The Last Samurai is a 2003 epic period action drama film directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Logan and Marshall Herskovitz from a story devised by Logan. The film stars Ken Watanabe in the title role, with Tom Cruise, who also co-produced, as a soldier-turned-samurai who befriends him, and Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki, and Shin Koyamada in supporting roles. Tom Cruise portrays an American captain of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into contact with samurai warriors in the wake of the Meiji Restoration in 19th century Japan. The film's plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and the westernization of Japan by foreign powers, though in the film the United States is portrayed as the primary force behind the push for westernization. It is also influenced by the stories of Jules Brunet, a French Imperial Guard sub-lieutenant who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier Boshin War; Philip Kearny, a United States Army (Union Army) major general and French Imperial Guard soldier, notable for his leadership in the American Civil War, who fought against the Tututni tribe in the Rogue River Wars in Oregon; and, to a lesser extent, by Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who helped Westernize the Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious Army. Japan for a romanticized "storybook" portrayal of the samurai, who are regarded as having been more corrupt. It was nominated for several awards, including four Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two National Board of Review Awards.
The battle is a disaster; the undisciplined conscripts are routed, and Gant is killed.
In 1876, former USArmy Captain Nathan Algren, a bitter alcoholic traumatized by the atrocities he committed during the American Indian Wars, is approached by his former commanding officer Colonel Bagley to train the newly created Imperial Japanese Army for a forward-thinking Japanese businessman, Omura, who intends to use the army to suppress a Samurai-headed rebellion against Japan's new emperor. Despite his hatred of Bagley for his role in the Indian Wars, an impoverished Algren takes the job for the money, and is accompanied to Japan by his old friend, Sergeant Zebulon Gant. Upon arriving, Algren meets Simon Graham, a British translator knowledgeable about the samurai. Algren finds the Imperial soldiers are little more than conscripted peasants with no discipline and shoddy training. While teaching them to shoot, Algren is informed that the samurai are attacking one of Omura's railroads; Omura sends the army there, despite Algren's protests that they are not ready. The battle is a disaster; the undisciplined conscripts are routed, and Gant is killed. Algren fights to the last before he is surrounded; expecting to die, he is taken prisoner when samurai leader Katsumoto decides to spare him.
Algren is taken to Katsumoto's village. While he is poorly treated at first, he eventually gains the samurai's respect and grows close to Katsumoto. Algren overcomes his alcoholism and guilt, learns the Japanese language and culture, and is trained in the art of kenjutsu. He develops sympathy for the samurai, who are upset that the pace of modern technology has eroded the traditions of their society. Algren and Taka, Katsumoto's sister and the widow of a samurai killed by Algren, develop an unspoken affection for each other. One night, a group of ninja infiltrate the village and attempt to assassinate Katsumoto. Algren saves Katsumoto's life, and then helps defend the village, concluding Omura hired the ninjas. Katsumoto requests a meeting with Emperor Meiji and is given safe passage to Tokyo. He brings Algren, intending to release him. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Algren finds the Imperial Army is now a well-trained and fully equipped fighting force. Katsumoto, to his dismay, discovers that the young and inexperienced Emperor has essentially become a puppet of Omura. At a government meeting, Omura orders Katsumoto's arrest for carrying a sword in public and asks him to perform seppuku to redeem his honor. When Algren refuses an offer to assume command of the army, Omura sends a party of assassins after him, but Algren kills them. Algren assists the samurai in freeing Katsumoto; in the process, Katsumoto's son Nobutada is mortally wounded, sacrificing himself to allow the others to escape. As the Imperial Army marches to crush the rebellion, a grieving Katsumoto contemplates seppuku, but Algren convinces him to fight until the end, and joins the samurai in battle.
39;s line. Bagley is killed by Algren, but the samurai are quickly mowed down by Gatling guns.
The samurai use the Imperial Army's overconfidence to lure them into a trap; the ensuing battle inflicts massive casualties on both sides and forces the Imperial soldiers to retreat. Knowing that Imperial reinforcements are coming, and defeat is inevitable, Katsumoto orders a suicidal cavalry charge on horseback. The samurai withstand an artillery barrage and break through Bagley's line. Bagley is killed by Algren, but the samurai are quickly mowed down by Gatling guns. The Imperial captain, previously trained by Algren and horrified by the sight of the dying samurai, orders all of the guns to cease fire, disregarding Omura's orders. A mortally wounded Katsumoto commits seppuku with Algren's help as the soldiers at the scene kneel in respect. Days later, as trade negotiations conclude, Algren, though injured, arrives and interrupts the proceedings. He presents the Emperor with Katsumoto's sword and asks him to remember the traditions for which Katsumoto and his fellow Samurai died. The Emperor realizes that while Japan should modernize, it cannot forget its own culture and history; he promptly rejects the trade offer.
When Omura attempts to protest, the Emperor silences him by threatening to seize the Omura family assets and distribute them among the populace. Omura claims to be disgraced, but the Emperor responds by holding Katsumoto's sword and suggests that if the shame is too great, Omura should committ seppuku. Omura relates and leaves. While various rumors regarding Algren's fate circulate, Graham concludes that Algren had returned to the village to reunite with Taka. Tom Cruise as Captain Nathan Algren, a Civil War and Indian War veteran haunted by his role in the massacre of Native Americans at the Washita River. Following his discharge from the United States Army, he agrees to help the new Meiji Restoration government train its first Western-style conscript army for a significant sum of money. During the army's first battle he is captured by the samurai Katsumoto and taken to the village of Katsumoto's son, where he soon becomes intrigued with the way of the samurai and decides to join them in their cause. His journal entries reveal his impressions about traditional Japanese culture, which almost immediately evolve into unrestrained admiration. Ken Watanabe as Lord Moritsugu Katsumoto, the eponymous "Last Samurai", a former daimyo who was once Emperor Meiji's most trusted teacher. His displeasure with the influence of Omura and other Western reformers on the Emperor lead him to organize his fellow samurai in a revolt, which he hopes will convince the government not to destroy the samurai's place in Japanese society.
Katsumoto is based on real-life samurai Saigō Takamori, who led the Satsuma Rebellion. Koyuki Kato as Taka, widow of a samurai slain by Nathan Algren and the younger sister of Lord Katsumoto. She and Algren develop feelings for each other, and she gives him her husband's armor to wear in the final battle of the rebellion. Shin Koyamada as Nobutada Katsumoto, Katsumoto's son who is responsible for the village where Algren is sent. Nobutada befriends Algren when Katsumoto assigns him to teach Algren Japanese culture and the Japanese language. He dies when he willingly chooses to distract Imperial troops so his father can escape their custody. Tony Goldwyn as Colonel Bagley, Nathan Algren's former commanding officer in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, who hires him to serve as a training instructor for the Imperial Army despite Algren's hatred of Bagley for his role in the Washita River massacre. In contrast to Algren, Bagley is arrogant and dismissive of the samurai, at one point referring to them nothing more than "savages with bows and arrows". He is killed by Algren who throws a sword into his chest when Bagley tries to shoot Katsumoto in the final battle.
Masato Harada as Matsue Omura, an industrialist and pro-reform politician. He quickly imports westernization and modernization while making money for himself through his ownership of Japan's railroads. Coming from a merchant family, a social class repressed during the days of Shogun rule, Omura openly expresses his contempt for the samurai and takes advantage of Emperor Meiji's youth to become his chief advisor, persuading him to form a Western-style army for the sole purpose of wiping out Katsumoto and his rebels while ignoring their grievances. His appearance is designed to evoke the image of Okubo Toshimichi, a leading reformer during the Meiji Restoration. Harada noted that he was deeply interested in joining the film after witnessing the construction of Emperor Meiji's conference room on sound stage 19 (where Humphrey Bogart had once acted) at Warner Brothers studios. Shichinosuke Nakamura as Emperor Meiji. Credited with the implementation of the Meiji reforms to Japanese society, the Emperor is eager to import Western ideas and practices to modernize and empower Japan to become a strong nation. However, his inexperience causes him to rely heavily on the advice of men like Omura, who have their own agendas. His appearance bears a strong resemblance to Emperor Meiji during the 1860s (when his authority as Emperor was not yet firmly established) rather than during the 1870s, when the film takes place. Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio, a master swordsman and one of Katsumoto's most trusted followers.
He teaches Algren the art of sword fighting, coming to respect him as an equal. He is one of the last samurai to die in the final battle, being gunned down during Katsumoto's charge. Timothy Spall as Simon Graham, a British photographer and scholar hired as an interpreter for Captain Algren and his non-English speaking soldiers. Initially portrayed as a friendly yet mission-oriented and practical-minded companion, he later comes to sympathize with the samurai cause and helps Algren rescue Katsumoto from Imperial soldiers. Seizo Fukumoto as Silent Samurai, an elderly samurai tasked with monitoring Algren during his time in the village, who calls the samurai "Bob". Algren's life (and speaking for the first and only time, "Algren-san!") by taking a bullet meant for him in the final battle. Billy Connolly as Sergeant Zebulon Gant, an Irish American Civil War veteran who served with and is loyal to Algren, persuading him to come to Japan and working with him to train the Imperial Army. During the first battle, he is killed by Hirotaro (Taka's husband) after being wounded with a spear. Shun Sugata as Nakao, a tall samurai who wields a naginata and is skilled in jujutsu.