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The Last Samurai

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Went with Tammy, Steven and Mariah.

Another movie where the previews pretty much tell the entire story.  Mostly because the story is pretty straight-forward.  The characters are pretty two-dimensional.

All of the characters are essentially the same at the end of the movies as when they were when the movie started.  You have the asshole superior officer.  The sleazy Japanese buisnessman.  The Samurai leader kidnaps Cruise for information, and that's pretty much what he gets from him.  The girl goes from hating him to loving him, but it's pretty obviously a tacked-on love interest story.  It's never really explored.   Just kind of put up for display.

The only character that shows any true growth is Tom Cruise' character.  And even that felt short-changed somehow.

Interesting.  It wasn't until I sat down to type this that I realized just how shallow the story is.  I keep wanting to compare it to Dances With Wolves, which I think is not an unfair comparison.  Where the main character "goes native" when cut off from Western Civilization.

The movie is visually very impressive.  Beautiful wooded mountainous vistas.   Lotsa moody fog, rain and snow.  The costumes are interesting by today's standards.  Most of the town sets felt a little cramped, though.  You never really got to see much at any one time.  And rarely in daylight.  You were usually looking toward a building across the street, or maybe down the block a little.   You never really got a feel for an entire town.  It felt like a set.

Tammy says she really can't comprehend why people would throw their lives away like they did.  And I haven't really come up with a coherent way to answer her.

I guess a valid analogy is a parent trying to protect his/her children against overwhelming odds, say marauding Indians.  They know they can't win, but they'll go down fighting, anyway.  To some of the people of that time, the values expressed and implied in their traditional feudal society, with the samurai as protectors, was central to their identity as a community.  They saw the encroachment of western values as fatal to their way of life as a people.  And it removed much of their perceived self worth as individuals.  All they could see ahead of them in the New World Order being forced upon them is feelings of loss and misery for the rest of their lives.  So, to them, it's either that, or die trying to hold back the clock.

But, as history has shown over and over again, the society that tries to impose stagnation is defeated/consumed/subsumed by those who adapt.

Of course, that wasn't the message this movie was trying to convey.  This movie was waxing nostalgic for the ostensibly purer virtues of Japanese society prior to western intervention.  Part of mankind's near-universal self-loathing, that leads to wishing we could rein progress back, to the time when things were perceived (in hindsight) to have been better.

Despite all the nits I've listed here, I walked out of the theatre glad to have seen the movie.  It was fun.  And of course good company helps :-)

On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Matinee with Dinner.  Sort of an oriental Dances With Wolves, though a little more heavy-handed. Good, though.


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Last modified: June 14, 2004
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