28 May 2008

The Last Samurai: Review

A personal review of The Last Samurai:

When TLS was released in January 2004, I was in Hyderabad. That's where I first saw it. I saw it again after coming back to Poona. Later I bought the VCD.

Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Siege, Blood Diamond), this 150-minute epic takes us to late 19th century Japan. It is set against the backdrop of the Meiji Restoration – the modernisation of Japan. While Emperor Meiji was a historical person, the other characters and incidents are fictional. Written by John Logan (Gladiator), TLS is an unabashedly romantic look at traditional Japan. (Nobody believes that the medieval period was perfect, or that every feudal lord was just and noble like Katsumoto. But that is not the point.)

An excellent screenplay, brilliantly choreographed sword fights and fine acting all add up to a great watch. Tom Cruise is good enough as Nathan Algren, but it is Ken Watanabe who steals the show. As Katsumoto he exudes dignity, strength, wisdom and compassion – a true Samurai.

The cinematic aspects aside, what appeals the most is the concept of the Samurai. Their life of austere simplicity. Their pursuit of truth and beauty. Their courage and idealism. Their code of duty, honour, loyalty and sacrifice. Their stoic outlook on life. As I have noted earlier, the Samurai were Zen Buddhists, and Zen Buddhism is the Japanese version of Yoga. So the Samurai were Yogis. What Krishna says about Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita find an echo in TLS, and it is not a coincidence.

TLS's loving depiction of traditional Japan makes us nostalgic for what once was. It makes us realise how precious our own culture is. We realise how important it is to preserve our identity and our way of life. That, perhaps, is the most important message we can take from 'The Last Samurai'.


Anonymous said...

nice one, dheeru...

i thought the movie for some reason never fully received it's due.....And Tom Cruise is quite good in this..

though i think his best performance to date is in Collateral..I have not seen the 4th of July...the movie he was nominated for..


Indian said...

It was an anti-American movie, so what do you expect? It was a huge hit outside the US, though.

Cruise's best performance is supposed to be 'Magnolia' (I haven't seen it).