Return to index page

January 09, 2004

dances with the karate kid: or, how i learned to stop thinking and love tom cruise

The biggest problem with the movie The Last Samurai is not that Tom Cruise actually has lines like "I believe a man does what he can until he discovers his destiny." No, the biggest problem with the movie is that Tom Cruise is playing a role that was obviously written for Kevin Kostner. Back in 1990, by Michael Blake, when the movie was called Dances with Wolves. It's a role Mr. Kostner knows well, having reprised it in 1995's Dances with Shellfish and 1997's Dances with Mailbags.

Not that every completely unironic epic film about an ex-civil war hero, haunted by the horrors of war, who travels to a strange land and hooks up with the last outpost of an indigenous culture threatened by the relentless steamroller of modernization, only to realize that in their simple, focused, and disciplined ways can he find the peace his army life took from him, and who also happens to have a strong widow in need of a partner, and a mentor with a deep voice to help teach him honor and respect and eventually stand against some of those he fought with in the war is a knock-off of Kevin Kostner's opus. But this one is. Right down the scene where our hero is sitting around the fire learning bits of Japanese. "Watashi no samui." After which he can speak fluent Japanese. Can anyone say "tatanka"?

Here, however, you have a new twist. Yeah, that whole Japanese warrior thing he gets to learn along the way. A zen-like sensei to show this brash young American to respect himself, his enemy, and the power of true warriorness. Right. I figured this bit out when the sensei, seeing Tom Cruise lose several times in some Star Wars reenactments, advises him that his problem is "too much mind." Apparently, he's paying attention to too many things going on around him. Because in battle, when hudreds of people are coming at you with swords, the last thing you want is to be aware of everything going on around you. Mind on. Mind off. That is the true samurai way.

Oh, another miscasting problem, the role of Pat Morita in this film was played by Ken Watanabe, who is apparently what would result if Jean Reno and the Rock had a Japanese lovechild.

To its credit, the movie was quite a bit more than merely a rip off of two of the greatest films of my teenage years. It also ripped off the final, major battlescenes straight of Braveheart, arguable the worst movie of my teenage years.

And like Braveheart, the Last Samurai doesn't mind taking a few liberties with history. In this version of the Japanese past, the emporer rejects modernization and Westernization, realizes the value of the Samurai way, and presumably, proudly leads his people back to heady days of feudal Edo. Right. And that's why everyone in Tokyo has a cell-phone digital video camera with every imaginable tune for a ring and instant wireless internet sevice to power their laptops from anywhere in the country.

Yup, two and half hours of cliches and obvious ripoffs from other, not-so-great movies. At least if they'd given the part to Kostner, you'd be prepared for it.

Posted by paulette at January 9, 2004 12:29 AM | TrackBack
Comment spammers: see our Unauthorized Advertising Policy and rates

Any list of movies brought to mind while watching The Last Samurai must also include Throne of Blood, Henry V, Glory and--God help us--Risky Business...which just goes to show that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Posted by: Rachel on January 9, 2004 09:24 AM

Great review! This explains why I wasn't dying to see the film -- for some reason these "Dances with xxx" films just don't seem to turn me on for some reason. (If they'd replaced Kevin Kostner with Hugh Jackman instead of Tom Cruise it might've been a different story.)

I never saw Dances with Wolves or Mailbags, and although I saw Shellfish I don't remember a thing about it (except the ludicrousness of the opening). I keep on meaning to see Braveheart, but maybe now I won't bother.

Posted by: david on January 9, 2004 10:23 AM

The title of this review alone made my day, great Kubrick reference. I have not seen this samurai movie but I did see "Dances with Wolves" and from what you say the movies seem similiar, except for the bullet time matrix thing the samurai movie employed. Great title, great review.

Posted by: kim on August 18, 2004 10:15 PM
Post a comment