The Last Samurai

My original purpose was to check how many weird elements there are in this film. How the Hollywood production team has created a monster, which barely resembles the original Japan and Japanese, and sometimes ridicules the culture unintendedly. Not the best way to watch movies. 10 minutes have past and I was completely “in” the movie. Didn’t care about the subtle strangeness, didn’t notice my buttocks got sore until the end credit, and never thought Japan and its culture and people were ridiculed.
Hats off to everybody helped creating this wonderful piece.

The best thing about the Last Samurai is that it is a great movie by itself. It doesn’t depend on Tom Cruise’s professionalism or magical Samurai warriors or beautiness of Japanese mountainside. I don’t mean they are not good – those elements are excellent on its own, but they just helps each other to make the movie coherent and believable. Nothing is depending on others or dragging others too much.

The story is almost entirely fictional, like Hero. But it exactly is the advantage of this film. We can assume how people in the United States regard or idealize Samurai. Noble, without fear, respect the master(the emperor is at the top), and put honor in the centor of their value. All of them are nearly lost in today’s Japan(we think so). I think I will come back frequently to this film when I ponder on the cultural difference issue.

There were indeed some “mistakes” so laughable I cannot ignore.
* If Mt.Fuji’s size is correctly portrayed, it must be more than 10,000m high.
* Katsumoto, the samurai leader speaks an excellent English, so does Omura, his villain. Omura is a businessperson so it’s OK (still strange considering today’s Japanese businessperson English skill…), but how come a local samurai trying to defend his legacy? “I want to know the enemy” is not so convincing as an excuse he learned English by himself.
* Welcome back, Ninjas! It has been six years since Beverly Hills Ninja, which I enjoyed. Rest in peace, Chris Farley.

Of course there were also some “improvements” compared with past Hollywood movies on Japan.
* Every Japanese speaks natural Japanese. Most Japanese in other Hollywood films speak English-flavored Japanese because the actors are actually American. The only other film which followed this rare guideline was The Thin Red Line( a text on how to film beautifully), according to my history. It seems showing this respect to the local language is still not an easy work for the moviemakers, as obvious in Hannibal where an Italian detective enjoys an English conversation with his Italian wife and peers in Florence (I guess they must have dubbed everything, even the English part, in Italian when they showed the movie in Italy, so they wouldn’t recognize).
* The Japanese tradition, such as dancing(Mai), rice field, and Buddism ritual were believable. I think some of them should be factually wrong in terms of period or era, but they correctly mirrored the way we(Japanese citizen) THINK of what those traditions were.

I also had a chance to watch Ken Watanabe and Hiroyuki Sanada sharing their experience, speaking English in an American TV program a couple of weeks ago. I was astonished they both spoke genuine “English”. The flow is logical, the words are chosen carefully but accurately, and opinions were directly stated yet still showing respect. Their pronouniation were Japanese-flavored but who cares? They must have devoted themselves very, very deeply to create the film, to the point they can communicate freely in English on their own. Somebody should ask them to do a seminar on how to learn English effectively. They can silence anybody who excuses they don’t have time(there are only 1.5 years to complete a film, and their main job is not to learn English)and they are too old(these two guys are over 35).

Watching the Japanese woman(played by Koyuki), who helps Tom Cruise – I was wondering about the international couples, where male is non-Japanese and female is Japanese. That Samurai lady may be the perfect example of what non-Japanese men wants from their Japanese counterparts. Quiet, obedient, kind, hard-working, and noble-minded. But what do those Japanse women want from their male couterparts? Freedom of expression, the sence of being acknowledged as a human being, and continuous support (that’s what I hear). Obviously there are some mismatches. Probably they all compromise, still feeling the situation is better than coupling with the domestic opposites. I need to do some more interview..