I gave this film a very short brief review back in 2006 with brief being the word! I only said it was better than expected but too long for my liking which I say for any film over two hours. In preparation for my recent trip to Kansai I decided to watch it again. Whilst I (still) don’t mind it, its not my kind of film and it just goes to show how the filming locations and the movie itself can work hand-in-hand both ways. As you’d expect its the film first which often leads to the interest in the locations but this one worked the other way round with me.
Most of the film was made in New Zealand but Japanese locations included Chion-in temple and Nijo-jo in Kyoto and Engyoji temple in Himeji as featured in my ‘The Last Samurai filming locations’ article recently.
The film may move along at quite a slow pace and may be predictable in its outcome (hence the title!) but the casting, costumes, landscapes, storyline and film direction are very good with some fine battle scenes to boot. Hans Zimmer’s score incorporates traditional wood flutes and thunderous drums which adds a nice touch and adds to the suspense, sadness, empathy and joy.
The samurai have only one true goal which is to serve their Emperor and believed that to die under his service is an honour. The Japanese are accustomed to killing themselves in shame after defeat which they think is a noble death whereas Cruise’s character Algren shows his resilience, determination and perseverance by continuously rising again after defeat. As far as I know this is the film that really brought Ken Watanabe to western audiences for his poignant portrayal as the leader of the last clan of Samurai. The scenes between Watanabe and Cruise held my interest in terms of their feelings of hostility, compassion and camaraderie.
He may often get a hard time from the critics but Tom Cruise is loved by his fans and in this epic he perhaps delivers his most powerful performance in cinema. The Last Samurai shows a human story of one Westerner learning to embrace another culture but unlike most other films set in Japan it is done in a more subtle way where both parties realise they can learn from one another and after a hostile start they develop a respect for each other.