Alright America, you did good.
It was about high time after many reviews of films set in a very specific time in history to see if american filmmakers could succesfuly pay tribute to the elite class of warriors known the world over. And while it does take a grab bag of different historical elements, and not being a straight up historical recounting, the story it crafts is excellent. An american soldier is hired to train japanese soldiers in an attempt to quell a samurai rebellion, however after the first encounter he is taken by the samurai and spends months with them. He learns a bit of the language, their lifestyle, forms friendships, and eventually fights with them against the Imperial Army. It's a lot better than I'm making it out to be, this is not your cookie cutter Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves/Avatar horseshit, it has a lot more meat to it whether you're familiar with the time frame and culture or not. Surprisingly the film did much better in Japan than America, receiving a lot of praise and a very good box office intake while domestically it didn't even make it's budget back. It's a bit of a shame to see people in my own country still refuse to view films in different languages, it's not as bad as it was when this film released but it could always be better. And it is worth your time, it does go at a slow pace but never to the point of being boring or dragging at places, every scene has a reason to be, the shots are ridiculously gorgeous at times, the music is nice, the acting is the reason you stay invested even though the story is a strong one. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Tom Cruise's character, but to see a very broken down, emotionally damaged, full on PTSD afflicted army officer who finds a bit of solace in a small village while gaining appreciation for the warriors who live there and continually learns more about them is a good narrative. It helps center even the most uncultured of individuals to understand what they are seeing. Ken Watanabe is amazing as always, so good he got his first and only Academy Award nomination which I find to be just inexcusable by the way, his character is against the rapid modernization and dissolving of his creed yet he doesn't take an antagonistic edge. The movie is more about the clashing of ideologies than swords, during the latter half of the 1800s Japan was taking it's first steps into the modern world after about 200 years of self isolation, a country frozen in time and suffered countless civil wars. And the government essentially outlaws samurai, which was a very real thing that happened and affected a lot of people. So you can understand why he stands against the governement and more importantly the Emperor who he taught as a young boy, it's just a difference of opinions with no ill will towards the other. It's such a good dynamic because in war films, there is no good or evil but just a conflict that consumes all in it's wake whether you see the scars it leaves on others or not. Samurai have a code of ethics that is showcased in this movie, and the director obviously did his homework because the film implements so much of the time period and the culture in the movie, it really is very commendable. I was not disappointed with any facet of the finished product, and while there are inevitable discrepancies with history it never detracted from the overall experience. It really is a great film that has stuff to say and commits to it's vision from beginning to end. There's no tropes, there's no emotional manipulation, it just tells the story. That's an impressive feat for any film let alone a period piece. It really affirms why I appreciate and enjoy movies of that time period and culture, and I was flipping through other examples of samurai cinema outside of the Kurosawa library and there is so much more to enjoy so I'll pick a handful of other movies to discuss and share with next week from other classic names of the chanbara genre. I strongly recommend this movie even if it is a one time viewing, and I give it a full 4 stars, 8.5/10!