I’d heard nothing but bad about The Last Samurai. I saw it last night and was entertained. What brought it down the most was Tom Cruise. The director, one Mr. Zwick, ended up putting a bit too much emphasis on Cruise, in narration, diegetic dialogue, and photo-montage. I got the distinct impression that the movie was mainly filmed as another chance for Tom Cruise to play dress-up and overcome his own personal demons on the way to conquering some real life baddies. [just like Top Gun, Far and Away, Minority Report, etc.]
The battle sequences were sweet, although the final battle wasn’t quit as epic as it was boring. I can only watch people get mowed down by muzzle-loaders, Gatling guns, and howitzers for so long before I start to yawn. I was most impressed with the performances by the actual Japanese who played samurai. Cruise did a poor job faking an understanding of the Japanese worldview. In typical Hollywood fashion, everything was a dichotomy. This doesn’t work too well when cast into an Asian setting. The clash between incoming Western culture and traditional Japanese way of life does not really come through. Of course, you can see it portrayed but I don’t buy it. Tokyo is modernized but the village Cruise fights for look completely unchanged.
And of course, there is the subtext of a failing ‘Other’ culture that is revitalized by incoming Westerners. Tom Cruise, it appears, is meant to teach the Japanese how to tap into ‘their great reservoir of feeling’ or somesuch. The Japanese have discipline, but no good leadership. Even Katsumoto, the great samurai, must learn a bit about honor and duty from Cruise. whatever.
The token references to Buddhist ideas, landscapes et cetera, would have been much more worthwhile if they had been given the time they deserved. of course, then the movie would have been about 5 hours long, but most likely worth that time as well.
This movie would have been about a grillion times better if it was Japanese produced, directed, casted [with Cruise’s character slipped into a minor role] and edited.