with this lady. I mean, he felt bad about killing all those Indians, did he try to fuck their widows too? But it’s not a bad uncomfortable, really. It works.

Even the kids around here are little badasses. He practices sword fighting them with sticks, and he’s really good from his wars but they can hold their own.

There are subplots about his relationships with different people in the village. He has to prove himself and whatnot. One of the guys is handsome Hiroyuki Sanada from SUNSHINE, SPEED RACER, THE WOLVERINE and 47 RONIN.

That guy can’t keep hating Algren forever, because it’s obvious that he’s fully on board for the rebellion, and this isn’t Stockholm/Helsinki Syndrome. This is legitimate mutual respect. This village is so beautiful and peaceful, it kinda made me want to live there too. Some of the people are so nice to him. The ones that aren’t it’s okay, because he deserves it. Plus, Watanabe is so cool. Wouldn’t you want to be his bud? He wouldn’t have to abduct you to win you over.

And it doesn’t hurt that Algrn fuckin hates Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn)’s guts. And he told him as much. Bagley was his commanding officer in the war, ordered him to do horrible things that he still has nightmares about, so he can’t respect him. It definitely gives him pleasure to ride up on horseback with a bunch of samurai and tell that motherfucker sorry bud, I’m on the home team now, my sword will be pointing in your direction.

There’s a scene in here that was actually thought provoking for me. Algren sits in for the audience, so he has a modern view of the Indian Wars he was involved in. He’s ashamed and haunted by what he did. But Katsumoto is a samurai, he admires uphill battles and good deaths, so he’s fascinated by Custer’s Last Stand. He thinks it’s awesome! I thought that was clever to compare his philosophy to a piece of American history that most of us see as shameful. It forced me to think more about how these ideas that seem so cool in far off, exotic battles are actually very fucked up. There’s nothing courageous about being willing to die to murder the locals. But Katsumoto loves it. He talks about Custer the way we talk about Dolph Lundgren.

These warrior guys are all pretty nerdy about historic battles. Since he’s not a Custer fan, Algren tries to hype Katsumoto up by telling him all about the battle of Thermopylae. This would be so much easier now ’cause he’d just go “Have  you seen 300?” Anyway, he has to choose a team here and he chooses the one that is obviously gonna lose but also has the best uniforms.

It’s pretty exciting when Algren and Katsumoto fight side by side, and we get to see the other characters we got to know in the village, but now in their element, in battle. For example, when Algren was first captured he was told he shouldn’t bother to run because Katsumoto’s son was an archer and he’d never get away. Now it’s these guys running, but we get to see the young man firing off arrow after arrow at their pursuers.

Action-wise this is a pretty  good version of the “a bunch of yelling guys swinging swords at the same time” approach. I mean you got that but you got arrows and one-on-one duels and stuff mixed in. It’s not like it’s a martial arts movie, but the fighting is pretty cool for a prestige war movie.

This is another chance for a RUSH HOUR type buddy movie. They could make fun of each other’s local cuisine and stuff. But I was sure Katsumoto was gonna die before the last battle and Algren would have to lead his army for him in the climax.

Luckily no. They fight together. “The Last Samurai” probly doesn’t refer to Algren. I think it refers to Katsumoto, but also to the plural samurai, the whole group are the last of the samurai. But Algren does possibly go back to the village in Japan, he could kinda become a samurai and have more adventures. WHITE RONIN could be the sequel title.

If Tom Cruise is the last samurai, or if he’s learned anything from the experience, shouldn’t we get to see him commit seppuku at the end? That would make it pretty different from 80% of his movies. I don’t think any of his characters have done seppuku since at least RISKY BUSINESS. Well, the good news is that (END SPOILER) he does offer to. He goes to the emperor and offers him a sword and his life. But the emperor is like “Nah, I don’t like white people intestines staining my floor” and takes a rain check.

The script is by John Logan, who did GLADIATOR, THE AVIATOR, RANGO, HUGO, SKYFALL. Pretty good movie. I prefer the Japanese ones, but this was worth watching.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 at 11:35 am and is filed under Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “The Last Samurai”

  1. Glad you got to this one Vern, I think it’s one of the best war movies in the last ten years (wait, eleven years. Jesus Christ). Cruise and Watanabe are pretty great in it, and it really explores some interesting themes, while also providing some great action scenes. Personal favorite: Cruise gets ambushed on the streets by four kitana wielding gents, but he disarms and kills them all. Then they rewind the tape and show it in slow motion, how he managed to do it. Great piece of bad ass filmmaking.

  2. flyingguillotine

    June 25th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    I once met a screenwriter who said he was on this project for a long time, had done tons and tons of drafts. But once Zwick came on, he decided to go with a completely different take, and our friend the screenwriter got kicked to the curb. He was pretty bitter about it, but it goes to show the power of the director in studio feature making.

  3. Yeah, it’s enjoyable, but I also kinda view it as a fictional prequel to PEARL HARBOUR. If Algren hadn’t messed up the treaty that was being arranged between Japan and America, maybe the Pacific theater of the second World War wouldn’t have happened because the two nations would be on friendlier terms. Good going, Algren. But…on the other hand, there’d then be a good chance that America wouldn’t get involved in the war at all, so Hitler could have taken Europe…good job, Algren?

  4. Stu, the U.S. and Japan weren’t on bad terms for a long time. The U.S. helped Japan open up to trading with the Western world and they started to build up as an industrial power. Ironically, this is what led to the big troubles in the 1930s. Japan started invading China and Indochina to get their trade routes and natural resources, the Allies sided with China and the rest, as they say, is history. Sorry to get all history nerd there.

  5. Stu – MMP is right. In fact remember that Japan was one of the Allies in WWI, although they only joined to take Germany’s Pacific colonies and their Chinese sphere of influence. In the end war was inevitable simply because the U.S. (especially its Navy and its Pacific colonies/bases) were the biggest obstacle to Japan’s expanistic policy. Firming that destiny was the fact that Japan in the 1930s got its ass handed to it on a silver platter when engaged in “border” incidents with the USSR.

    In fact this partly was why the U.S. military didn’t take Japan seriously as a legit military force. Even after Pearl Harbor, alot of Americans actually thought the Pacific war would take less than a year. Partly racism, but also the mentality (which excused such prejudice) that if Finland initially kicked the Soviet Union’s ass in 1940, and USSR kicked Japan’s butt…well, that doesn’t exactly say much about Japan, now does it?

    Stupid, but that’s what happened.

  6. Great movie (and also great LA Weekly article, Vern). I rolled my eyes too when this came out because it seemed like another Oscar-bait vanity project. But the truth is it’s entertaining, well-paced, has badass action sequences of all types, and Cruise is great in it.

    I think a tired joke from snarky critics at the time was “Tom Cruise only wanted to make this movie so he could be the tallest one in the cast” or something like that, which is odd since I’m pretty sure Watanabe is clearly shown to be taller than him in multiple shots. Speaking of which, I read a review that with a straight face dismisses Watanabe as playing Cruise’s “ethnic sidekick”, which isn’t just wrongheaded but entirely inaccurate since anyone watching the movie would realize Watanabe isn’t just the titular character, but Cruise is playing HIS sidekick, for crying out loud.

    Related side note: Hey remember the days when people liked Glory? I loved it when it came on HBO as a kid, I loved it again when we had to watch it in school. Every kid in my school, from every ethnicity, loved it. It’s a great, powerful movie with incredible performances, amazing battle scenes and possibly the best score ever. But now the internet has apparently declared it’s a giant piece of shit because a white guy is the main character. Nevermind that it probably couldn’t have been financed without a white lead, nevermind that it instantly made Denzel Washington a huge star (the kind that can now go on to open all kinds of movies and get them financed with no problem), nevermind it helped launch Andre Braugher’s awesome career and cement Morgan Freeman as one of the great supporting actors of all time, yeah, to hell with that movie for being secretly racist or whatever.

  7. I liked that the ninjas are never actually referred to as such in the movie. After the attack Algren just refers to them as “those men”. It makes sense because he wouldn’t know what the term for them are.

  8. I really enjoyed this movie when it came out (and I enjoyed this review.)

    The LA Weekly article, though, is only okay. It makes some good points about the poison that is celebrity gossip, but it’s thesis is totally bullshit. He did jump on the couch, and the video confirms it. Amy Nicholson’s more charitable interpretation is flat out incorrect, and it’s bizarre to build an article around it. He also gave some other erratic interviews and said some other unfortunate stuff that she doesn’t even try to spin. I think Scientology is an odious cult, but personally I can separate the man from the acting so I still enjoy Tom Cruise’s work. And I wholeheartedly agree with Amy Nicholson that it’s a shame how that tabloid silliness impeded Tom Cruise making more interesting movies. But she still comes off as a shill.

  9. The Original... Paul

    June 25th, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Yeah, that Tom Cruise article was pretty great.

    The movie was pretty good, but honestly I had the same qualms AFTER watching it as Vern had BEFORE then: I’ve just seen way too many “white guy in ethnic trouble”-type movies. I do agree that this one struck me, when I watched it, as better than most. But it’s still very much a product of a system that I don’t particularly like or respect all that much. I appreciate that I’m probably one of the least-experienced in Asian cinema here, but I’ve still watched enough of it to know that I don’t need a white guy in the mix as an “audience avatar”.

    The reason the movie works as well as it does is that the character here surpasses that trope and becomes, for the most part, fascinating enough to carry the movie. I did think the film did very well to show Cruise’s emotional journey. However, even this became a little problematic for me, given the ending. Has Tom Cruise become such a part of samurai “culture” that he’d do what he does, for the person that he does it for? As great as Cruise is at that moment, and as much as he sells it… I was never quite convinced that that was “earned”.

    Still a decent movie, but not one of my favorite Cruises. Although that’s not saying too much, given that the guy made “Magnolia”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Vanilla Sky”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “A Few Good Men”, even “Cocktail”… Actually, come to think of it, it’s ridiculous just how many of my favorite movies Cruise has been in. He’s like an older male version of Ellen Page.

  10. I really liked this one. Tom seemed to be on a roll with good roles in good to great movies at the time, starting with EYES WIDE SHUT up until COLLATERAL. It’s a sweeping epic primed and ready for Oscar season, but that actually didn’t bore me to sleep.

  11. Regardless of whether he bounced, stood, trampolined a three point inversion while doing The Nutbush City Limit on a couch(and seriously, who gives a fuck, really?) that article was also an indictment on celebrity worship/assassination and buzz-feed as much as it was about Cruise the movie star/actor. Fuck Perez Hilton and all that twaffle. The guy lines his apartment with pictures of DiCaprio and other celebrities(according to the article), and what does that tell you? Either that he wanted to be a celebrity also(and he became one for all the wrong reasons, unlike Cruise), or that he spends his nights jerking off to his wall. I’m going with both.

    It’s real fuckin simple as far as I’m concerned. Gossip is gossip. It begins with a truth, takes it out of context then twists it into a lie and a false image. Stupid people then worship that image. Integrity on the other hand, or excellence, as Vern calls it, is a driving force for a much higher, more noble calling. If you figure out what it is you’re good at, like Cruise did(acting), like Vern did(writing) etc, then you pursue excellence in that calling.

    The reason Cruise will outlast these fuckers is because of his integrity and commitment to excellence. He’s rock-solid.

  12. Thanks for the link to the LA weekly article, very interesting stuff. It made me think of an article I read about Cruise when MI:III was released, and it was about how Hollywood wanted to see Cruise fail because he was the last movie star and commanded more control over his work and a larger percent of profits because of his bankability. It wasn’t just the bloggers that were eager to tare down Cruise but the industry resented the position he put himself in especially when Cruise could leverage his drawing power into a sweet deal with a guaranteed cut of back end profits. If I remember correctly Cruise got paid a little up front on a film like MI:III but he got a large percent of the profits and he guaranteed he got paid first off the top from the profits before the studio. The system doesn’t want to see anybody become as big and powerful as Cruise. The web and bloggers might have started the fire but Hollywood was happy to stand back and watch him burn and maybe even fan the flames in the processes.

    There has been a shift in celebrity culture the past ten years. the web might have been involved in facilitating that change but a lot of it had to do with business and the entertainment industry has had a big hand in this shift. The rise of the reality star and reality tv have created a different type of celebrity that is famous for being famous instead of because of any real talent or achievement, and these reality stars are more dependent on the industry then a real artist or talent. Cruise is

  13. Dikembe Mutombo

    June 25th, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I always thought this was a huge wasted opportunity to make a really cool and pulpy Eastern badass meets Western badass thing set in Meiji Japan. Something more meat-and-potatoes-y where Cruise & Watanabe team up to take down a corrupt prefecture official or something. Instead we got something a lot more uptight and serious, and it irritated me that it’s such a long movie that spends most of its time with a core group of characters, yet they don’t really deepen or take on unexpected shadings. Zwick’s always been a guy who paints in broad strokes when it comes to character, yet usually feels the need for an expansive canvas. I don’t get it and I find his approach kind of suffocating.

    I also remember being ticked off at how the action wasn’t as cool as it could’ve been. The one action part I really liked is a street fight when Cruise is surrounded by dudes and he beats them all up, and then the movie actually rewinds and shows it all over again in slo-mo. It’s the one time in the movie when you can actually see and appreciate all the cool moves happening. Like c’mon, “ninja attack on secret samurai village” should’ve been a million times cooler a sequence than it ended up being.

    That said you make some great points I never thought of Vern. Especially that part about Katsumoto admiring Custer, I’d either forgotten about or never registered the irony there. And in some ways the film does respect the audience’s intelligence more than other films of its type would have.

    It also has to be mentioned that this movie is what inspired Paul Mooney’s joke about Tom Hanks being THE LAST NIGGA ON EARTH.

  14. Yeah, this is a good one. It stars Tom Cruise, so of course it’s a good one. Look at this goddamn résumé. Not many duds, every role a challenge, always trying to find a cool script, always stretching himself, working the tear ducts, working the stunt crew, making his agents & PR reps nervous, making audiences happy. I love this guy.

    Surprised to see no one mention the very end of the last big battle sequence. The machine gun reveal & carnage was a grotesque catharsis moment for me. Viewers are a little worn out from all the heavy drama and sacrifice and honor going on for the whole movie and especially the final samurai stand, but man… when The Man started mowing down motherfuckers in the grass, I felt my brain start to cry and my soul start to vomit from having salty discharge dropped on it, fuck.

    It was like centuries of somewhat noble warfare & self-defense tactics and community-cohering honorableness being viciously vacuously destroyed by some weenie asshole who figured out how to twist metal & gunpowder into a death machine that doesn’t deserve to exist, and when you saw the consequence you knew that an entire species of mankind had just perished in an instant. It felt to me like witnessing the 19th century preview of the Enola Gay’s trip to Hiroshima.

  15. Just wanted to add that Ed Zwick is, for my money, seriously under-rated. Glory’s my favorite, but this one, Courage Under Fire, and The Siege are all damn good too, combining action, politics, history, some romance, great performances, you name it.

  16. Dikembe Mutombo

    June 25th, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    It was like centuries of somewhat noble warfare & self-defense tactics and community-cohering honorableness being viciously vacuously destroyed by some weenie asshole who figured out how to twist metal & gunpowder into a death machine that doesn’t deserve to exist

    If this reflects the movie’s POV then I think you just crystallized why I didn’t care for it. Reverent mourning for a sanitized picture of a privileged warrior class doesn’t play for me – I prefer the perspective of say Kazuo Koike, where he mixes skepticism of the “noble and honorable” part with genuine awe for Bushido and the superhuman demands of the warrior tradition. The result is really vivid as he doesn’t shy away from either the beauty or the horror that samurai could be responsible for – it’s the kind of messy warts-and-all fascination I associate with Scorsese’s mob pictures, though to be specific it’s more to do with a type of complicated respect with Koike than it is with Marty.

    Then again your point is pretty interesting because it gets me thinking about colonialism and the effects of the erosion of local values by Western imperialists – I’m not sure that it would’ve been a western movie’s place to start talking a lot of shit about how samurai “really” were. That kind of thing seems more viable as an act of introspection by actual Japanese artists, whereas The Last Samurai is the more ‘appropriate’ movie for America to make about the death of the samurai class. Yet it’s so tasteful and uninteresting to me. Maybe the approach should’ve been like the Euros making spaghetti westerns, with their crazy ersatz vision of America.

    My understanding is this movie is super popular in Japan, incidentally.

  17. Well, again, it was “somewhat noble,” which means it’s complicated, and I don’t see the film as being 100% reverent or purely mourning something or presenting a sanitized picture. There’s a general sense of respect and desire to understand each other enough to make beneficial strategic alliances, but the good guys aren’t people you’d want to befriend. The old samurai heads still have asshole tendencies, still treat women poorly, still seem out of place/time, and still seem stupidly resistant to progress. But there’s a deep, terrible sadness to the notion that an object, a piece of technology, can step into the conflict, have some anonymous sissy turn a crank and press a piece of metal, and suddenly there are hundreds of dead bodies and the battle is over, decided just like that. It’s a perversion of the ethos that had for centuries demanded man go face-to-face with man when they needed to settle differences or prove superiority.

    This generation-obliterating problem got way worse with the deployment of chemical weapons in WWI.
    After the advent of WMD, this became no planet for old men. A person doesn’t even have to lift his blade or load his musket if he wants to kill you. Now we can send invisible airborne molecular ninjas to kill you from miles away. It’s neither manly nor honorable.

  18. Dikembe Mutombo

    June 25th, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    You make some interesting points that I can’t really argue with because I haven’t seen the movie in a long time. You and Vern make good enough cases that I probably can’t go on suggesting the movie is just going “is good, is bad.” Still, I think I prefer the elegance of the cavalry charge from WAR HORSE as far as elegiac scenes depicting the horrible triumph of mechanization over honorable, gentlemanly warfare.

  19. MMP, RRA- Thank you. I didn’t know a lot of that.

  20. If you really need a reason to dislike this movie, the simple fact is that samurai loved guns. Pretending otherwise is horrible sanitization in defense of, let’s not forget this people, medieval feudalism.

  21. There’s a movie to be made about Japan borrowing militarist, colonialist ideas from the West. You might want your main character to be German, not American, but what the hell. What you definitely do not want to do is make heroes out of the diehard samurai in the Satsuma Rebellion, who wanted the government to spend much more on modern weaponry, and invade Korea while they were at it ― that was their beef with the Emperor’s entourage in the first place. I mean, they were a feudal warrior class. What attitude would you expect them to take?

    As an action film The Last Samurai works fine, and it’s not as patronising as I expected going in. But it’s constantly trying to draw parallels between the samurai and Native Americans, and come on. Japan is becoming vastly more egalitarian, which means that a few privileged rich guys can’t wear their swords in public anymore, and I’m supposed to feel weepy over that?

  22. I don’t have a problem with films about cultural conversion involving white people. There are plenty of great movies along these lines, and as Vern mentions it’s a longstanding trope. I do think there’s a problem when every film about a non-white culture has to have a white protagonist. It’s not a problem with the individual films; it’s a problem of numbers. I just wish that Hollywood would diversify some. I think the American public could handle it at this point.

  23. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Mouth – I agree with you on Cruise. His filmography is excellent, and even in the few films of his that I don’t like, I will readily admit that he always gives his all.

    I have always had great problems, however, with the notion of killing another human being as being “honorable”, no matter how it’s done. I seem to recall an awful lot of movies where a person is considered honorable because he DOESN’T kill. Note this isn’t always a good thing – in “The Big Boss”, which remains to this day the only Bruce Lee film that I don’t like, Lee’s pacifism throughout the first third of the film is seriously annoying to me and IMO has no business being in it – but on the whole I think the notion of an “honorable death” should exist in fantasy movies, and stay the hell out of real life.

    Or to put it another way, when I hear of “honorable death” in the real world, the first thing I think of is that rule that Werner Herzog pointed out in “Into the Abyss”, where a prisoner has to be healthy in order to be executed. That to my mind is not a positive thing.

    RBatty – “I do think there’s a problem when every film about a non-white culture has to have a white protagonist. It’s not a problem with the individual films; it’s a problem of numbers.” YES. That’s exactly what I mean. And again, I think this particular film does that trope better than most do, with Cruise’s character being strong enough to overcome it to a large degree. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bother me though.

  24. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 7:25 am

    And as for historical accuracy, I’ve heard of the samurai being portrayed in every possible way, from noble warriors and selfless defenders of the common people (in films like “Seven Samurai”), to jerk bullies who look down on the lowly workers, to out-and-out tyrants. And honestly I have no idea which portrayal comes closest to being accurate. Hell, all three could be, depending on which specific region you look at – some samurai may have been sympathetic men while others might have been power-hungry tyrants.

    I’ve also heard that weapons like the sai and nunchuks were developed specifically by peasants to defend themselves against the tyrannical samurai, although I can’t cite sources there so it could be completely inaccurate. If anybody has any definite information as to whether this is true or not, it’d be interesting to hear it.

  25. You can’t make a fetish out of historical accuracy. Movies need or don’t need it to varying degrees. But when you’ve got a film that attacks militaristic elitists by romanticising militaristic elitists, there’s a fundamental problem. And you can’t really have samurai in there without the militaristic elitism. It’s kind of a package deal.

    Paul: It’s actually a plot point in Seven Samurai that most samurai <i>weren’t</i> selfless defenders of the common people. Though those particular seven guys, sure. Sai and nunchaku are originally Okinawan,

  26. Ugh, sorry. They’re originally from Okinawa, which at that point wasn’t part of Japan, although government officers in feudal Japan eventually adopted a weapon kind of like the sai.

  27. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Matthew B – I’m kicking myself for not remembering that about “Seven Samurai”. Obviously it’s been a while since I saw it, but still… that’s worth a headslap.

  28. It’s been a while, but doesn’t this end with the Tom Cruise explaining what it means to be a samurai to the emperor of Japan?

  29. “Tell me how he died.”

    “I will tell you how he lived.”

  30. Has anyone mentioned Twilight Samurai? Not a cross-over with Samurai Vampires that sparkle in the sun but a japanese movie also with Hiroyuki Sanada that plays at about the same time.
    Pretty awesome movie!

  31. insert name here

    June 27th, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Twilight Samurai > The Last Samurai

    I remember finding this movie to be dumb and predictable narratively, and its existence never made any sense to me. You know what’s great and deserving of veneration? Outmoded feudal class practices from Japan. At least when Costner did Dances with Wolves, he found a way to bring some dignity and honesty in the portrayal of Indian tribal life, something that Hollywood Westerns historically used as fodder for stock villains at worst and alien “other” figures at best. Why the hell they felt that they needed to do this for a Japanese feudal warrior class, (or later blue aliens in Avatar) escapes me.

  32. That L.A. Weekly piece is pure revisionistic bullshit. I remember when that couch incident happened, you know what I remember the public reaction being? Laughing. Not “he’s crazy!” But more on the level of a boob accidentally popping out or falling on your ass in public. A blooper, if you even want to call it that.

    But when he had that disasterous Matt Lauer interview or later allegedly threatened Viacom that he wouldn’t promote M:I 3 if they re-broadcast that Scientology episode of SOUTH PARK*, or when Anonymous a few years later leaked that Church of Scientology video w/ Cruise (where you can’t decide who sucked him off more in that video, the Church or himself)…lets just say all of this shit snowballed against him and then that couch shit in retrospect became “wow he’s nuts.”

    *=I can’t remember if that accusation was ever proven true or not, but it is a fact that the Church did send people after Matt Stone and Trey Parker, snoop around their trash and offices, find any possible dirt against them. (You can look up online the internal COS memos that got leaked several years back.)

  33. neal2zod – I must have (thankfully) missed this GLORY revisionism you’re talking about.

    I understand the liberal criticism at these civil rights movies which usually focus on the white lead, but I defend GLORY with the same defense that I use for AMISTAD: Both are movies based off historical events where white people had integral parts to those stories. (Remember the credits for GLORY: The movie in part was based off those letters/diaries by Broderick’s character.) And indeed GLORY capsulized the Civil Rights struggle: black people and liberal whites (especially those afluent and part of the establishment) fighting against an unfair, racist system.

  34. RRA – The brilliant thing about the article is all the context that it reminds you of – the other things that happen in the episode, what he was responding to, where he was at in his career, the freshness of Youtube and TMZ culture at that moment in time. But fine, fuck that, just go by what you remember.

  35. Vern – it just simplifies a denser truth to ONE THING which tends to annoy me. And that ONE THING was not the tipping point. That piece quite frankly was almost on the level of those recent right wing pieces that try to argue that Obama “lost” Iraq, ignoring…we’ll a lot things to say the least as you we’ll know. It’s revisionism.

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