It seems that Hollywood (being quite obviously American) has kept its distance from high budjet films about Japanese culture over the years. Lets face it they have their reasons and don't forget that the old Japanese culture is quite alien to the average Westerner.
With The Last Samurai, the mainstream film makers have finally found a way of producing a quality film which demonstrates quite accurately the attitudes of the Japanese ruling factions of the time. Quite naturally, Hollywood create films to make money and The Last Samurai is no exception. However, as with other similar semi-historic films (e.g. Gladiator) it has been constructed with a care to detail and has embodied within its foundations the very attributes it wants to portrey, namely honour, compassion and indomitable spirit.
As a student of Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, including sword arts, I was pleased to see the accurate depiction of how a katana (Japanese longsword) is used in battle. I was deeply impressed with the efforts of all the actors to accurately use all the weaponry with such dedication. Cruise especially, worked very hard to learn to use the sword, as well as all the other work he put in.
One scene especially caught my eye, where Cruise is attacked in the street by a group of sword bearing attackers. Having spent several long months converting his fighting skills to that of the Japanese style (quite feasable for the dedicated warrior, even in such a short time) he is able to defeat his attackers. The reality of the use of the sword in the Japanese style, is that every second, one is half an inch from death. This was demonstrated with great film making skill.
This film is unmistakably American, but is made with sensitivity and respect for all concerned. Based loosly on the Satsuma uprising of 1986/7, The Last Samurai uses typical poetic licence in changing the facts, but that doesn't really matter. Whether the protaganists were the Americans, or (in reality) the French, the story is primarily about the strength of character of the Japanese warrior and the code of honour which trancends race and is relevent to true warriors of all races. This is a truly memorable film.