‘The Last Samurai’ Movie Analysis

The Last Samurai is a movie about honor and courage. It relays a thought-provoking message about the conflict between Japan and the West. Its military style allows to observe Japanese society and its persistence to guard long-established traditions. The picture represents real events that happened in the second part of the 19th century. In addition, the director brings together a number of powerful film-making techniques in order to portray the historical background of the movie. Therefore, The Last Samurai discusses the conflict between East and West, as well as emphasizes traditional values and national customs of Japan by embracing the military style and refining cinematography elements which create the realistic picture of the Japanese life.

The conflict between the Western world, represented by the United States, and the Oriental world, portrayed by Japan, is a leading theme of the movie. Japanese culture symbolizes a society that values loyalty, honor, and nobility as the primary life principles. However, these indigenous traditions do not correspond to the commercial interests of Omura and his family. While corrupt Japanese official wants to modernize Japan joining the old with the new, he meets the opposition of the samurai. Moreover, the movie compares strict moral code and discipline of the samurai to the greed and brutality of the West and corrupted Japanese authorities. According to Simon Graham, whose narrative opens the movie, “Japan was made by a handful of brave men. Warriors, willing to give their lives for what seems to have become a forgotten word: honor” (Herskovitz et al., 2003). Although it is obvious who is morally superior, Japanese culture should respond to tough challenges that are posed by the technical progress and so-called advantages of westernization.


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Furthermore, military style of Edward Zwick’s movie conveys an accurate representation of Japan and its culture in the 19th century. For example, he creates parallels between the life in the samurai village and in the modernized city. The latter is dirty and noisy. It is governed by dishonest officers and soldiers. On the contrary, the village is a calm and peaceful place where every inhabitant enjoys living in it. Moreover, the samurai embody an ancient Japanese tradition. Using classic Japanese weaponry and wearing national clothes, Katsumoto and his warriors become the perfect examples of the noble fighters. Indeed, the historic style of the movies allows to perceive true honor and discipline of Japanese warriors who oppose wealth and power. However, the tragic history of the samurai culture is conveyed through the climactic battle between Eastern and Western worlds. Unfortunately, they face many problems not being able to resist air attacks. It was the Battle of Shiroyama, or the final battle of the Satsuma Rebellion, that ended with the defeat of Generals Yamagata Aritomo and Kawamura Sumiyoshi (HistoryNet, 2006). Nevertheless, the samurai sacrifice demonstrates the genuine respect for the Japanese tradition and its power.

The historical context of the movie is highlighted by powerful film-making techniques which embrace shots, editing, lighting, and sound in the scene. The sound has an important role in the movie because it represents the manipulation of audio that adds certain effect and separates the scenes (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2014, p. 45). The Last Samurai uses various sounds in order to force the audience to experience certain emotions. Thus, every element of the sound design has its specific task. While the movie conveys different themes, including courage, loyalty, honor, suspense, and death, each topic has the unique audio pattern. For example, in the scene where a warrior attempts to decapitate captured Captain Nathan Algren, suspense and tension reach a crescendo through the sound effect which gradually makes the viewer be afraid of the ending (Herskovitz et al., 2003). The noisy sound in the scene forces the audience to continue watching in order to know the fate of the captured soldier. In addition, fighting scenes consist of many sounds that change each other at a fast pace. In contrast to booming and loud sounds of battles, the scene where the warrior Katsumoto demonstrates his fighting techniques accompanied by deep and powerful sounds. The landscape background of this scene has the sounds of birds, wild animals, and water flow that embody the purity of Japanese culture and tradition.

Shooting, editing, and lighting create truly stunning historical images. For instance, the light is mostly dark showing dreadful nature of the fight scenes. During the battle scene in the forest, the shaft of light illuminates the samurai who remind mythical creatures on their steeds (Herskovitz et al., 2003). Indeed, background lighting of the particular scene makes the appearance of the warriors frightening. In addition, Japan appears predominantly in the shades of green and gray. These gloomy colors convey the military nature of the movie. Moreover, the masterful editing of The Last Samurai that is characterized by epic battle scenes and small conversations adds emotional tenseness to the picture (Keirstead, 2004, p. 496). For example, philosophical conversations between Kurosawa and Algren portray the authenticity of Japanese culture. For example, the scene where the warrior hands a samurai sword to Algren and tells its purpose demonstrates the values of the true Japanese fighter. While The Last Samurai conveys a military story, its shots greatly focus on the war sequences. It demonstrates in detail the military confrontations of the time. Captain Nathan Algren is the main character of the movie. He shows the Samurai culture to the audience and participates in every battle that captures the viewer’s attention. Thus, the vivid shooting of the movie allows to observe fighting techniques of the characters, as well as Japanese weapon and traditional samurai costumes.

Therefore, The Last Samurai is an instructive movie that portrays historical elements of Japanese fighting skill. The military style of the movie allows to represent the conflict between East and West and to make it the leading theme of the picture. Besides, such film-making techniques as shooting, editing, lighting, and sound production in the scenes convey the historical context of the movie. Thus, The Last Samurai is a striking movie that captures the audience’s attention from the first minutes and shows the real story of Japan.

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