Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Last Samurai

As another year begins it truly can mean only one thing... the oscar big guns are out on show.

As the world prepares itself for the usual blitz of over-produced hollywood thinking-mans movies, I could be excused for taking a break from the cinema. But how could I? I mean it's not like Oscar season doesn't produce a single worthy film (even though Chicago was the most over-rated pile of shit in years). And with that thought in mind I come to a man who has still to win that coveted statuette. Ickle Tom Cruise.

I had prepared myself for hating The Last Samurai. But for the second time in a couple of months I actually left the cinema having enjoyed a hollywood big gun.

The Last Samurai is loosely based on the life of SaigĂ´ Takamori (renamed Katsumoto in the film), the legendary samurai who helped to restore the Emperor to power in Japan only to see his people stripped of their honour and traditionals as his leaders sought to modernise.

As a historical reference the film needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. I myself was mistakenly under the impression that the film was more closely true to the real story. Alas I shouldn't have expected so much from Hollywood. The american hero, Algren (Cruise), sent to Japan to train the Emperors army for an assault on Katsumoto is an entirely fictional and sadly unoriginal character. Algren, bitter and full of remorse for his part in the slaughter of american natives draws little sympathy here, because I've seen it all before.

But perhaps I'm dwelling too much on the negative. After all, the film doesn't claim to be a true story.

The real gem of this movie is Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Seeing his world of the Samurai (however dramatised for the screen) overtaken by modernisation is both poignant and gripping. The fight scenes are superbly choreographed and the Japanese ruling council (aided by the Americans) are suitably sinister.

Another stand-out character is that of Simon Graham (Timothy Spall), whose reporting of events gives the film some historical street-cred, although he remains another work of fiction.

But of course the question remains, will this movie bring Tom his statuette? In a word... No. It isn't that he's bad. He clearly turned up and did his job, but it just isn't enough. It's no Born on the Fourth of July performance (one that truly merits far more recognition).

Alas, I fear that Tom may be destined for one of those life-time achievement awards (aka spare Oscars) in later life. Which is a shame in one way, but also quite funny when you think about it ;-)

The Last Samurai: 6.5/10

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