Thursday, May 20, 2004

the last and second to last samurai (movie review)


a group of friends and i chortled our way through Tom Cruises the last samurai this past monday. not that it was a bad movie, or even funny, but it's hard to sit through a movie with friends in someone's house, without heckling.

the movie was actually beautiful shot, and showed the perfectionist side of Japanese culture, its economy of motion and emotion, through the eye's of Tom Cruises' character brought to Japan to help defeat yet another "savage" race. most economically described it was "dances with wolves" in Japan, or shall we say "dances with samurai." much of the movie seems to be about retaining honor in changing times as some Japanese seek to become a "modern" society. the lesson seems clear that the real savages or those who are seeking to modernize.

just last night, i went to see twilight samurai a much more nuanced film about the same period of history. i was amused to find that in the postscript that the main character dies, shot to death, in a rebellion of his clan against the meiji restoration. he could have been one of the foot soldiers who is laid to waste in the climatic battle of the last samurai his finally honed samurai skills useless.

in any case, TS is a much quieter film, dwelling mostly on the lowly samurai and his family life. the characters clearly realize that change is upon them, but suffer it, a storm they must weather rather than something they must fight tooth and nail to stave off. a different sort of honor is presented here, one that is not so willing to throw itself away for the glory of the last fight.

we see too something that is not presented at all in the last samurai, the hardship of a feudal society and the obligations and duties that the lower ranks have to bear, where the leaders are not all wise men fond of poetry and the dictates of buddhism.


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