Cinerama: The Last Samurai

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

The Last Samurai

By Mike Derderian

They don’t advertise for killers in the newspapers, or do they? “Killer wanted: experience is a must.” After all to kill a man requires a special skill; and sadly it has become an art that we humans have excelled in through out the years.

From the very first blow that Cain inflected on the head of his brother, man’s malice was discovered unleashing all his repressed desires, one of which is a hidden thirst for blood. Whether using a stone, a gun or a laser-guided missile, taking a man’s soul was, and still is, a path that many would take.

Wars are still raging on the surface of our ravaged earth; images of dead children lying lifeless in a coffin are still being shown all over the news, and human body-parts scattered in the scene of a blown-up train are all the evidence we need to prove that mankind has learned nothing.

What happened to chivalry, honor and respect in war? Did it all go down the drain with the rest of the human values? Values that we are gradually casting into the bottomless pit created by what we like to call modernization.

These days, the word “civilized” is only granted to those who embrace the ethos of another, “superior” society, and those who refuse to do so are branded savages and barbarians. So I ask you what about our own way of life, culture and beliefs? Are they no longer sufficient?

The answer for those questions are partly found in the film that triggered my overture for this week’s column, which is the 2003 masterpiece “The Last Samurai,” which was directed by Edward Zwick.

Before I start talking about this epic blockbuster, let us take a slight detour by examining the following comparison between ancient Arab knights and Japanese Samurais.

You might ask now what do they have in common? Well, they both believed that using a white weapon in facing one’s enemy is the height of courage. In their times, war had a code of honor and respect to their foes, a thing that we obviously lack nowadays, how rude I say.

We have all seen Samurai movies before; some were good and some were bad. But, the one at hand is not your typical cheesy Hollywood production, like some of the early films made about those fierce warriors.

Currently showing in Amman, “The Last Samurai” is captivating the Jordanian audience with its well-constructed plot, convincing acting, compelling music and mesmerizing scenery.

As the camera takes you through the serene landscapes of Japan and right into the excellently choreographed fight scenes the musical score will keep you on the edge of your seat. Thanks to Hans Zimmer’s musical score and additional music by Blake Neely and Geoff Zanelli more value was added to this film that tells us the story of an American warrior, who lost faith in everything and most of all honor.

Tom Cruise, Tony Goldwyn, Billy Connolly, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki and Ken Watanabe were all part of a well-chosen cast that gave life to the characters of this Japanese-American epic.

Cruise certainly gave one of his best performances in many years in this great film, not forgetting his role in the 2002 futuristic police drama, “Minority Report.”

Playing the role of Nathan Algren, the apathy stricken captain, who turns to alcohol as a refuge from the atrocities that he was forced to commit against native Indians and still haunts him, cruise was astonishing.

The events of the film takes us to Japan circa 19th century, where European powers including the United States had it in its interest to get rid of the authority of Samurai’s and everything related to them.

And what better way to eradicate those warriors who use swords and arrows than to hire a mercenary captain with an army that uses riffles and canons for the sole purpose of greed.

However, the task turns out to be more difficult than expected, especially with the Samurai’s spirit that stood in the way of such a scheme, a force that touches the dying spirit of Algren (Cruise) after his falling into their hands and meeting with their leader Katsumoto (Watanabe).

The Japanese actors in this film gave performances that were as good as Cruise’s, especially Watanabe’s excellent portrayal of the wise and mystic samurai leader Katsumoto, who chooses not to kill Algren after he displayed a courage similar to that of a white tiger when they tried to ensnare him.

The greatest scene in this must-see film is when the shadow warriors try to assassinate Katsumoto; the whole sequence will take your breath away with the magnitude of sword action and acrobatic stunts.

Between all the fight scenes, meditations and mind-boggling conversations between Algren and Katsumoto, we have a delicate and innocent love story that is brewing between Nathan and Taka (Koyuki), the widow with two children—how did they meet? Will their love be fulfilled? You’ll have to see the film to find out.

In the end, any culture or belief is worth fighting for; as we still have much to learn on how to spare another man’s life, by knowing how he lived it.

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