Samurai is a 2003 American epic period drama war film
directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the
screenplay with John Logan and Marshall Herskovitz. The film stars Tom
Cruise, who also co-produced, with Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy
Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki, and
Shin Koyamada in
Tom Cruise portrays a United States Captain of the 7th Cavalry
Regiment, whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into
contact with samurai warriors in the wake of the
Meiji Restoration in
19th Century Japan. The film's plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma
Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and the westernization of Japan by
foreign powers, though in the film the United States is portrayed as
the primary force behind the push for westernization. To a lesser
extent it is also influenced by the stories of Jules Brunet, a French
army captain who fought alongside
Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier
Boshin War and Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who
Westernize the Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious
Samurai grossed a total of $456 million at the box office
and was well received upon its release, receiving praise for the
acting, writing, directing, score, visuals, costumes and messages. It
was nominated for several awards, including four Academy Awards, three
Golden Globe Awards, and two
National Board of Review
National Board of Review Awards.
5.1 Critical response
5.2 Box office reception
6 Criticism and debate
7 See also
9 External links
US Army Captain Nathan Algren, a bitter alcoholic traumatized
by the atrocities he committed during the American Indian Wars, is
approached by his former commanding officer Colonel Bagley to train
the newly created
Imperial Japanese Army
Imperial Japanese Army for Japanese businessman
Omura, who intends to use the army to suppress a samurai-headed
rebellion against Japan's new Emperor. Despite his hatred of Bagley
for his role in the Indian Wars, an impoverished Algren takes the job
for the money, and is accompanied to Japan by his old friend, Sergeant
Zebulon Gant. Upon arriving, Algren meets Simon Graham, a British
translator knowledgeable about the Samurai.
Algren finds the Imperial soldiers are actually conscripted peasants
that have no knowledge of firearms or battle. Early in their training,
Algren is informed that the
Samurai are attacking one of Omura's
railroads; Omura sends the army there, despite Algren’s protests
that they are not ready. The battle is a disaster; the conscripts are
routed and Gant is killed. Algren fights to the last before he is
surrounded; expecting to die, he is taken prisoner when
Katsumoto decides to spare him. Algren is taken to Katsumoto's son's
village to live among his family. While he is poorly treated by the
Samurai at first, he eventually gains their respect and actually
becomes friends with Katsumoto. Algren overcomes his alcoholism and
guilt, and learns the
Japanese language and culture. He develops
sympathy for the Samurai, who are angry that the spread of modern
technology has eroded traditional feudalism and the status and power
of the Samurai. Algren develops an unspoken affection for Taka,
Katsumoto's sister and the widow of a
Samurai Algren killed.
One night, as the village is watching a kabuki play, a group of ninja
infiltrate the village and attempt to assassinate Katsumoto. Algren
warns Katsumoto, saving his life, and then helps defend the village
with the Samurai. Katsumoto requests a meeting with
Emperor Meiji and
is given safe passage to Tokyo. He brings Algren, intending to release
him. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Algren finds the Imperial Army is now a
well-trained and fully equipped fighting force. Katsumoto, to his
dismay, discovers that the young and inexperienced Emperor has
essentially become a puppet of Omura. At a government meeting, Omura
orders Katsumoto's arrest for carrying a sword in public and asks him
to commit seppuku to redeem his honor. Algren refuses Omura's offer to
lead the new army to crush the rebels; Omura orders him killed as well
by sending assassins to kill Algren, but Algren kills the assailants.
Algren assists the
Samurai in freeing Katsumoto from the Imperial
Army; in the process, Katsumoto's son Nobutada is mortally wounded,
and he sacrifices himself to allow the others to escape.
As the Imperial Army marches to crush the rebellion, a grieving
Katsumoto contemplates seppuku, but Algren convinces him to fight
until the end, and joins the
Samurai in battle. Citing the Battle of
Samurai use the Imperial Army's overconfidence to
lure their soldiers into a trap and deprive them of artillery support.
The ensuing mêlée battle inflicts massive casualties on both sides
and forces the Imperial soldiers to retreat. Knowing that Imperial
reinforcements are coming and defeat is inevitable, Katsumoto orders a
suicidal charge on horseback. During the charge, the
through Bagley's line; Algren kills Bagley, but they are quickly mowed
down by gatling guns. The Imperial captain, previously trained by
Algren and horrified by the sight of the dying Samurai, orders all of
the guns to cease fire, disregarding Omura's orders. A mortally
wounded Katsumoto commits seppuku with Algren's help as the soldiers
at the scene kneel down in respect for the fallen Samurai.
Days later, as trade negotiations conclude, Algren, though injured,
arrives and interrupts the proceedings. He presents the Emperor with
Katsumoto's sword and asks him to remember the traditions for which
Katsumoto died. The Emperor realizes that while Japan should modernize
and continue to interact with other countries, it cannot forget its
own culture and history. He rejects the trade offer with Omura
protesting the decision; the Emperor chooses to seize the Omura family
assets and distribute them to the poor. Algren's fate is shrouded in
mystery; while various rumors about him circulate, Graham concludes
that Algren had finally found peace in his life and returned to the
village to reunite with Taka.
Tom Cruise as Cpt. Nathan Algren
Ken Watanabe as Lord Moritsugu Katsumoto
Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio
Shin Koyamada as Nobutada
Tony Goldwyn as Col. Bagley
Masato Harada as Omura
Shichinosuke Nakamura as Emperor Meiji
Timothy Spall as Simon Graham
Koyuki as Taka
Seizo Fukumoto as the Silent
Billy Connolly as Sergeant Zebulon Gant
Shun Sugata as Nakao
Sosuke Ikematsu as Higen
Scott Wilson as Ambassador Swanbeck
Togo Igawa as General Hasegawa
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Engyō-ji in Himeji
Filming took place in New Zealand, mostly in the Taranaki region, with
Japanese cast members and an American production crew. This location
was chosen due to the fact that Egmont/
Mount Taranaki resembles Mount
Fuji, and also because there is a lot of forest and farmland in the
Taranaki region. American Location Manager, Charlie Harrington, saw
the mountain in a travel book and encouraged the producers to send him
to Taranaki to scout the locations. This acted as a backdrop for many
scenes, as opposed to the built up cities of Japan. Several of the
village scenes were shot on the
Warner Bros. Studios backlot in
Burbank, California. Some scenes were shot in
Kyoto and Himeji, Japan.
There were 13 filming locations altogether.
Tom Cruise did his own
stunts for the film.
The film is based on an original screenplay entitled "The Last
Samurai", from a story by John Logan. The project itself was inspired
by writer and director Vincent Ward. Ward became executive producer on
the film – working in development on it for nearly four years and
after approaching several directors (Francis Ford Coppola, Peter
Weir), until he became interested with Edward Zwick. The film
production went ahead with Zwick and was shot in Ward’s native New
The film was based on the stories of Jules Brunet, a French army
captain who fought alongside
Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier Boshin War
and Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who helped
Westernize the Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious Army. The
historical roles of the British Empire, the
Netherlands and France in
Japanese westernization are largely attributed to the United States in
the film, for American audiences.
The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score
Film score by Hans Zimmer
November 25, 2003
Hans Zimmer chronology
The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score was released on
November 25, 2003 by Warner Sunset Records. All music on the
soundtrack was composed, arranged, and produced by Hans Zimmer,
performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, and conducted by Blake
Neely. It peaked at number 24 on the US
Top Soundtracks chart.
All music composed by Hans Zimmer.
"A Way of Life"
"Spectres in the Fog"
"A Hard Teacher"
"To Know My Enemy"
"The Way of the Sword"
"A Small Measure of Peace"
"The Final Charge [Apple exclusive bonus track]"
Strings: 32 violins, 23 violoncellos, 8 double basses
Brass: 8 French horns, 5 trombones, 2 tubas
Solo: vocal, Navajo vocal, fiddle, cello solo, koto, taiko drums,
shakuhachi, flute & ethnic woodwinds
The film achieved higher box office receipts in Japan than in the
United States. Critical reception in Japan was generally
positive. Tomomi Katsuta of The
Mainichi Shinbun thought that the
film was "a vast improvement over previous American attempts to
portray Japan", noting that director
Edward Zwick "had researched
Japanese history, cast well-known Japanese actors and consulted
dialogue coaches to make sure he didn't confuse the casual and formal
categories of Japanese speech." However, Katsuta still found fault
with the film's idealistic, "storybook" portrayal of the samurai,
stating: "Our image of samurai is that they were more corrupt." As
such, he said, the noble samurai leader Katsumoto "set (his) teeth on
The Japanese premiere was held at
Roppongi Hills multiplex in Tokyo on
November 1, 2003. The entire cast was present; they signed autographs,
provided interviews and appeared on stage to speak to fans. Many of
the cast members expressed the desire for audiences to learn and
respect the important values of the samurai, and to have a greater
Japanese culture and custom.
In the United States, critic
Roger Ebert of
Chicago Sun-Times gave the
film three-and-a-half stars out of four, saying it was "beautifully
designed, intelligently written, acted with conviction, it's an
uncommonly thoughtful epic." Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes
reports that 66% of critics have given the film a positive review
based on 219 reviews, the site's consensus stating: "With high
production values and thrilling battle scenes, The Last
Samurai is a
satisfying epic", and with an average score of 6.4/10, making the film
a "Fresh" on the website's rating system. At Metacritic, which
assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream
critics, the film received an average score of 55, based on 43
reviews, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".
Box office reception
As of 1 January 2016, the film had grossed $456.8 million against a
production budget of $140 million.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor
(Ken Watanabe), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Sound
Anna Behlmer and Jeff Wexler). It was also nominated
for three Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Watanabe), Best
Actor – Motion Picture Drama (Tom Cruise) and Best Score (Hans
Awards won by the film include Best Director by the National Board of
Review, Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects at the Visual Effects
Society Awards, Outstanding Foreign Language Film at the Japan Academy
Prize, four Golden Satellite Awards and Best Fire Stunt at the Taurus
World Stunt Awards.
Criticism and debate
Seikanron debate of 1873.
Saigō Takamori insisted that Japan
should go to war with Korea.
Motoko Rich of The New York Times observed that the film has opened up
a debate, "particularly among Asian-Americans and Japanese," about
whether the film and others like it were "racist, naïve,
well-intentioned, accurate – or all of the above."
Todd McCarthy, a film critic for the Variety magazine, wrote: "Clearly
enamored of the culture it examines while resolutely remaining an
outsider's romanticization of it, yarn is disappointingly content to
recycle familiar attitudes about the nobility of ancient cultures,
Western despoilment of them, liberal historical guilt, the
unrestrainable greed of capitalists and the irreducible primacy of
Hollywood movie stars."
According to history professor Cathy Schultz, "Many samurai fought
Meiji modernization not for altruistic reasons but because it
challenged their status as the privileged warrior caste. Meiji
reformers proposed the radical idea that all men essentially being
equal ... The film also misses the historical reality that many Meiji
policy advisors were former samurai, who had voluntarily given up
their traditional privileges to follow a course they believed would
The fictional character of Katsumoto bears a striking resemblance to
the historical figure of Saigō Takamori, a hero of the Meiji
Restoration and the leader of the ineffective Satsuma Rebellion, who
appears in the histories and legends of modern Japan as a hero against
the corruption, extravagance, and unprincipled politics of his
contemporaries. "Though he had agreed to become a member of the new
government," writes the translator and historian Ivan Morris, "it was
clear from his writings and statements that he believed the ideals of
the civil war were being vitiated. He was opposed to the excessively
rapid changes in Japanese society and was particularly disturbed by
the shabby treatment of the warrior class." Suspicious of the new
bureaucracy, he wanted power to remain in the hands of the samurai
class and the Emperor, and it was for this purpose that he had joined
the central government. "Edicts like the interdiction against carrying
swords and wearing the traditional topknot seemed like a series of
gratuitous provocations; and, though Saigō realized that Japan needed
an effective standing army to resist pressure from the West, he could
not countenance the social implications of the military reforms. For
this reason Saigō, although participating in the Okinoerabu
government, continued to exercise a powerful appeal among disgruntled
ex-samurai in Satsuma and elsewhere." Saigō fought for a moral
revolution, not a material one, and he described his revolt as a check
on the declining morality of a new, Westernizing materialism.
In 2014, the movie was one of several discussed by
Keli Goff in The
Daily Beast in an article concerning white savior narratives in
film, a cinematic trope studied in sociology, for which The Last
Samurai has been analyzed.
Film in the United States portal
Foreign government advisors in Meiji Japan
French Military Mission to Japan (1867)
Mark Rappaport (creature effects artist)
^ "The Last Samurai". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved
April 1, 2016.
^ a b c "The Last
Samurai (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved
September 17, 2012.
^ The Last Samurai: Original Motion Picture Score (CD liner notes).
Hans Zimmer. Warner Sunset Records. 2003.
^ a b "The Last
Samurai – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack".
Allmusic.com. Rovi Corp. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
^ "The Last
Samurai (2003) – News". CountingDown.com. Retrieved
September 17, 2012.
^ "Sampling Japanese comment". Asia Arts. UCLA.edu. Retrieved
September 17, 2012.
^ a b Rich, Motoko (January 4, 2004). "Land Of the Rising Cliché".
The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
^ Ebert, Roger (December 5, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Chicago
Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
^ "The Last Samurai". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved December 10,
^ "The Last Samurai". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September
^ "The Last
Samurai (2003) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
^ "The 76th Academy Awards (2004) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org.
Retrieved November 20, 2011.
^ "Awards for The Last
Samurai (2003)". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved
September 17, 2012.
^ McCarthy, Todd (November 30, 2003). "The Last Samurai". Variety.
Reed Elsevier Inc. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
^ Schultz, Cathy. "The Last
Samurai offers a Japanese History Lesson".
History in the Movies. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
Ivan Morris (1975), The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the
History of japanese, chapter 9, Saigō Takamori. New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0030108112.
^ Goff, Keli (May 4, 2014). "Can 'Belle' End Hollywood's Obsession
with the White Savior?". The Daily Beast. Retrieved May 14,
^ Hughey, Matthew (2014). The White Savior Film: Content, Critics, and
Consumption. Temple University Press.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Last Samurai.
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Films directed by Edward Zwick
About Last Night (1986)
Leaving Normal (1992)
Legends of the Fall
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Courage Under Fire
Courage Under Fire (1996)
The Siege (1998)
Blood Diamond (2006)
Love & Other Drugs (2010)
Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
Works by John Logan
RKO 281 (1999)
Any Given Sunday
Any Given Sunday (1999)
The Time Machine (2002)
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
The Aviator (2004)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Penny Dreadful (2014–16)
Peter and Alice
Peter and Alice (2013)
I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers (2013)
The Last Ship (2014)
Moulin Rouge! (2018)