Monday, August 9, 2004

It Ain't Shogun, But It Ain't Bad

I can see why some people called this "Dances with Samurai" but let's be fair. "The Last Samurai" is so much more than that movie was and, certainly, Tom Cruise is head and shoulders above Kevin Costner as an actor. Basically this is the story of a Civil war era soldier drinking to escape his demons (too many flashbacks of killing Indian children, by the way) while training the Japanese army to use modern arms and tactics against a samurai warlord. He's captured by the samurai, learns to respect their ancient ways, fight their fight, blah, blah, blah ... yeah, its just a touch predictable.

Hannah and Rose recently watched Shogun, which we like so much we have it on video. By contrast, this movie seemed really Americanized in the way the Japanese acted and lived. It seemed all right as far as it went but it just didn't go far enough. I mean, what self-respecting Japanese woman is going to bath under a trickling waterfall when you know any real Japanese village wouldn't be without a proper bath house for a good hot soak? Although I have to say the samurais' armor was first rate ... very fierce and macho. I guess the real thing already was so good it didn't have to be "fixed up".

That said, we enjoyed this movie. The first half was slow and predictable (with many opportunities for mocking the "Hollywood" Japanese ways) but then the action took off and was very satisfying. It was worth watching just to see the samurai's response when Tom Cruise answered his question about Thermopylae. Critics didn't like the ending but I didn't have a problem with it. For one thing, I like happy endings and I see no reason why this soldier who'd suffered so much shouldn't finally have some peace and happiness.

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