This is a very personal film. I believe when I first watched it, it’s power and message stuck with me for many years, perhaps shaping the person I am today, and having had the chance to revisit it recently I can see why.
It is a beautifully made film, elegant music played to captivating imagery. Directed and co-written by Edward Zwick, starring Tom Cruise as Nathan Algren and Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto, the leader of the last samurai clan, the film attempts to capture the legacy of samurai in Japan as they were annihilated by an evolving world with new-found pressures. Politics and history aside, the film’s goal to me is to represent the fact that in changing times, one mustn’t forget their tradition and heritage, and as is said in the film, service, discipline, and compassion.
Watanabe and Cruise take this film to another level. Ken Watanabe, who is perhaps today’s most recognizable Japanese actor, delivers a powerhouse performance. As leader, Katsumoto must both serve to preserve the legacy and tradition of the Samurai, but also fulfil his duty in service to the Emperor of Japan. Cruise’s Algren embarks on a personal journey to find his place in the world that seemingly has only one purpose for him, which is to kill.
As a teenager watching this movie on my computer, I was floored by a world I knew nothing about, but wanted to explore. The film draws clear parallels between genocide waged on Native Americans for North America and extermination of rebel Samurai troops deemed to be a threat to the unification of Japan and modernization of its forces. I think this parallel being drawn brought me much closer to understanding the history of our world, both the beautiful and the cruel. I learned about honour and discipline, and what it means to have strength and resolution.
Looking back after so many years seeing a movie like this and understanding its impact on the way I have lived my life, I wonder how many other films have done the same, and not just for me, but for others like me.
If you have not seen this movie yet, you should try to get to it as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed if you do. If you have already seen it, watch it again because with these kinds of movies, A.) They are just magic, and B.) You might learn something about yourself if you treat it as a chance to reflect.