The tried to be made to eradicate the ancient

The film ‘The Last
Samurai’ centers around a former US Army Captain, Nathan Algren who is hired by
the Emperor of Japan to train the country’s first army in modern warfare during
the Meiji Restoration in 19th Century Japan. As
the nation strives to modernize with the addition of new trade policies with
the West, the use of new weaponry and modern war tactics is also implemented.

Due to these advancement, attempts are tried to be made to eradicate the
ancient Samurai warrior class, as well as eliminate the use of traditional
weapons, such as swords and bows. As the film progresses, Algren comes into
contact with the world of the samurai and learns to love their ways and
teachings. He learns the importance of devotion, discipline, and perfection in
Japanese culture. He learns the importance of Bushido and the way of the
warrior.

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Earlier in the film, Algren loses a fight against the samurais because
of the imperial soldiers’ lack of training and becomes badly wounded. Although
his wounds were severe, he continues to stay courageous and determined which makes
the samurai leader Katsumoto spare his life. Katsumoto decides to take Algren
as a prisoner back to his village to learn more about him. Katsumoto is the
head samurai of the region and exemplifies the codes of Bushido through his actions
in ‘The Last Samurai’. The culture of Bushido is patriotism, loyalty and love
for your country. Katsumoto lived by one purpose which was undying loyalty to
the emperor. The belief is revolved around the idea of honor; a samurai will
give up his life to respect the honor. He cannot live with shame of defeat,
which is why it is shown in the movie that after a battle is lost “seppuku” is
performed. “Seppuku” is a form of Japanese ritual suicide. In the way of
samurai ‘seppuku is viewed as effectively redeeming honor’.

The film begins with a voice-over that narrates “they say Japan was made
by a sword. They say the old gods dipped a coral blade into the ocean, and when
they pulled it out four perfect drops fell back into the sea, and those drops
became the islands of Japan. I say, Japan was made by a handful of brave men.

Warriors, willing to give their lives for what seems to have become a forgotten
word: honor.” (Simon Graham). The samurai were seen as highly trained warriors that followed
codes of discipline/conduct known as bushido. The qualities they possessed were
further influenced and developed by Zen Buddhism, during the Muromachi period
(1336 – 1568).  Zen Buddhism influenced the samurais greatly, giving them
enlightenment for good judgement, personal growth, and self-awareness. Exposure
into the philosophy and arts of Zen Buddhism allowed expansion of the samurais’
perspectives. As a result, the life of the Samurai had not only become one of
discipline and military education, but a rich cultivation of the spirit and
mind through the arts of writing, painting, calligraphy, philosophy, etc.’
(Matrasko). By the mid 1800’s, the Samurai’s way of life ended. The Meiji
Restoration of 1868, abolished the feudal system that the Samurai enjoyed
financially and socially due to the rise of modernization by Westerners that
“The Last Samurai” tries to portray.

As Algren
is held captive by Katsumoto, he begins to see ‘the world of the warriors’. At
first, he views the samurais culture as unusual and has issues with some
customs. When he first meets Katsumoto, he expresses his disagreement with the
custom of beheading defeated kneeling men in war as he saw Katsumoto do to the defeated General Hasegawa on
the battlefield. Katsumoto explains the importance of honor and incapability of
dealing with shame, “A samurai cannot stand the
shame of defeat. I was honored to cut off his head.”. Algren see’s the act as
savagery and depraved but in truth Katsumoto’s actions were a gesture of
respect for his adversary. Later through the movie Algren develops a strong
relationship with Katsumoto. They have conversations about war, experiences and
teach each other about their distinct cultures.

In another one of the conversations between Katsumoto and Algren,
Katsumoto asks Algren about his battle against the ‘red Indians’ (native-Americans)
which Algren is not proud of. Algren explains to Katsumoto that he was a
captain and the general was lieutenant colonel Custer. From Katsumoto’s
perspective, he believed Custer was a great general because he killed many
warriors. But, Algren disagrees angrily stating that Custer was arrogant and
foolhardy. And he got massacred because he took a single battalion against “two
thousand angry Indians with his army consisting of only two hundred and eleven
men”. Algren also stated “he was a murderer who fell in love with his own
legend. And his troopers died for it.”  Though Katsumoto’s point of view
was that it was a good death because Custer died a warrior’s death. This scene
signified the qualities of bravery and courage that samurais follow in bushido
which is why Katsumoto respected that Custer had the bravery to fight to the
death against impossible odds. However, Algren did not understand the meaning
behind Katsumoto’s philosophy at that time; he angrily stated, “maybe you could
have a death like general Custer someday” which Katsumoto simply responds by
saying “maybe if it is in my destiny”.

The
belief in destiny is also a major element in Buddhism that is reflected
constantly throughout the movie. Destiny is closely related to the doctrine of
karma in Buddhism. According to the Buddha, karma of varying types can lead to
rebirth as a human, an animal, or even one of the Hindu gods. In particular, Zen
Buddhism accepts the concepts of karma, samsara and rebirth but does not give
emphasis on the afterlife only weighing heavily on the present moment.

Katsumoto’s response to Algren did not reflect whether or not he feared death,
however it did reflect how he cared for the way he would die. He cared about
dying in the way of the samurai with the intentions of courage, loyalty and
honor. His respect for general Custer is also linked to the reason why he has
no anger towards Algren for killing his brother in law in battle and believes
it was a good death. It is also the very reason why he spared Algren’s life
when he fought against him on the battlefield because he saw Algren’s courage
and endurance to continue fighting as a “respectable warrior” till death.

As Algren lives among the samurais, he learns to appreciate their
culture and values. He narrates in the film: ‘everyone is polite, everyone
smiles and bows, but beneath their courtesy I detect a deep reservoir of
feeling…They are an intriguing people. From the moment they wake, they devote
themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seen such
discipline.” Algren begins to have a deep sense of respect for the samurai way.

He learns that the meaning of samurai is ‘to serve’ and that Katsumoto’s reason
behind the rebellion is that Katsumoto believes ‘his rebellion is in the
service of the emperor’. This demonstrates the ideals and core philosophy of
devotion that is the way of the samurai.  Algren eventually comes to love
the samurai culture and adopts it as his own. Through the discipline of the
samurai, he conquers his alcoholism and learns to find tranquility’ (Sam
Kyung-Gun Lim, 38).  

In the end, Algren quickly masters the way of the samurai and the
sword. He also becomes friends with Katsumoto and joins him in the fight
against the Meiji government and Westernization. One of his final conversations
with Katsumoto consists of Katsumoto telling Algren “the perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking
for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” This quote reflects one of the
true meanings in Buddhism. It characterizes the value of that Buddhism holds in
seeking a perfect, even though one may not achieve. In bushido, samurais value
their life towards commitment and self-devotion. During their conversation,
Algren expresses his guilt for taking away innocent lives as a soldier but
Katsumoto reassures him by stating “like the blossoms in the garden, we are all
dying and there is life in every breath”. This scene shows that in the way of
the warrior (bushido), although some of the actions necessary as warrior can be
overwhelming, overbearing, or may even seem wrong; one should not feel guilt
for completing their duty as a samurai.

At the end of the battle against the imperial
soldiers, Katsumoto fights alongside Algren regardless of the fact they become
outnumbered and dies similarly to colonel Custer. Katsumoto died in honor with
the help of Algren to perform “seppuku”.

Algren finally understood the importance of bushido and the values Katsumoto upholding until his final
breath. The last scene Algren presents the emperor with Katsumoto’s sword and
asks him to remember the traditions for which Katsumoto and ancestors who held
this sword died for. Algren’s actions made the emperor realize the significance
of the history of Japan “I have dreamed of a unified Japan. Of a country,
strong and independent and modern… Now we have railroads and cannon, Western
clothing, but we cannot forget who we are or where we come from”.  Algren finds some form of peace at the end of
the film because of the teaching of Katsumoto through the way of the samurai.

‘The Last Samurai’ was a beautiful depiction of how although modernization can
be great, you should never forget your history and lose your true values and
morals.