The Last Samurai (1974): No Hollywood Crap!

The Last Samurai (1974): No Hollywood Crap!

Time has come for a country, for a genre, to move on.

The movie opens on a killing, showing samurais as cynical killers and proud of it. But unlike so many movies about this period — the end of the samura era, Kenji Misumi is looking for the very last samurais. Far from the cynical killers, there’s wisemen bound by a code of honor. Men full of humanity.

In a troubled period, real samurais aren’t blinded by their political ideas. They can share a meal with others men of honor, even if they’re political enemies. There’s mutual respect. But, these men are all living their final moments, a new era is coming and samurais won’t be a part of it.

Misumi shows an interesting panel of characters, each one with his one spirit. There’s pure men – they’re fighting for their ideas, there’s corrupted minds – they’re protecting their interest with cynicism… and there’s some opportunists. Peasants, enough skilled to handle a sword, and to kill. They’re rude, they can fart and kill with an incredible energy!

Among them, there’s Sugi, a lonesome samurai who walks through History without much problems. He embodies hope for the future, for a new society. His master doesn’t want him to be part of the crisis, knowing that samurais can’t fight modernity. Better than a civil war, there’s a future. But Sugi has to watch the death of the samurai society, of his brothers.

With the new era, Japan isn’t powerful anymore. It’s now the West, with all his strange new objects. There’s french perfume, cars and above all firearm – replacing sword. Samurai is part of the past, only few of them have accepted to change, leaving the sword to become… a barber for example. Now, values have changed, even pissing on the streets is no more allowed… But illusions are still the same!

Akire Ifukube’s score is discret, and fits perfectly well. From the warrior brutally, It goes to something more sensitive, more human, to reveal the tragic destiny of the samurais. A music confirming the precise and efficient mise-en-scene of Misumi – full of details.

The Last samurai put men and their beliefs in front of History. For all this samurais, the most difficult thing was to accept to move on, to think about the future… even if the Meiji’s era is still haunted by the past. Between bitterness and nostalgia, men are living through past stories, epic stories. Misumi has directed a brilliant and quite pessimistic movie, where men prefer to survive alone rather than dying for ideas, for liberty, for History. As the original title says: “Wolf, Chop the Setting Sun!”.

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