Director: Edward Zwick
Writer: John Logan (story), John Logan (screenplay), Edward Zwick (screenplay), Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay)
Stars: Ken Watanabe, Tom Cruise, William Atherton, Chad Lindberg
Runtime: 154 min
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Released: 05 Dec 2003
Synopsis: In the 1870s, Captain Nathan Algren, a cynical veteran of the American Civil war who will work for anyone, is hired by Americans who want lucrative contracts with the Emperor of Japan to train the peasant conscripts for the first standing imperial army in modern warfare using firearms. The imperial Omura cabinet’s first priority is to repress a rebellion of traditionalist Samurai -hereditary warriors- who remain devoted to the sacred dynasty but reject the Westernizing policy and even refuse firearms. Yet when his ill-prepared superior force sets out too soon, their panic allows the sword-wielding samurai to crush them. Badly wounded Algren’s courageous stand makes the samurai leader Katsumoto spare his life; once nursed to health he learns to know and respect the old Japanese way, and participates as advisor in Katsumoto’s failed attempt to save the Bushido tradition, but Omura gets repressive laws enacted- he must now choose to honor his loyalty to one of the embittered sides when the conflict returns to the battlefield.
In the summer of 1876, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), is a disenchanted ex-United States Army captain and an alcoholic. He has been traumatized by his experience fighting in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. In the years following his army service, Algren makes his living by telling war stories to gun show audiences in San Francisco, an experience which further hampers his mental state and stimulates him to drink. Fed up with Algren’s perpetual drunkenness, his employer fires him. Algren reluctantly accepts an invitation from his former commanding officer Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn), whom Algren deeply hates and blames for his waking nightmares about his role in Indian massacres. On behalf of a Japanese businessman, Mr. Omura (Masato Harada), Bagley offers him a job helping the new Meiji Restoration government train its new Western-style Imperial Japanese Army. Japan is in the middle of drastic civil change and the new Western-style additions to society have not gone unopposed. The samurai are conducting an insurrection against the modernization campaign, which has motivated Omura to seek Bagley’s assistance.
Later, as the American ambassador prepares to receive the Emperor’s signature on a treaty that would give the U.S. exclusive rights to sell firearms to the Japanese government, a wounded Algren offers the Emperor Katsumoto’s sword as a gift and remembrance of his former teacher’s honor. The Emperor receives the sword and realizes that, while Japan must modernize, it also must never forget its own history, cultural identity, and traditions. The Emperor then tells the American ambassador that his treaty is not in the best interests of Japan. When Omura objects, the Emperor realizes that Omura is not acting in the best interests of the people, and he confiscates his estates and fortunes. When Omura tries to protest, the Emperor then offers him Katsumoto’s sword, retorting that if the dishonor is too great to bear, he should commit seppuku. The cowardly but respectful Omura merely lowers his head and backs away.
In a voice over, Simon Graham reveals that Algren was never heard from again, but he surmises that Algren likely returned to the samurai village and to Taka. Graham philosophically concludes that Algren has “found some small measure of peace that we all seek, and few of us ever find”.