The Last Samurai

( [email protected] ) Jan 19, 2004 01:49 PM EST

The Last Samurai, directed by Edward Zwick, showcases Tom Cruise as Nathan Algren, a weary Captain who after the Civil War has been fighting off Indians in the West. He is plaqued by the guilt he has from participating in a massacre of an Indian village led by Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn). The two come face to face again in Tokyo, Japan, after Algren is recruited to train Japanese soldiers to fight against the the rebellion of samurai warriors who oppose the Emperor Meiji's (Shichinosuke Nakamura) rapid integration of Westernism.

Even though the Japanese soldiers, predominantly peasant farmers, lack training, the interference of the samurai gang led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) with the building of the railroad forces Algren's troops into an premature battle. Katsumoto captures Algren in order to know his enemy. As the wounded Algren recovers as a prisoner in the samarai village, he learns of their ways and begins to appreciate and honor the samurai code. The Emperor calls a meeting with the leaders of Japan which requires the presence of Katsumoto who was the former teacher of the Emperor. Algren is also brought back to Tokyo but when talks fail, Katsumoto's life is in danger and Algren joins the samurai to rescue Katsumoto. The plot ends with a battle between the Emperor's troops led by Colonel Bagley and the samurai warriors.

The movie ends with a somewhat happy ending. The Emperor recognizing what is right for his people and Algren redeemed himself from his Indian massacre by fighting for the honorable cause adn then returns back to the village to rejoin with the Katsumoto's sister. However, the movie seems to be drenched with violence. Everything that is promoted in the movie glorifies fighting and justifies it with a worthy enough cause.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land." Jesus had strictly proclaimed that the coming of the Kingdom of God would not come through the means of violence and force. The Kingdom of God belongs to the meek ones.

A "Samarai" in the movie meant "to serve." The Samurai live by and die by the sword and by protecting the Emperor, secure the well-being of Japan. As admirable as their lives may appear to some movie-goers, the approach they take to resolve everything is by the sword. When Apostle Peter attempted to use violence to prevent Jesus from being taken away, Jesus firmly said, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword."

The worship of the Japanese for Emperor Meiji, who was considered a living God being the son of the sun, felt misplaced throughout the movie. The Emperor figure seems rather clueless and lost as what to do to help his people. He blankly listens to the advice of self-seeking advisors and fails to get the message given to him by Katsumoto during their brief meeting. Only after much blood has been unnecessarily shed does he finally sees the light. A true leader would have been able to stop the division amidst the Japanese nation long before it amounted to the battle in the last scene.

It was great for Algren to be able to appreciate and find peace during his exposure to the samurai culture but that experience only redirected his killing spree, replacing Indians with Japanese soldiers.

The samurai way of life was depicted as being noble, especially in the last scene where they continued to push forward even when hopes of winning the battle were fainting. But makes me upset is the suicidal-mindset they had whenever they felt shame. Katsumoto's former co-leader stabbed himself and Katsumoto assisted him in suicide by capitulating him. During her chat with her brother, Taka, asked permission to end her life from the shame she felt caring for the man Algren who killed her husband. And in the end, to make sure the theme of commiting suicide to escape shame was clear, the director had to add the scene where Katsumoto was aided by Algren as he plunged his own sword deep into himself. What a horrible way of thinking these Japanese people had.

God created man and gave him the precious life and time. Isn't this a demonstration of His grace? By rejecting the time and life God has given to us through suicide, aren't we blatantly rejecting that grace? It is a sin. It is wrong to commit suicide. But Hollywood has a way of masking itself as an angel of light by glorifying this act in some sense. The landscape scenery is the movie was nice. An exposure to the Japanese culture and history, inaccurate or accurate as it may be was entertaining. But the prevailing themes that was messaged through this movie did not feel like a code Christians would want to imitate.