The Last Samurai was released in the United States in December 2003 and was a film that was long in the waiting. Critics and fans alike could not wait to see the epic film, and many were quite pleased with what they saw on the big silver screen. The general story revolves around Nathan Algren, played by Tom Cruise, who is an American soldier in the midst of the Meiji Restoration in the Empire of Japan between 1876 and 1877. Algren’s personal conflicts about his situation bring him into contact with samurai.
The story draws inspiration from a number or sources and also simplifies political influences for the sake of art. The story is very loosely based on the Satsuma Rebellion which took place in 1877 and was led by Saigo Takamori. The story also draws inspiration from Jules Brunet’s story. Brunet was a French army captain that fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki during the Boshin War. In actuality, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France had a major hand in the westernization of Japan, however in the film this was greatly attributed to the United States instead. In other words, The Last Samurai, while a beautiful film, is not very historically accurate.
The movie begins with Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise) who has become disenchanted and feels overwhelming guilt over the treatment of the Native American people during his times in the United States. Algren is a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg and has served under General Custer, so he is no stranger to war and violence. A former commanding office, Colonel Bagley, recruits Algren on behalf of Mr. Omura, a Japanese businessman. It is Algren’s job to train the first Western-style army under the new Meiji Restoration government.
The film shows Algren training armies of peasants and farmers on how to use firearms and is later made to take them into battle, despite the lack of training and skill. The new army is meant to fight a group of samurai rebels led by Katsumoto. During this battle the army is slaughtered and Algren is captured, wounded. He is taken back to a village to recover and lives with the family of a samurai he has killed. Algren is taught in the “ways of the samurai” and takes a new look on life.
The Last Samurai tells the tale of Algren with much cinematographic beauty and visualizes his transition from Westerner to Samurai. Perhaps Algren is “the last samurai” the title refers to, or perhaps the rebel samurai. Either way, Algren becomes learned in the ways of the samurai and adopts them thus ultimately fighting alongside them against his own employer. The Last Samurai was very well received worldwide and will generally appeal to moviegoers who enjoy epic historical films.