EF Classics: The Last Samurai (Part 1/2)

“To know life in every breath. Every cup of tea. Every life we take. The way of the warrior. That is Bushido.”

-Katsumoto

Minimal spoilers. Part 1 is synopsis, personal experience, cast and characters. Part 2 will be the music, and man vs. machine conflict as it is relevant to today.

1876, day unknown, month unknown. I continue to live among these extraordinary people. From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue — I have never seen such discipline. And yet I am confounded by their contradictions, savagery followed by mildness.

– Diary of Capt. Nathan Algren, 1876


Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a disenchanted ex-American army captain turned mercenary. For years since his honorable discharge from the military Algren has earned a living hunting and eradicating Native Americans. Given his narrow resume and violent temperament, he feels this is the only occupation for which he is suited.

The evil eye…

Doing the establishment’s dirty work has turned Algren into a bitter, alcoholic shell of a man. And still flat broke, which is why he obliges when an old enemy offers him 4x captain’s pay to sail across the Pacific to train The Japanese Army in modern weaponry and tactics (gun-fighting). Of course, there’s a catch. It’s not just training, but more dirty work. Japan’s new establishment has pesky natives of their own – fierce protectors of the old ways, and they want Algren to exterminate them. These mysterious, skilled warriors are known as “Samurai.”

This movie has been on my watch list for no less than 16 years. My very first job was movie theater usher, and one of my elder co-workers raved about it. I’ll never forget the way his eyes lit up when he described the 4 vs. 1 assassination attempt in midnight Tokyoโ€ฆ But I knew I wasn’t ready. Like a locked palace in Zelda, first you have to acquire the boomerang, or rock-lift gloves. Until then all you can do is stare dumbly at it from afar. I knew I needed to go through some shit before watching this movie. Divorce, check. A dozen failed careers, check. Alright chums, let’s do this! LEEROYYY JENKINS!๐Ÿ˜‚

Samurai warlord, Katsumoto

The supporting cast is the lifeblood of this film. Ken Watanabe (Inception, Memoirs of A Geisha) plays the Samurai warlord / poet, Katsumoto, awe-inspired by his vision of a white tiger manifest as newcomer, Algren. The duo will form a legendary friendship. Hiroyuki Sanada (John Wick 4, Mortal Combat 2021) plays the proverbial gatekeeper, challenger to Algren, Ujio. He gives “whooping stick” it’s true meaning. Tony Goldwyn (Tarzan, Ghost) brings the requisite punchable-face to a story laden with interpersonal conflict. At the same time we sympathize with his astonishment witnessing his colleague’s (Algren’s) 180 transformation. Katsumoto’s son (Shin Koyamada) is also quite memorable, impressing Algren with his bravery, and “no-mind” combat instruction.

End Part 1

In Part 2 we’ll get to hear Hanz Zimmer’s epic original score, and discuss the most important conflict in this film, man vs. machine, as it is critically urgent to today.


E.F.

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16 thoughts on “EF Classics: The Last Samurai (Part 1/2)

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    1. Yes, Seven Samurai more deserves the title of, “classic.” Hugely influential. A great mention. Cruise is probably the weakest part of this film, if I had to pick something. I mean his hair is PERFECT in every scene lol

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    1. That’s so cool you’ve seen this. I’m seeing it for the first time, believe it or not. Which means I had to discover Ken Watanabe the reverse way as you: Inception –> Last Samurai๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต๐ŸŒธโ›ฉ

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  1. OMG LEEROYYY JENKINS! That’s a blast from the past. I remember when that happened… I never played the game but had a friend who was spending way too much time raiding.
    I need to rewatch Last Samurai as I’m not even sure if I’ve seen it more than once. Before that, I need to get a bunch of Kurosawa movies off my bucket list…

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