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In the late 1870s, the beginnings of Japanís modernisation is symbolised by the eradication of the Samurai way of life, as the alcoholic, Civil War veteran turned Winchester guns spokesman, Captain Woodrow Algren (Tom Cruise), arrives in Japan to train the troops of the emperor, Meiji. This breaks with the long-held tradition of employed samurai warriors protecting territories, and the emperorís new army prepares to wipe out the remaining Samurai warriors. When Algren is injured in combat and captured by the Samurai, he learns about their warrior honour code from their leader, Katsumoto. Algren has to choose sides.

Review by Louise Keller:
A visually stunning epic adventure about honour, The Last Samurai takes us on a resonating and powerful emotional journey. This is storytelling on a large scale, with the human condition clearly on display throughout. The ferocious battle scenes are impressive and exciting; Hans Zimmerís score is dramatic, lyrical and meditative; John Tollís beautiful cinematography leaves lasting impressions. This is a film to savour and reflect on.

Stimulated by the works of Akira Kurasawa, director Edward Zwick delves deep into the complexities of Japanese tradition and culture in this saga about a man who has lost his very self. This role is to Tom Cruise, what Dances With Wolves was to Kevin Costner, and Cruise has never been in finer form. His Hollywood persona is discarded and a rich, depth of character emerges. When we first meet his Captain Woodrow Algren, he has degraded himself totally, selling his integrity to the highest bidder, numbing his brain with alcohol all the while. When ordered to lead an army that is clearly not ready for battle, he shows his self-loathing and disdain for death by effecting sensational training tactics.

But itís not until he is taken prisoner by the Samurai, that he becomes fascinated by the discipline that confronts him. The contrast between this uncouth, drunken soldier and the Samurai culture, where life is a pursuit of discipline, compassion, tradition and respect could not be greater. As the seasons change, so too does his understanding of the culture and philosophy, and to his horror, Algren finds himself treated not as an enemy, but as an honoured guest, cared for by the widow of the man he has killed.

The heart of the film lies in the bond that grows between Algren and Ken Watanabeís Katsumoto. Katsumotoís aim initially is to Ďobserve the enemyí, and the Ďconversationsí the two men share, with Katsumotoís limited English offer some of the filmís many delights. These two men are both warriors, with only their cultures that keep them apart. Very quickly they each develop the utmost respect for the other, and become the otherís greatest ally. Our hearts are in our mouth in the lead up to the climactic battle scene, when the war becomes a battle of tactics and honour is the trophy. Both Cruise and Watanabe are charismatic in a complementary way, while Koyukiís serenely beautiful Taka, is the epitome of restraint and femininity. All the cast is superb and the integrity and authenticity satisfies completely. The Last Samurai is a spectacle indeed; thereís plenty to see, but itís what we feel that really counts.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Packed with all the ingredients of a classic cinematic dish, The Last Samurai offers all the simple pleasures of entertaining cinema in the wrapping of earnest themes and weighty issues. I donít mean to sound dismissive; the film is superbly made, with its fabulous detail, its sincere intentions and its glorious look and sound. I do want to warn against taking it too seriously as a cultural expedition, though; if thatís what you want, go seek a historic doco.

Here, the code of Samurai is glorified for its noble aspects, the white man is converted to the beauty of its culture after his moral decline in battle, and the darker forces of humanity are quashed, at least morally. All this happens in Hollywood, but the real world is far more problematic.

So back to the film: an adventure, a buddy movie and a war film rolled into one giant cross cultural odyssey, The Last Samurai is magnificent to look at, to listen to and to feed off emotionally. The screenplay offers ample opportunity for variety, from intimate, secret longing to extraordinary battle scenes and dramatic personal confrontations, and director Edward Zwick makes the most of them all.

Tom Cruise works his butt off to great effect as the fish out of American water in 1870s Japan, and Ken Watanabe (reminiscent of Chow Yun Fat) is excellent as the last Samurai, Katsumoto, combining pride, courage and sensitivity in one macho package. More ornate than the average old Samurai movie, and fed with the screen equivalent of Kobe beef for its story, The Last Samurai is a big-hearted drama made with great skill. The melancholy after effect adds to its appeal, for me at least.

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(USA / New Zealand / Japan)

CAST: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Shun Sugata, Seizo Fukumoto, Masato Harada, Shin Koyamada

PRODUCER: Tom Cruise, Tom Engelman, Scott Kroopf, Paula Wagner, Edward Zwick

DIRECTOR: Edward Zwick

SCRIPT: John Logan


EDITOR: Victor Du Bois, Steven Rosenblum

MUSIC: Hans Zimmer


RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 15, 2004

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