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The Last Samurai


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The Last Samurai (Movies)
The Last Samurai (Movies)
The Last Samurai (Movies)
The Last Samurai (Movies)
The Last Samurai (Movies)
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Information about The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a 2003 (17 years ago) drama film/war movie directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay based on a story by John Logan.

This movie was inspired by a project developed by writer and director Vincent Ward. Ward became executive producer on the movie – working in development on it for nearly four years and after approaching several directors (Coppola, Weir), he interested Edward Zwick. The movie went ahead with Zwick and was shot in Ward’s native New Zealand.

The movie stars Tom Cruise (12 walls) (who also co-produced) in the role of American soldier Nathan Algren whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into contact with samurai in the wake of the Meiji Restoration in the Empire of Japan in 1876 (144 years ago) and 1877 (143 years ago). Other actors include Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly and Tony Goldwyn.

The film's plot is based on the 1877 (143 years ago) Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and also on the story of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier Boshin War. The historical roles in Japanese westernization by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France are largely attributed to the United States in the film. These details, characters in the movie and the real story are simplified for plot purposes; the movie does not seek to duplicate history.

The Last Samurai was well received upon release, with a worldwide box office of $456 million. In addition it was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review.


The Last Samurai combines real but disconnected historical situations, rather distant in time, into a single narrative. It also replaces the key Western actors of the period (especially the French) by American ones. Finally, it portrays a radical conflict between ancient and modern fighting methods, but in reality all sides of the conflict (the Satsuma Rebellion, and before it the Boshin War) adopted modern equipment to various degrees. Indeed, firearms had been in use centuries earlier in Japan and played an important part in the civil wars that created the Tokugawa Shogunate, but were later rejected as dishonorable and by the early 19th century the gunsmith's art had fallen into disuse. Many thematic, and visual elements of the movie parallel the movies of Akira Kurosawa, specifically Seven Samurai.


Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise (12 walls)) is a disenchanted Ex-United States Army captain and an alcoholic, traumatized by his past transgressions against Native Americans during the Indian Wars. In the years following his army service, Algren makes his living by relating war stories to gun show audiences, an experience which further hampers his mental state. Fed up with Algren's perpetual drunkenness, his employer fires him, forcing Algren to accept an invitation by his former commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn), whom Algren loathes and blames for his waking nightmares. Bagley approaches him with an offer on behalf of a Japanese businessman, Mr. Omura (Masato Harada), to help the new Meiji Restoration government train the new Western-style Imperial Japanese Army. Assisting them are Algren's old army colleague Zeb Gant (Billy Connolly) and Simon Graham (Timothy Spall), a cynical British translator with a deep-seated interest in the Samurai.

Under the command of Bagley, Algren trains a conscripted army of farmers and peasants in handling a rifle. Before they can be adequately trained, Algren is ordered to take them into battle against a group of samurai rebels led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) to protect Omura's investment in a new railway. During the battle, the samurai swarm the wholly-unprepared army, killing Gant and forcing Bagley to withdraw from the field. Algren manages to fend off several samurai with a broken spear embroidered with a flag depicting a white tiger. The flag on the spear reminds Katsumoto of a vision he experienced during meditation, of a white tiger fighting off his attackers. Katsumoto's brother-in-law, the red-masked samurai Hirotaro, prepares to deliver a killing blow to the fallen Algren; However, Algren refuses to yield and picks up a spear, fatally stabbing Hirotaro through the neck. Believing what he has witnessed to be an omen, Katsumoto takes Algren prisoner and spares his life. Algren is taken to an isolated village, where he gradually recovers inside a house belonging to Hirotaro's family, including his widow Taka, her two sons, and Katsumoto's son, Nobutada (Shin Koyamada).

Over time, Algren overcomes his alcoholism and sharpens his mind through practice of bushido, the way of the samurai. He confides to his journal that he has never felt so entirely at peace than he has among Katsumoto and his people. Despite lingering fidelity to Hirotaro, Taka develops romantic feelings for Algren, particularly when she notices budding fatherly relationship toward her children. Algren studies swordsmanship under skilled swordmaster Ujio and becomes fluent in Japanese by conversing with the local residents; in doing so, he earns their respect. One night, as the people watch a comic play, a group of ninja assassins attack the village. The samurai succeed in suppressing the ninja, but suffer losses. Algren wins the respect and admiration of the samurai by coming to Katsumoto's aid, and the Samurai succeeding to defeating the ninja, but at the cost of many losses. Algren arrives at the conclusion that the attack was ordered by Omura.

With the arrival of spring, Algren is taken back to Tokyo. There he learns that the army, under Bagley's command, is now better organized and outfitted with howitzers and Gatling guns acquired from the United States. Omura offers to place Algren in command of the army if he agrees to crush the samurai rebellion, but Algren declines. In private, Omura orders his men to kill Algren if he attempts to warn Katsumoto of their intentions. At the same time, Katsumoto offers his counsel to the young Emperor, to whom he was once a teacher. He learns that the Emperor's hold upon the throne is much weaker than he thought, and that he is essentially a puppet of Omura. When Katsumoto refuses to observe new laws that forbid samurai to publicly carry swords, he is arrested and confined to his quarters in Tokyo. Anticipating an assasination attempt on Katsumoto, Algren heads directly for his quarters but is ambushed by Omura's men; Algren narrowly escapes death through judicious use of martial arts he learned in Katsumoto's camp. With the assistance of Graham and Nobutada, Algren frees Katsumoto from custody. During their flight, Nobutada is mortally wounded and stays behind in order to aid his father's escape; Algren looks on as Nobutada is gunned down by his pursuers.

Katsumoto is still mourning the loss of his son when he receives word that a large Imperial Army unit, commanded by Omura and Bagley, is marching out to engage the samurai. A counter-force of samurai, numbering only 500, is rallied. Algren makes a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae in which a small army fought against a much larger opposing force by using the terrain to their advantage; Katsumoto surmises that a similar tactic would reduce the effectiveness of the army's rifles. On the eve of battle, Algren is presented with a katana of his own. Taka also gifts him with her dead husband's armor, and they kiss just before Algren leaves.

When the Imperial Army confronts the samurai's rebel forces, the samurai fall back to higher ground, preventing the Imperials from using their superior firepower. As expected, Omura immediately orders the infantry to pursue them as samurai into a trap, setting fires to cut off their escape routes. The samurai then unleash volleys of arrows on the infantrymen. Drawing their swords, the samurai, Algren and Katsumoto amongst them, charge the confused and wounded infantrymen. A second wave of Imperial infantry follows behind, as does the samurai cavalry; A savage mêlée ensues that leaves many dead on both sides before the Imperial soldiers retreat.

Realizing that fresh Imperial forces are coming and that defeat is inevitable should a second battle occur, the surviving samurai resolve to make a final mounted charge. They attack, but are cut to pieces by Japanese cannons and then by another unit of infantrymen. During the battle, Bagley shoots Katsumoto; before he can finish off the samurai, Algren throws his sword at Bagley, killing him. On approaching the Imperial rear line, and progressing far enough to scare Omura, the samurai are suddenly cut down by a row of Gatling guns. Overcome by the sight of the dying samurai, an Imperial lieutenant originally trained by Algren orders the Gatling guns to cease fire, against Omura's wishes. Katsumoto, observing bushido, asks Algren to assist him in performing seppuku; Algren obeys, ending Katsumoto's life. The Imperial troops show their respect by bowing before the fallen samurai.

Later, as American ambassadors prepare to have the Emperor sign a treaty that would give the US exclusive rights to sell firearms to the Japanese government, Algren offers Katsumoto's sword as a present to the Emperor. The Emperor understands the message and tells the American ambassador that his treaty deal is not in the best interests of Japan. Omura objects, and the Emperor – realizing that he need not be ruled by Omura – confiscates his estates and fortunes. The Emperor then offers him Katsumoto's sword to commit seppuku if the dishonor is too great to bear. Omura merely lowers his head and walks away.

The movie ends and the viewer realizes that the narrator who had previously told the story is Simon Graham. Algren then returns to the samurai village where he was imprisoned earlier, and to Taka. Graham philosophically concludes Algren found a measure of peace "that we all seek, and few of us ever find."


  • Tom Cruise (12 walls) as Captain Nathan Algren, a Civil War and Indian Wars veteran haunted by the massacre of Native American civilians at the Washita River. Algren was born in the United Kingdom but is a naturalized American. Following a dismissal from his job, he agrees to help the new Meiji Restoration government train its first Western-style conscript army for a hefty sum. During the army's first battle he is captured by the samurai Katsumoto and taken to the village of Katsumoto's son, where he soon becomes intrigued with the way of the samurai and decides to join them in their cause. His journal entries reveal his impressions about traditional Japanese culture, which almost immediately evolves to admiration.
  • Ken Watanabe as samurai Lord Katsumoto, a warrior-poet who was once Emperor Meiji's most trusted teacher. He is displeased with Mr. Omura's bureaucratic reform policies which leads him into organizing a revolt against the Imperial Army. Katsumoto is based on real life samurai Saigō Takamori.
  • Shin Koyamada as Nobutada, Katsumoto's son who is lord of the village that the Samurai are encamped in and befriends captured Algren. Katsumoto, the leader samurai, advises Nobutada to teach Algren in the Japanese way – Japanese culture and Japanese language.
  • Tony Goldwyn as Lieutenant Colonel Bagley, Capt. Algren's commanding officer in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, who was to train the Imperial Army. Algren dislikes Bagley for his role in the Washita River massacre of the Native Americans that Algren cannot get over. His facial hair is very similar to the way Custer wore his and is intended to evoke that image. Bagley is killed by Algren in the climactic battle When Algren throws his sword into his chest.
  • Masato Harada as Omura, an industrialist and pro-reform politician who dislikes the old samurai and shogun related lifestyle and the main antagonist of the film. He quickly imports westernization and modernization while making money for himself through his railroads. Coming from a merchant family that was like many repressed during the days of Samurai rule and cause for his extreme dislike for their nobility, he assumes a great deal of power during the Meiji Restoration and takes advantages of Meiji's youth to become his chief advisor (wielding power similar to those of the Shoguns). His image (wallpaper) is designed to evoke the image (wallpaper) of Okubo Toshimichi, a leading reformer during the Meiji Restoration. Masato Harada noted that he was deeply interested in joining the movie after witnessing the construction of Emperor Meiji's conference room on sound stage 19 (where Humphrey Bogart had once acted) at Warner Brothers studios.
  • Shichinosuke Nakamura as Emperor Meiji. Credited with the implementation of the 1868 (152 years ago) Meiji Restoration, the Emperor is eager to import Western ideas and practices to modernize and empower Japan to become a strong nation. His appearance bears a strong resemblance to Emperor Meiji during that 1860's rather than during the 1870s, when The Last Samurai takes place.
  • Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio, one of the most dedicated, loyal and fierce samurai under Katsumoto. He teaches Algren the art of Samurai sword fighting, none too gently but eventually grows to respect him. He is one of the remaining samurai to die in the final charge in the last battle.
  • Timothy Spall as Simon Graham, a British interpreter for Captain Algren and his non-English speaking soldiers. Initially portrayed as a typical practical-minded Englishman, he later comes to understand the Samurai cause. This character is shown to have some resemblances also to the real-world Corfiote photographer Felice Beato.
  • Seizo Fukumoto as the Silent Samurai, an elderly man assigned to follow Algren (who later calls the samurai "Bob") as he travels through the village. Ultimately, the Samurai saves Algren's life (and speaking for the first and only time, "Algren-san!") by taking a fatal bullet for him. He bears a marked resemblance to Kyuzo from Seven Samurai.
  • Koyuki Kato as Taka, Katsumoto's sister and the wife of the red-masked Samurai Hirotaro, whom Nathan Algren kills earlier.
  • Billy Connolly as Sergeant Zebulon Gant, an ex-soldier who served with and is loyal to Algren, talked him into coming to Japan. He, along with Algren, train the imperial army before confronting the samurais. He is later killed in the opening battle by Hirotaro (Taka's husband).
  • Shun Sugata as Nakao, a tall jujutsu and naginata-skilled samurai, who takes part in Katsumoto's rescue, and is later killed in the final battle.


Filming took place in New Zealand, with Japanese cast members and an American Production crew. Views of Mount Fuji were superimposed using CGI of Mount Fuji as seen from Yokohama. Several of the village scenes were shot on the Warner Brothers Studios backlot in Burbank, California.


The movie received an enthusiastic reception among the moviegoing public in Japan, with box office receipts higher in that country than in the USA. Critical reception in Japan was generally positive. Tomomi Katsuta of The Mainichi Shinbun thought that the movie was "a vast improvement over previous American attempts to portray Japan", noting that director Zwick "had researched Japanese history, cast well-known Japanese actors and consulted dialogue coaches to make sure he didn't confuse the casual and formal categories of Japanese speech." However, Katsuta still found fault with the film's idealistic, "storybook" portrayal of the samurai, stating that "Our image (wallpaper) of samurai are that they were more corrupt." As such, he said, the noble samurai leader Katsumoto "set (his) teeth on edge." The Japanese premiere was held at Roppongi Hills multiplex in Tokyo on Nov. 1, 2003 (17 years ago). The entire cast was present; they signed autographs, provided interviews and appeared on stage to speak to fans. Many of the cast members expressed the desire for audiences to learn and respect the important values of the samurai, and to have a greater appreciation of Japanese culture and custom.

Reviews were also positive in the United States, though less so than in Japan, with numerous unflattering comparisons to Kevin Costner's movie Dances with Wolves. Motoko Rich of The New York Times observed that the movie has opened up a debate, "particularly among Asian-Americans and Japanese," about whether the movie and others like it were "racist, naïve, well-intentioned, accurate – or all of the above." Tom Long, critic for The Detroit News, wrote that "The Last Samurai pretends to honor a culture, but all it's really interested in is cheap sentiment, big fights and, above all, movie-star worship. It is a sham, and further, a shame." Reviewer Todd McCarthy from Variety calls The Last Samurai "rich in period and historical background," a "physically impressive" movie with costumes that are "rich in eye-catching detail but not self-consciously exotic." However, he states that the movie is "deficient in fresh dramatic and thematic ideas," and that the end of the movie "feels phony and tacked on as a contrived sop to conventional audience expectations."

The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Ken Watanabe, and three Golden Globes, Best Supporting Actor for Watanabe, Best Actor - Drama for Tom Cruise (12 walls) and Best Score for Hans Zimmer. Awards won by the movie include Best Director by the National Board of Review, Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects at the Visual Effects Society Awards, Outstanding Foreign Language movie at the Japan Academy Prize, four Golden Satellite Awards, and Best Fire Stunt at the Taurus World Stunt Awards.


  1. "A Way of Life"– 8:03
  2. "Spectres in the Fog"– 4:07
  3. "Taken"– 3:36
  4. "A Hard Teacher"– 5:44
  5. "To Know My Enemy"– 4:48
  6. "Idyll's End"– 6:40
  7. "Safe Passage"– 4:56
  8. "Ronin"– 1:53
  9. "Red Warrior"– 3:56
  10. "The Way of the Sword"– 7:59
  11. "A Small Measure of Peace"– 7:59


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