The Last Samurai is a 2003 period action drama revolving around the Meiji Restoration in 19th century Japan. Set in the 1870s, we follow Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise). He is a cynical Civil War veteran who is still haunted by the massacres against the native Americans. Algren is now an alcoholic and leads a bitter life.
He will also work for anyone now. When he receives an offer to train the inexperienced army of the Japanese emperor, he immediately accepts it. It’s the Americans who hire him, and they want lucrative contracts with the emperor of Japan. The Imperial army’s prime objective is to repress a rebellion of traditionalist Samurai. The Samurai are hereditary warriors who remain devoted to the sacred dynasty and reject the westernization policy. They use swords and reject firearms.
There’s a stark difference between the firepower of the Imperial army and the samurai. However, the outcome is in favor of the samurai. The imperial army is laced with the firepower of modern warfare. But the lack of experience and with the untrained and ill-prepared approach, the samurai easily best them.
The panic allows the samurai to best them eventually, using only swords. Algren is the only one who stands at last, albeit heavily wounded. The samurai take Algren as a war prisoner. Once his wounds heal and he regains his health, he gets enamored by the Samurai culture. He also tries to help Katsumoto and his attempts at saving the Bushido tradition. Meanwhile, Omura enacts repressive laws. Now, Nathan must choose a side and he does so — the samurai.
What is the Film About and Who’s In it?
The film released in 2003 and went on to become a huge commercial hit. The film’s a co-production between Radar Pictures, The Bedford Falls Company, and Cruise/Wagner Productions. Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Scott Kroopf, and Tom Engelman have produced the film. Zwick, Herskovitz, and John Logan have penned the screenplay. Hans Zimmer has composed the score while John Toll handles the cinematography. Steven Rosenblum and Victor Dubois handled the editing. The Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 inspired the film’s plot. It also takes inspiration from the stories of Jules Brunet, a captain of the French Army. He took part in the earlier Boshin war and fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki. Finally, it’s also slightly influenced by Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who helped westernize the Chinese army.
The film stars Tom Cruise in the lead as Captain Nathan Algren, a Civil War and Indian War veteran. Ken Watanabe plays Lord Moritsgu Katsumoto, a former daimyo who organizes the samurai in a revolt. Koyuki Kato plays Taka, Lord Katsumoto’s younger sister and Algren’s love interest. Shin Koyamada plays Nobutada Katsumoto, son of Moritsgu Katsumoto.
Tony Goldwyn plays Colonel Bagley. He is the former commanding officer of Nathan Algren in the 7th Cavalry Regiment. He hires Algren as a training instructor for the Imperial Army. Masato Harada plays Matsue Omura, a rich industrialist. Shichinosuke Nakamura plays Emperor Meiji. Hiroyuki Sanada plays the master swordsman Ujio. Timothy Spall plays British photographer Simon Graham. Seizo Fukumoto plays the character of Silent Samurai. Billy Connolly plays Seargent Zebulon Gant, an Irish-American Civil War veteran. Shun Sugata plays Nakao, a samurai who assists Algren during the rescue of Katsumoto.
Where was The Last Samurai Filmed?
A big chunk of the principal photography took place in New Zealand. It was also shot in the US and Japan. In New Zealand, the filming mostly took place in the Taranaki region. The reason for this location was because Mount Taraki resembles Mount Fuji, plus the woods also helped. Much of the shooting was on the hillsides of Uruti Valley, northern Taranaki.
The port at which Nathan Algren arrives in Japan was a set nearby New Plymouth. Another place was Pukekura Park. While in the US, the shooting took place in the Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank. Although most of the depiction of Japan was the sets built in New Zealand. The shooting also took place in Awaji City, Hyogo, Japan. Then there’s Nijo Castle in Kyoto which saw some of the shooting take place. The emperor’s Imperial seat is basically is shot at the iconic Buddhist Chion-in Temple.