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The Last Samurai

The way of the warrior -- it's a phrase that has always intrigued me. And now, a movie about samurais, the feared and simultaneously respected warriors of ancient Japan.

Like other movies involving conflict and violence (Cold Mountain, Lord of the Rings, to name a few recent ones), this one is not about war or conflict. Rather, it's about a code of honour --- and more importantly insight into the way of the Samurai and the Japanese way of life before Westernisation.

Having just seen Nicole Kidman at her best in Cold Mountain, I was curious how Tom Cruise would fare in a movie he both acted and co-produced. One of the make-up artists told me that he was flown into the set in a helicopter in New Zealand and then flown back to join his kids afterwards. Somebody told me that he did his own stunts.

There is much bloodshed from swords, arrows, guns, and cannons. Equally there is much beauty in the peaceful way of the samurai village in the mountains. The captured enemy that Tom Cruise portrays has only known war, not peace. And he is in dire need of the kind of peace that will quiet his mind.

Post-traumatic disorder afflicts Tom Cruise to drink. Wounded in battle, he calls out for sake, the drink in Japan that replaces the whiskey he is so dependent on. Tako (played by beautiful Koyuko) ignores his cries, and instead complains to her brother, the master samurai Katsumoto, that he stinks. From the trailers, you would expect a sizzling love affair to develop between the two, but it's late 19th century and things take time.

Seeing this movie reminds me of a conversation I often had with my father while growing up in Okinawa, Japan. We were living on an American air base and going to an American school. I asked why we were so inferior (Chinese living in Japan) compared to the Americans who lived there. My dad replied, "Inferior? How can you think we're inferior? We are the hosts. We are Asians living in Asia. Americans are guests here."

Only years later did I understand that power and might do not equal right. The emperor's soldiers that were equipped and trained with American arms might have won the battle, but they lost the war --- and with that, respect and dignity. For without the glitter of technology, armour, and what money can buy, the human soul is naked and vulnerable. A friend from high school once said to me, "all that glitters is not gold." It takes time to understand why. The truth inside is the real power.

Honour. Duty. Dignity. Respect. Loyalty. Service. These are the words of the samurai. An ancient tradition now told in a fictional story in The Last Samurai.

10 January 2004 Saturday

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The Last Samurai official site
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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