a bit of history.
feudalist Japan, Emperor was just a figurehead. Real political power was held
by a powerful Samurai titled “Shogun”. In 1868 the Shogun was Tokugawa
Yoshinobu of the Tokugawa clan. But due to half a century of foreign influence,
Shogun’s power was on the decline and Japanese economy was in ruins. Other
samurai, notably Satsuma, Tosa and Choshu clans, correctly recognized that it
was necessary to resist the foreign influence and Shogun was clearly too weak
to do so. So they rose up in rebellion against the Shogun to put the emperor in
power. Their slogan was “Sonno Joi” (Revere the Emperor; Expel the Barbarians).
This is called the “Boshin War”.
War ended in 1869 with the Shogun’s defeat and Meiji Emperor was put in power.
The emperor and his advisors made sweeping reforms in political system, economy
and military. A new ruling class emerged in Tokyo, and the traditional power of
the Samurai was reduced.
1877, a key ally of the Emperor during the Boshin War, Satsuma Clan, rose up in
rebellion against the reforms, which they saw as too fast. Also the leader of
the Satsuma Clan, Saigo Takamori was worried about the corruption in the new
government. This is called the “Satsuma Rebellion”.
rebellion was crushed, and Saigo Takamori was killed in battle. The movie Last
Samurai is loosely based on the Satsuma Rebellion and the character Katsumoto
Moritsugu is loosely based on Saigo Takamori.
let’s go to the movie.
see Captain Nathen Algren, a veteran of the Indian Wars, performing for the
Winchester Company. He is clearly depressed and very drunk. Then his boss, Mr.
McCabe, gives him a rifle and puts him in front of a large crowd. After telling
him that he is fired. Because when you are going to do a stupid thing why
when he starts to say shit that is not in the script and load his rifle, Mr.
McCabe seems to be very surprised. What the hell he thought that was going
happen? The fact that nobody gets hurt can only be called a miracle.
Meeting with Mr. Omura
we see a meeting in a fancy restaurant with Captain Algren’s former commander,
Colonel Bagley, and two Japanese gentlemen. One of which is Mr. Omura, who as
we see later, is the Chief Advisor to the Emperor and for all practical
purposes runs the country for him. They are to discuss the terms of a military
matter how fancy the restaurant is, it is insane to think that anyone would
discuss such important matters within the earshot of the general public. And it
is utterly insane to think that Mr. Omura, the most powerful man in Japan,
would take a break from running the country in the middle of a fucking rebellion,
to come to America to hold a job interview. Doesn’t Japan have any diplomats?
Algren gets the job, despite clearly acting like a fucking lunatic in front of
the Japanese delegation and making a death threat on his superior officer.
Japan 101 by Mr. Simon Graham
Captain Algren and his buddy Sergeant Grant arrive in Yokohoma, an Engishman,
Mr. Simon Graham, who is living in Japan as a translator, greets him and as
they proceed through the streets of Yokohama, he gives them an introduction
he is no stranger to Japan, since he speaks Japanese fluently, yet some of the
things he say are grossly inaccurate.
“The Emperor is mad for all things Western”
Emperor was not “mad for all things Western”. The reforms he made were strictly
out of necessity. Japan was clearly lagging behind the West in technology;
therefore the reforms were aimed at absorbing Western technology to preserve
their independence. It was not an “everything Western is cool” kind of a thing.
Japanese at this time considered (they still do, for the record) they were morally
superior to the West.
from France, engineers from Germany, architects from Holland and warriors from
1876, America was not the place you would go to find military advisors. German
army and British navy were considered the best in the world. Accordingly Japan
bought advisors from Germany and France to train their army and advisors from
Britain and Holland to train their navy. No American military advisors ever
came to Japan.
it was not the Emperor who first bought military advisors from West. Shogun did
that long before him. The first Western military mission in Japan was from
Holland in 1855.
Meeting with the Emperor
Captain Algren and Colonel Bagley with Mr. Graham go to the imperial palace to
meet the emperor in person.
was very difficult for anyone to meet the emperor in person expect for his
closest advisors. Emperor was considered a living God and he was not to be
bothered by common people. Even Mr. Graham states this as they climb up the
steps of the palace. Yet two foreign army officers are able to do so within
days of their arrival. With their weapons. And one of them is clearly mentally
unstable. Mr. Omura, you are a terrible, terrible advisor.
it is not clear why Captian Algren is not wearing his Medal of Honor at this
highly prestigious occasion.
Training the Japanese army
see Captain Algren training the Japanese army. Bafflingly he is training the
privates, and “most of them haven’t even seen a gun”. There is so many things
wrong with this. Firstly, military advisors do not train privates. They are
expected to train the officers, and training the privates was the officer’s
Secondly, at this point of time, Japanese
military was very much familiar with fire arms. Japanese armies started using
firearms around 1543, more than 200 years ago at the time of the events of the
movie is taking place. There were enough Japanese officers who were capable of
handling a gun, so Captain Algren could concentrate on teaching military
tactics and leave the shooting range training to the locals.
Katsumoto’s weapons and armor
is stated that the rebel leader Katsumoto “no longer dishonor himself by using
Katsumoto is a fucking idiot, he would use firearms. His real life counterpart
Saigo Takamori surely did in his rebellion. Some of the Satsuma troops were
armed with Enfield rifles. They even had artillery. True, imperial troops had more
firearms than the rebels, but that was because they could afford it. Not
because Takamori didn’t want to “dishonor himself”.
Samurai at that time was opposed to using firearms, because firearms are very
effective weapons. And of course Samurai were not a bunch of lunatics who rejected
technology. They were practical warriors who armed themselves with the best
weapons they could get. And they were using firearms for more than 200 years at
that point. Samurai rebelled against the Emperor because his reforms were
hurting their power, and because the new government was corrupted. Not because
the Emperor introduced new technology to Japan.
|Painting of a battle during the Satsuma Rebellion|
Here we see Takamori’s forces
(right) fighting the imperial troops (left) with guns. The figure in black
uniform of a Western officer in the upper right corner is Takamori. Also note
the lack of armor on the rebel soldiers.
against the rebels
we learn that fortunately for Katsumoto, Colonel Bagley is also a fucking idiot.
Shocking, since he was hired as a military advisor for his tactical knowledge.
is ordering the regiment that Captain Algren was training, into battle when
clearly they can’t shoot for shit. Not a single one of them. Colonel Bagley
says that “you have superior firepower and a larger force”. What firepower
Colonel, your soldiers can not shoot.
it begs the questions, is this the only regiment in the imperial army? Are
there no other troops who can use a rifle? Are there no troops who can use
traditional weapons? Why do they have to use this regiment who are still in the
boot camp? Why Colonel Bagley, why?
surprisingly they get massacred by Katsumoto’s rebels.
we are in the battle. As the troops lines up in battle formation, General
Hasegawa, like some kind of an asshole, suddenly decides he will not fight
against Katumoto, totally abandoning the entire army to the mercy of the rebels.
only other Japanese officer we see is a young Lieutenant. The whole regiment
has a General and a Lieutenant and that’s it. Perhaps the reason Captain Algren
has to train the privates himself is that there are no officers to train in the
imperial Japanese army. What the fuck Japan?
meet the rebel leader Katsumoto for the first time. And his head is shaved!
such a high ranking samurai, a one who is fighting for traditional value, not
to have a top knot is unthinkable. The top knot is an essential part of a
samurai’s identity. This is depicted correctly later in the film when the
soldiers cut off the top knot of his son, Nobutada.
of Katsumoto’s men also does not wear a top knot.
|Samurai of the Satsuma Clan during the Boshin War|
Here we see a photograph of samurai during the era. Note how everyone is wearing a top knot. Also note that the samurai are not as glamorous as the ones in the movie.
Algren is wounded in battle, and Katsumoto knows just the person to nurse him
back to health. His sister, Taka, who is also the wife of a guy Algren killed
in the battle, Hirotaro. Because Katsumoto is a psychopath.
we see her sewing up his wounds, Katsumoto is still in his battle armor. She is
forced to take care of her husband’s killer literally within hours of the news
of her husband’s death. Even after Algren recovers, he keeps living in Taka’s
house. She is clearly depressed by the fact that the killer of her husband is
living in her house. She even asks permission from Katsumoto to commit suicide.
Katsumoto’s answer is to sternly tell her that “you will so as you are told”. Because it’s just some kind of a sick social
experiment for Katsumoto and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his sister’s
there no professional doctors who can treat wounded soldiers in your army
Katsumoto, you sick son of a bitch?
Algren is being treated, Ujio, Katsumoto’s second in command, suggests that
“since Algren is shamed in battle, he should commit suicide”. Despite what Ujio
tells you, Samurai did not commit suicide every time they lost a battle. If
that was true, there would be no samurai left after a while. A Samurai committed
suicide if he was disgraced, and samurai did not consider losing a battle as a
disgrace. Because, again, samurai were not a bunch of suicidal maniacs. They
were practical warriors, who knew that losing a battle is very normal and
acceptable as long as you fought with courage. On the other hand, General
Hasegawa committing suicide earlier is accurate, because he did not fight and
abandoned his troops in the battle.
Swordfight in the rain
we see Hirotaro’s son and another kid play with wooden swords in the rain, as
kids do. Then we see Algren, Nobutada and the guy who is guarding Algren is
taking a casual walk in the rain. Soon rain starts to pour down, and there is
also thunder. Then we see Ujio and three other samurai taking a casual walk in
the rain. Does everybody in this village like to take casual walks in the rain?
In the winter? Are they stupid or something? Or did samurai though umbrellas
are for pussies?
Algren in the village
Algren continues to live in the village. He becomes a fucking demi-God in
swordsmanship in just less than 6 months. He wins the trust of Katsumoto, and
in turn impressed by Samurai and Japanese culture in general.
he tries to help Taka carry a rice basket he is told “Japanese men do not do help
with this”. Apparently because all Japanese men are assholes who are too good
for simple tasks around the house. Also baffling is the fact that Taka, the
sister of a high ranking samurai who was emperor’s teacher, cannot afford a
servant in her home.
Taka and Algren falls in love with each other. Maybe because unlike Hirotaro,
Algren actually cares enough to help Taka around the house. Serves you right
Hirotaro, you fucking asshole.
ninjas attack. Fucking ninjas. An army of fucking ninjas tries to attack the
village and kill Katsumoto. And they are all dressed in “ninja uniforms”.
did not wear back “uniforms”. If you can be identified the moment you are seen,
you are not a very good stealthy assassin are you? Ninjas did not wear
uniforms. They wore everyday cloths to blend in as stealthy assassins would do.
The “uniform” is a stage costume used in dramas to convey the message to the
audience that ninjas were invisible.
ninjas did not attack in armies.
kill them all. It does not occur to anyone that if they caught one alive and
maybe got a confession out of him, Mr. Omura would be shamed and, the cause of
the samurai would look good in the eyes of the emperor.
Algren gets a new sword
the imperial army comes to the village to attack the rebels. As they are
camping nearby, samurai prepares for battle. It is shown that they are making a
brand new sword for Algren.
takes several weeks to construct a katana. It is a very complicated process.
Are we to understand that the imperial army camps near the village for weeks
without attacking? Or the sword smiths in this village are wizards?
Algren gets a new armor
Algren starts to dress up for the battle, Taka gives him the armor of her dead
husband to wear. A high ranking samurai’s armor is a sacred item. Some are kept
in display even today. It is highly insulting for the dead samurai if another
one wears his armor. It is unthinkable that the “another one” in this occasion
is a foreigner. It is insane that the foreigner in question is the guy who
Taka did this, that would be a huge scandal.
from each side meet before the battle.
and Algren come from the rebel side. No Ujio. No other high ranking samurai
from the Katsumoto’s military council. Just the foreign guy who joined them 6
Bagley, Mr. Omura and that young Lieutenant we saw earlier come from the
imperial side. Apparently Mr. Omura is a general now. And the only other
Japanese officer is a young lieutenant.
Japanese imperial army has howitzers and Gatling guns now. But they only
have one officer. What the fuck Japan?
Then Mr. Omura let his army walk right into
the trap set by the rebels. Twice. Even when Colonel Bagley warns him. This is
understandable because Mr. Omura is not a general. But is there no other
commander to lead the imperial army? A samurai who is not completely unfamiliar
with military tactics?
tactics of the imperial army is baffling. First they march until the samurai
are within the range of their rifles. Then they fire two volleys. Then instead
of reloading and resume fire, they just walk towards the samurai lines, like a
horde of zombies, and get promptly massacred.
the samurai attack the remainder of the imperial army on horseback. They charge
through a barrage of artillery fire and a line of infantry only to be massacred
by the Gatling guns. The question remains what would have happened if they
tried a flanking attack instead of a frontal attack. I guess we will never
dies except of course Captain Algren and Katsumoto. How they manage to perform
this miracle is unclear. Katsumoto performs Seppuku in the middle of the field.
Final meeting with the Emperor
as the Emperor is about to sign a treaty with the government of America,
Captain Algren shows up at his chambers. How he managed to do this without
alarming Mr. Omura’s men is unclear. Also unclear is the fact that why Mr.
Omura didn’t kill him after the battle. Maybe because Mr. Omura is also a
fucking idiot like everyone else.
he came on the invitation of the emperor, why the Emporer received him in the
middle of a diplomatic negotiation? If he came unannounced, why did the guards
let him proceed this far?
for the American Captain, no one knows what became of him. Some say that he
died of his wounds. Others that he returned to his own country”
course he went back to the village and banged the hot chick. He is the hero of
the movie. What were you thinking Mr. Graham?