‘The Last Samurai’

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The Last Samurai' tells the narrative of Captain Nathan Algren, a distinguished American battle veteran, who is hired to train Japan's first army, where Japan is skilled in traditional fighting ways but lacking in contemporary warfare. Captain Nathan Algren, the film's primary role, is played by Tom Cruise. The Emperor of Japan is intent on instituting substantial civic changes as well as new western styles of rule. The Samurai warriors, on the other hand, strongly oppose the changes and stage a rebellion against the anticipated Westernization program. The emperor is motivated by the Samurai's acts to seek the assistance of Omura, a Japanese businessman, in destroying the Samurai warriors in order to open the way for more westernized and friendly government policies. Mr. Omura works alongside Colonel Bagley, who invites Algren to train the new Japanese army. Algren is forced to take his trainees to battle, despite the fact that he feels that they have not acquired enough skills to fight the Samurai Warriors (Zwick). It is during the battle that Algren is captured by Katsumoto, the leader of the Samurai rebellion, and confined in an isolated village, where he purely interacts with the Samurai. Algren later comes to appreciate the Samurai and learns their language and other cultural values, and later assists the Samurai to fight Omura’s army. The fight led to Katsumoto’s death and culminated with the Emperor rejecting the treaty with the American Ambassador concerning the sale of weapons to Japan, which demonstrated the Emperor’s realization of the importance of preserving the Japanese culture. An analysis of the movie indicates that the Samurai demonstrate such ideals as patriotism, loyalty, and filial piety in defending their culture.

Cinematography, Narration, and Performance of the Movie

Cinematography refers to a concept applied to films and movies involving making choices on such elements as lighting and camera in the production of images (Stanley 2). ‘The Last Samurai’ comprises of various cinematographic elements, including camera movement, lighting, filters and lens, aspect ratio and framing, and depth of field and focus. The movie comprises of stunning images, which effectively resonate with the needs of the story. Additionally, the element of cinematography presents the contrast between the Samurai warriors and the Japanese who have embraced civilization, whereby the traditional Japanese environment is depicted as very fertile, green, and silent. Moreover, the concept of cinematography plays a crucial role in emphasizing on the strong Samurai tradition, dedication and war, whereby the cinematography of the movie concentrates on the battle sequences and the military confrontations experienced between the Samurai warriors and the new Japanese army (Morey 56).

Further, Algren’s presence in every scene enables the movie to succeed, in addition to his role in revealing the Samurai culture to the audience. Algren participates in the battles, which helps in bringing out the talent and craftsmanship employed in the battle that takes place deep in the forest. The lighting in the scenes involving the battle in the forest is darker than other areas, and the Samurai Warriors are created to become monstrous as they ride forward. Additionally, the cinematographer is keen to show the audience Japan’s shades, which include grey and green, the fight scenes done on mud, and rain (Morey 57). Furthermore, the cinematographer portrays the spectacular images of the secluded Samurai village, the American frontier town, and the crowded Japanese street.

The movie utilizes a number of techniques to communicate about the Samurai culture. Narration is one of the key techniques, whereby the audience learns about the Samurai culture through Graham, a British translator who is interested in the Samurai people and Algren’s narration. For instance, Algren indicates to the audience the meaning of Samurai, ‘to serve’ through narration (Zwick). In the same narration, Algren states that ‘from the moment they wake they devote themselves to perfect whatever they pursue,' which indicates that the Samurai are hardworking people (Zwick). On the other hand, Simon Graham’s narration brings out the Japanese values and culture, including mastering the sword and honour, whereby the Japanese warriors are traditionally willing to give their lives for honour. ‘The Last Samurai’ recorded an outstanding performance, despite being more of a silent movie performance since most of the action was directed towards the battlefield.

The Samurai Ideals

The movie depicts the Samurai ideals through the battle that takes a considerable part of the movie. Through the battles, the Samurai are demonstrated as hardworking individuals, who are dedicated to defending their culture and values. In his narration, Algren notes that Samurai means to serve, and conclude that Katsumoto, despite rebelling against the interests of the Emperor, was serving the Emperor, who seemed not to appreciate the traditional Japanese values of honour and the sword (Zwick). On the other hand, the movie depicts the Samurai ideals by demonstrating the contrasting elements of the Samurai people and the Japanese city life. The city life indicates modernization, and it is characterized by corrupt government officials and soldiers, noise, and dirt. Conversely, the Samurai village is portrayed as quiet and peaceful, and everyone executes their duties happily. The movie further divides the characters into two classes, the westerners, and the Samurai to bring out the ideals of the Samurai people.

Further, the movie presents Katsumoto and his followers as the only opposing force against modernization, whereby the Samurai do not have affiliated characters since other Japanese are shown to be willing to embrace modernization. Hence, in this sense, the movie depicts the Samurai as a primitive culture in Japan, which is associated with valuing discipline and honour over power and wealth (Schomp 78). Hence, values and motivations that are associated with the ideals of the Samurai include filial piety, loyalty, and patriotism. The fact that the Samurai hold on to the traditional ideals of protecting the society to gain honour, even when they face the risk of death indicates their observation of the virtue of filial piety. Filial piety involves respecting elders, ancestors, and parents, whereby defending traditional values is a way of honouring the Samurai’s ancestors and elders.

Moreover, the Samurai are loyal in observing their cultural values, whereby one of the Samurai values involves mastering the sword, seeking the stillness of mind, and being devoted to the set moral principles of honour and discipline. The Samurai are shown to have mastered the art of the sword, whereby they kill several of their opponents, despite the fact that the opponents engaged them with modern fighting equipment. On the other hand, the Samurai’s value for honour is seen through Katsumoto, who performs seppuku, a ritual that involved committing suicide by stabbing one’s stomach to ensure that one dies in honour rather than being killed by the enemy, which was viewed as dishonourable (Schomp 79).

In conclusion, the film is majorly praising the ideal of the Samurai, which involves holding on to tradition and observing such values as discipline and honour over power and wealth. The Samurai’s ideals are shown to bring peace and respect in the community, while modernization, which leads to the desire for power and wealth results in undesirable effects, such as corruption among government officials and overcrowding in cities as people focus on wealth creation. Moreover, the fact that the Emperor finally agrees with the Samurai on the need to preserve their traditional fighting methods, rather than embracing the western methods indicates that the film praises the ideals of the Samurai. However, the movie indicates a disconnect between the movie and the reality, whereby in reality, it would be difficult to resist modernization since it has become part of the everyday life, given that nations interact on a global perspective and not merely within their boundaries, where such ideals as those of the Samurai can be observed.

Works Cited

Morey, Kathryn A. Bringing history to life through film: the art of cinematic storytelling. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Print.

Schomp, Virginia. Japan in the days of the samurai. New York: Benchmark Books, 2015. Print.

Stanley, Robert H. Making sense of movies: filmmaking in the Hollywood style. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.

Zwick, Edward. "The Last Samurai". YouTube. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AciXvs3dSWI

May 17, 2023

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