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This review is from: The Last Samurai [DVD]  (DVD)
The Samurai. A collection of Japanese warriors that fight good with swords. Does this definition do them justice however? No. The Samurai represent dedication, finesse, selflessness and the clichéd yet judicious word: honour. Edward Zwick (director of Blood Diamond) captures the visual and cultural perception of the Samurai literally perfectly. Every time I watch this film, I can't help but marvel at the astoundingly authentic cinematography. The architectural depiction of both 19th century Tokyo and the Samurai village are simply awe-inspiring.
Tom Cruise is a depressed Civil-war veteran. Plagued by his memories of reckless slaughter and destruction in the repression of the Native-Americans, he has come to despise himself and his country. But, when contracted to train a newly-industrialised Japanese army to supress the Samurai rebellions, Cruise enters a conflict that leads him not to his death but to his rebirth. Cruise eventually becomes a prisoner of war, or as Samurai leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) puts it, a `guest' of war. But, as Cruise's days in the Samurai village begin to blur together, he starts to take notice of the people he is surrounded by - their traditions, routines, relationships with each other and their unfailing dedication to every aspect of their lives. He feels an unexpected sense of belonging: his place of detainment instead becomes his place of peace and redemption.
The story will move even the most masculine viewer and the acting performances from literally the entire cast are sensational. Cruise is phenomenal as the repentant Captain Nathan Algren and Watanabe earned himself an Oscar nomination with one of the best supporting performances I have seen in a film as Samurai General Katsumoto (probably second only to Ledger's Joker). Still, the protagonists don't steal the scene as the almost entirely-Japanese cast are absolutely stunning. Every character, even the most insignificant infantry unit, displays such genuine emotion in every scene. Films are meant to create an illusion of reality and the Last Samurai is as realistic you can get. Just like every member of the Samurai village dedicates themselves to whatever task they perform, every actor, from protagonist to extra, utterly dedicates themselves to whatever scene they are in. Thanks to brilliant acting, fantastic dialogue and another immersive soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, Zwick's production is one of only five films that have caused me to shed a tear without the simultaneous help of a yawn. You'll see why as the film reaches its end.
Action-hoes may not be the target-audience but that doesn't mean fight-scenes are a rarity, nor are they ever boring. Mimetic of a Samurai's technique, every action-sequence is coordinated with essential finesse. The swordfights are mesmerising: each killing move is cooler than the next and Tarantino-gore remains nowhere to be found. Realistic, but not at all disturbing visuals ensure you never once look away and you can enjoy every sequence in its entirety as Bourne's rogue-camera style has thankfully not been used.
With an emotionally-moving narrative, all-round sensational performances, stunning cinematography, awesome action-scenes and a brilliant soundtrack, the Last Samurai has secured a podium position on my list of all-time favourite films. In the words of Katsumoto himself: `Perfect'.