The Last Samurai: A Cinematic Journey into Honor, Loyalty, and Redemption

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The Last Samurai (Edward Zwick, 2003) film is based on a true story, depicting courage and honor while struggling against greed and corruption. During this time, Emperor Meiji was the leader and wished to strengthen his army through his vision of modernized Japan. Algren gets a job to train the Japanese military. This paper looks into a close reading of The Last Samurai movie including its technical analysis, description, and analysis of the content. The narrative structure, themes, style and motif of the film will be examined.

The last Samurai film is about identity and honor during a time that Japan was undergoing economic and social changes. Prior to the release of the film, Japan had experienced stagnated economic growth with the government failing to act accordingly in regards reforming the economy and end recession. The film thus awakens the pride of being a Japanese by hitting their nationalistic nerve.

Emperor Meiji aims to bring rapid transformation in Japan, which brings up conflict with the old Japanese samurai people determined to oppose the changes. Katsumoto, alias Ken Watanabe, is the leader of the rebel group comprising of a few hundred samurai. The group is judged as traitors, and the government gives orders for them to be eliminated. This is where Nathan Algren comes in to show his prowess in riffles and allows Japanese imperial soldiers to purchase upgraded armaments from the American suppliers.

At first, the samurai succeeds by capturing Algren and take him  to the to the mountains of samurai village. Through his interaction with the society, he learns about their culture and their fighting methods. His captivity bears a friendship with Katsumoto where both of them learn to understand each other despite their cultural difference. Algren is also impregnated by the values being defended by the samurai to appoint that he decides to join them in the fight against his own battalion he once trained.


The film the last samurai is a movie that depicts its characters in an exceptional way. The film tends to describe the character’s both superior abilities and faults. The various characters of movie include Moritsugu, Algren, Taka, and Omura among others.

Moritsugu Katsumoto

Moritsugu Katsumoto is the main character in the movie played by Ken Watanabe closely relating to the life of Saigo Takamori, a highly honored historical hero in Japan. He is adorned and generally thought as the last true samurai. He presents him as a reasonable authority figure as he seen to be firm but a kind leader to the samurai people. Katsumoto becomes a character who is not afraid to die as it was typical for all samurai. Thus, he is decorated as a death seeker who seeks battles to fight in order to achieve a heroic death. During a clash with Algren, Katsumoto notices the spear Algren is wrestling with and recalls his dream of a white tiger which continues to contest despite being surrounded by samurai. In that case, Katsumoto is defined as a dreamer whose dreams come true and a worthy opponent since he spares Algren’s life.

Nathan Algren

Nathan Algren also referred to as the captain is one of the main characters in the movie played by Tom Cruise. He is decorated as a war hero having fought at historic battle such as Little Big Horn under General George Custer. He has become a cynical and acute alcoholic, traveling around the United States to promote Winchester firearms. Upon being offered a job as a military advisor in Japan, the handsome salary convinces him to move to Japan and ends up adoring the ways of Samurai. Apart from learning samurai’s ways, Algren is never seen as a better samurai than the Japanese samurai. However, Algren’s knowledge of western war techniques used against the Japanese imperial army defines him as a mighty whitey.


Taka is a character played by Koyuki. She is a sister to Katsumoto, and a widow of a fallen samurai and was the only female role in the movies. When Algren is taken to Taka to nurse his wounds, she falls in love with him but conducts herself with strict composure. In that case, Algren realizes her to the degree that she is a samurai as her male counterparts. Taka is seen as a forgiving character as she nurses Algren’s wounds despite the fact that he killed her husband. Also, Taka is described as an ideal woman in terms of classic feminine beauty.


White Supremacy

The elements of white supremacy further support the film the last samurai. Having Algren as the newest member of the samurai, all are inevitably carnage in one final battle by the Meiji imperial army. Although the Japanese modern is portrayed as evil throughout the film, the samurai are honored continuously. However, the Japanese soldiers team up on Katsumoto’s son and forced him to cut his hair thus, promoting white supremacy culture and abandoned samurai status symbol. In addition, on behalf of the emperor, Omura in the film takes the opportunity and decides to validate a trade contract with the American diplomat hence promoting white supremacy. Moreover, the film houses some features of western superiority when an American invades Japanese territories, appreciates them and decides to teach them things about western culture.

Loss of a Culture Identity

Most of the Americans in the film are focused on improving the large arm deals they would benefit from the emperor. On the other hand, the samurai concentrated on enhancing their strict code of honor and rate of discipline. They aim at devoting their time to improve their skills and culture activities. Algren losses culture identity as he rejects the American culture by solidifying his assimilation towards the superiority of the Japanese culture regardless of the threat of it to fail in the face of modernization.


Enunciation and voice tone

Algren uses a touching description and plays with the emotions the audience while narrating about scalping. A balance between his volume and tone drives the receptor to experience the scene being described. He sometimes accelerates and at times speaks in a slow pace so as to ensure active listening among the audience. Even when Algren is drank, he is able of standing before the crowd, capture their attention and entertain them.

Facial expression and body posture

Algren in various scenes uses facial expression to translate his mind and reveal the emotions to the surrounding people. Algren uses unruffled expression and body posture during battles to imply intimidation. He also creates responsiveness and tension by violating the personal space of others and thus infer the emotions within the story.


The Last Samurai film highlights several aspects of the white supremacy over the Eastern culture. However, the whites appreciate the Japanese culture through Algren, who expresses his guilt for the past imperialist behaviors. Algren later teaches the Japanese about culture appreciation. The death of Katsumoto is evidence of how western superiority prevailed throughout the movie.

Work cited

The Last Samurai. Dir. Edward Zwick. Perf. Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe. 2003. DVD. Warner            Bros. Pictures, 2004.

September 25, 2023


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