johnlink ranks THE LAST SAMURAI (2003)

Since getting this on Blu Ray I’ve been meaning to get back to it. I first saw this about five or six years ago, and certain scenes stuck well, while others had faded into the ether. When I started loading my library onto Google Music the first album which started loading was Hans Zimmer’s LAST SAMURAI score. It must have dug in pretty well, because Liz and I took about six seconds to pick our movie once the decision to watch something was made. Glad I got back to this film. I knew I liked it the first time I saw it, but the second viewing gave me a much deeper, greater appreciation for it.

I watched THE LAST SAMURAI (2003) on 8.6.11. It was my second viewing of the film. TRAILER HERE.

It is unfortunate that I always have to qualify Tom Cruise flicks now. While he may not be as polarizing these days as, say, Mel Gibson, he is still in the top five most polarizing personalities in Hollywood. And hey, I don’t feel sorry for him. It’s his own Scientology nuttiness that caused it. But the fact remains that he has made some exceptionally realized films, and THE LAST SAMURAI certainly belongs on that list.

Director Edward Zwick (GLORY, LEGENDS OF THE FALL, BLOOD DIAMOND) shows a real love for Japanese culture in this film. This is a love letter to a lost time. The samurai code, quite literally, gets gunned down by a modern age (1870s) ill equipped to deal with its honor and self-judgment.

There are a couple of moments which feel a little too modern. And there are one or two shots which were not subtly edited (I can’t blame actors when directors choose to cut between scenes of a person’s face and the flashbacks they are supposed to be experiencing.). But for the most part, this is a note perfect film.

I love the way the intensity of the battle scenes is contrasted with the docility of every day life. The beauty in the cinematography is astounding. Beginning to end, this is a movie which is just a pleasure to let wash over you.

While Cruise’s performance is overshadowed by an amazing turn by Ken Watanabe, Cruise holds his own here. In fact, this may be one of the most changed characters in his canon, from the beginning of the film to its end. Koyuki is a revelation as the wife of a warrior Cruise kills, who then must take in the killer of her husband. The acting across the board is stellar. The villains are, perhaps, too one dimensional. But they are afterthoughts in the film anyway.

I love the way eastern philosophy is subtly allowed to hug this film close. The film is at its height when Cruise learns to fight like a Samurai: Seeing things happen before they unfold… Blocking out the ego… Allowing things to just happen… I just love it. This is a film which made me want to go study martial arts and eastern philosophy. The same way old Irish and Scottish stories make Liz yearn to live in that era, this film makes me wish I could have been there to see the way of the Samurai at its height.

I’m going to have to adjust my top list. Having watched this again, I’m sure it gets into my top 20 at least.



Yep, two bonus points. Go figure. The first is for the score which, along with THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, is the score I would listen to at home even if the movie was terrible. In fact, I had heard the score to THE LAST SAMURAI literally hundreds of times before seeing the film.

The second bonus point is for one battle scene in particular when the Ninja attack the Samurai in their village. A claustrophobic, intense, masterfully crafted scene. The last battle is much clumsier (though not bad), but the film has earned its fight choreography badge long before it gets there.



One of the rare films that gets a 9+ on these rankings.

~ by johnlink00 on August 7, 2011.

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