Saturday, May 17, 2014

Re-released on Home Video: The Last Samurai

Released in theaters in 2003, director and co-writer Edward Zwick's film stars Tom Cruise as a former U.S. Army captain slowly drinking himself to death while hiding from the ghosts of his past and the massacre of Indian tribes in the American West which his intelligence helped facilitate. Brought out of his stupor by his former commanding officer (Tony Goldwyn), Nathan Algren is given the opportunity to travel to Japan and instruct the Imperial Japanese Army in modern warfare to suppress a samurai uprising.

Through a twist of fate Algren is captured by the samurai and taken deep into the mountains where he spends the winter as a guest of Lord Moritsugu Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) and living in the home of a woman (Koyuki) who his actions have turned into a widow. Algren and Katsumoto's unlikely friendship is the cornerstone to the film as the pair learn, despite cultural differences, they have far more in common than either initially realizes.

Algren's linguistic skills help him quickly learn enough of the language to get by, although it takes far longer to come to terms with cultural differences and overcome the resentment of several samurai who don't appreciate his presence in their home. In a film about sacrifice, loyalty, traditions, and questions about what is worth killing and dying for, the journeys of both Katsumoto and Algren include hard choices as the samurai must consider for the first time in his life defying a young emperor who hasn't yet found his voice and the soldier is offered a life he never expected which quickly becomes one he finds impossible to give up (even after Katsumoto realizes the soldier at the end of his winter stay).

Well-written and relying on the pair of Cruise and Watanabe, neither of whom disappoint, The Last Samurai is a simple fish-out-of-water premise expertly used to explore a clash of two cultures and the struggle between tradition and progress. More drama that war film, although there are two extended battle sequences which stand out (the first where Algren is captured, and the final battle between 19th Century weaponary and samurai steel), The Last Samurai is beautifully shot by accomplished cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart, Almost Famous, The Adjustment Bureau, Iron Man 3).

Re-released on Blu-ray, the new set includes the previously-released extras such as commentary by Zwick along with the director's video journal and separate interview with Zwick, deleted scenes, a History Channel documentary on the historical period of the samurai rebellion and the film's recreation of events, and featurettes on the costumes of the film along with its battle scenes and sets. The new version also includes copy of the film on DVD and an Ultraviolet digital copy as well.

[Warner Home Video, $14.97]

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