THE LAST SAMURAI
movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Ian.
The movie opens with a drunk Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) behind the stage of a traveling Winchester rifle sale/show in the spring of 1876. He is introduced to a large crowd as a hero of the west who has fought many Indians and won the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. He is drunk and misses his introduction. After being forced onto the stage by the Winchester salesman (William Atherton) is told after this sales pitch he will be fired. Captain Algren deviates from the prepared script and graphically describes some of the horrors he has witnessed, disgusting the crowd. He then loads the Winchester rifle he is supposed to be selling and fires a few rounds with deadly accuracy at some bells as the crowd cowers in fear we see one man still standing, unafraid, with a smile on his face.
Next we see Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) the lord of a large group of samurai, meditating at night. He has a vision of a white tiger surrounded by samurai. The tiger is trapped but still fights and shows no fear.
Back to Captain Algren, he leaves the back of the theater where he gave his disastrous pitch. He is greeted by applause by the man who stood during the shooting. We learn this is Sergeant Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly) who served under Algren in the army and he is very Irish. Obviously realizing that Algren has lost his job with Winchester, Gant says he has an offer for much better employment. Algren and Gant enter the office of Omura (Masato Harada), a wealthy business man from Japan who also represents Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura). Also at the table are Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn), a former commander of Algren whom he seems to have personal issues with. Also present are an Omura's Companion (Masashi Odate) and the tight lipped Bodyguard (John Koyama) who has a large birthmark on his right cheek. We learn that Emperor Meiji desires to westernize Japan with industry, railroads, and a modern army. Fighting this modernization are the Samurai, proud warriors bound by the Bushido code and sworn to the Emperor. To stop the Samurai, Japan wishes to raise a modern army trained by westerners; Omura wants Algren to perform this task. Omura offers Algren $400 a month to train this new army. Algren counter offers with $500 a month plus an additional $500 upon completion. After a few brief words with Bagley about following orders Algren leaves, rejecting the offer. Bagley quickly runs after Algren while Omura and his assistant discuss how rude and disgusting Algren is, though they agree that his is necessary. Bagley finally convinces Algren to come to Japan and they set sail.
On this voyage we find that Algren is a rampant alcoholic and is also plagued by dreams and flashbacks of an Indian village being attacked. Once they land in Japan Algren is greeted by Simon Graham (Timothy Spall) a British citizen who arrived in Japan along with other Europeans to help their countries gain treaties with Japan. Graham was more interested in being honest then doing what was best for Britain in his dealings and was punished by being fired, he now finds himself as a translator assigned to Algren. They are ordered to the Emperor's palace (a very rare occurrence) and learn of their duty, to train a modern army and destroy the Samurai, who refuse to fight with modern weapons. Algren becomes interested in learning about Katsumoto and the way of the Samurai. Graham offers many Japanese books on Samurai but can't offer much information because Samurai are so solemn. Omura arranges for General Hasegawa (Togo Igawa), who is a Samurai who once fought along side Katsumoto, to help Algren.
Algren and Gant begin the task of training, which progresses slowly. Many of the new soldiers are only peasants and have never held a rifle before. Not long after the training begins Omura and Colonel Bagley appear during volley fire practice. It seems that Katsumoto and his Samurai have attacked a railway in the north, which we find is owned by Omura. Omura and Bagley order Algren to prepare his troops to make ready to leave. Algren argues that the men are hardly ready and to prove this point orders a solider to try and shoot him. As he taunts the solider by firing his pistol at him he says under his breath "please, kill me. Shoot me" After the solider finally loads his rifle he hastily fires off a round, missing Algren. Even though Algren proved the troops are not ready Bagley still orders them to march north.
Next we see the modern army of several hundred men in the forest with very thick fog. They are preparing to battle the Samurai who we can hear but not see. They fall into poor columns and fix bayonets. Colonel Bagley orders both Algren and Gant to the back of the fight, they are their as advisors, not soldiers. Bagley tells them they are to leave the leading of the army to the Japanese officers, though General Hasegawa will not fight his fellow Samurai. Ignoring Bagley's orders Algren and Gant prepare for battle barking out orders to the frightened troops. Through the fog we see many Samurai on horse back charging, Algren tries to stop the men from firing until the Samurai are close but in fear the army fires randomly then flees. The Samurai ride though the fleeing army cutting down many men. Gant is struck with a spear and falls to the ground. He tries to stand but before he can rise a Samurai in red armor sinks his sword in to Gant's chest. Algren fights gallantly killing many Samurai; he is knocked off his horse and wounded but still continues to fight. Surrounded he holds the Samurai at bay with a long spear. As this desperate battle is occurring Kasumoto appears watching he notices the spear held by Algren has a banner of a white tiger on it and realizes this is his vision. Algren is stabbed and falls to the ground, half dazed he sees the same red Samurai who killed Gant approaching. He tries to fight but his spear is cut in two and the red Samurai prepares to finish Algren. As the Red Samurai raises his sword, Algren grabs the broken spear and stabs him through his neck. The red Samurai falls dead and the other prepare to rush in and kill Algren who has sense passed out. Katsumoto stops them and orders that Algren be taken. As Algren is lead away on his horse he looks back to see General Hasegawa commit seppuku (ritual disembowelment) then have his head cut off by Katsumoto.
The Samurai ride back to their village with Algren as their prisoner and his journals of his battles with the Indians are taken from him and delivered to Katsumoto. They arrive and a badly wounded Algren is left in the care of Taka (Koyuki) a women with several children. She tends to Algren mending his wounds and helping him though the rough process of giving up alcohol (non-voluntarily).
While Algren is on the mend we learn that Katsumoto is keeping Algren alive to learn what his enemy (Omura) plans and how he will do it. Once Algren heals from his wounds and kicks alcohol he leaves the care of Taka to visit Katsumoto. Algren is followed by his bodyguard/watcher the Silent Samurai (Seizo Fukumoto) they wander the village, which is owned by Nabutada (Shin Koyamada) son of Katsumoto. Eventually they make their way to the temple/palace of Katsumoto that was made 900 years ago by his ancestors. Katsumoto speaks English and asks Algren his name. Ignoring this question Algren asks why he was spared. Katsumoto brushes off the question and tells Algren they will speak again soon. Fall is approaching and the mountain passes to the village will be snowed in. The war will be stopped until spring and Algren will remain in the village.
Algren is left to live at the home of Taka, who we learn is the sister of Katsumoto and it was her husband (the red Samurai) that Algren killed. His armor is left as a shine in a room at Taka's home where her children often visit. At first Algren is unaware of the customs of a Japanese household but quickly learns his way seems to admire Taka from afar. Taka puts on airs of being disgusted by Algren and even emptily offers to kill herself rather then continue to have Algren as a houseguest though she seems to enjoy his presence; her children even seem to take a linking to him in the absence of their father. Algren studies the Japanese language and enters more and more into the lives of Katsumoto, whom Algren has slowly befriended during their conversations, and Taka. Algren apologies to Taka for killing her husband in broken Japanese. She says it was his duty and destiny and thanks him for his apology. Next Algren has a dream of the Indian village he attacked while under the command of Colonel Bagley. The American soldiers killed women and children, this act is the cause for Algren's pain.
Next we see children with sword like sticks playing. Algren is offer a chance and playfully defeats a young child. A group of passing Samurai notice Algren and one, Ujio (Hiroyuki Sanada) challenges Algren. Ujio easily defeats Algren multiple times with very stiff blows until Algren is unconscious on the ground. Over the winter Algren continues trying to learn the language and fighting style, he also continues his conversations with Katsumoto who asks of battles with the Indians. He is fascinated by the stories of Custer and the battle of Little Big Horn. Katsumoto does not see the deaths of Custer and his men (211) at the hands of the Indians (3,000) as a loss but rather a honorable defeat. Algren tries to explain that Custer was fool and a murderer but it is lost on Katsumoto. Katsumoto tries to explain the meaning of Bushido (the order that governs the Samurai) and Algen is receptive. While Katsumoto studies Algren's journals Algren studies the way of the Samurai. He continually tries to defeat Ujio but fails. Eventually Algen has a moment of enlightenment and has a draw (both achieved blows to the neck) with Ujio. After this feat he is accepted by the other Samurai and is included in the community. As the spring approaches the village has a festival and at night has a comedic play which Katsumoto takes part in.
As the play is taking place Ninjas sneak into the village, killing the sentries. They hide on the rooftop overlooking the ongoing play and ready their crossbows to kill Katsumoto. Algren notices the movement on the rooftop and warns Katsumoto just as the Ninjas attack. The Samurai surround their lord and lead Katsumoto to the nearby home of Taka. Ninjas attack from all sides killing many Samurai. Algren takes Taka and her children to the safety of their home. The Samurai put Katsumoto in a room with Algren, Kata and her children and tell them to stay safe. The Samurai then run outside to combat the Ninjas. Katsumoto and Algren can hear the Ninja making their way across the roof and are then attacked. They fend off the Ninja and Algren saves the life of Katsumoto. After a small battle the Ninja are defeated and we learn they were sent by Omura.
With spring upon them Katsumoto receives a request to appear before the Emperor as a member of his council. The Samurai return Algren ride to the emperor. As the Samurai arrive the townspeople flee in terror. Algren is released and meets up with Bagley and Graham, who are shocked to see him alive. Katsumoto makes his way to emperor and learns that the Emperor is under great pressure from Omura and the western Ambassadors. Katsumoto tries to convince the Emperor to lead without the foreign input. Meanwhile Nabutada is accosted by soldiers who enforce the new law outlawing Samurai practices and swords. They attempt to cut his hair but are stopped by Algren. Algren pleads with them but they cast him aside, knock down Nabutada and remove his hair, shaming him. Katsumoto enters the Emperors council but is stopped by Omura who demands that Katsumoto follow the new law and remove his swords. Katsumoto refuses and looks to the Emperor for support. The Emperor remains silent and Katsumoto is taken into custody by the soldiers. We see Algren view a new and larger army supplied with howitzers and gattling guns by the Americans. The army is well trained and ready to fight.
Algren quits the employment of Omura and packs to leave. He places his revolver in his bag and is then interrupted by Bagley who tries to figure out what happened and what aspects of the enemy Algren knows. Bagley brags about Katsumoto and Algren leaves to try and see him. Along the way he is followed by the bodyguard of Omuara and several Ronin (masterless Samurai) they attack an unarmed Algren who kills all four with amazing swordplay and karate. Algren goes to the gate of house that Katsumoto is kept in with Graham who informs the guards that Algren is the president of the United States and to let them pass the ruse works and Algren is let in. Once inside the house Algren find Katsumoto who has been told to commit seppuku by Omura. Algren convinces Katsumoto to escape and with smuggled in weapons and the help of Samurai they kill many guards and escape. The escape comes at the cost of Nabutada who is wounded and asks to be left behind to fulfill his duty.
Back at the village plans are made to fight the new army. Using Algren's knowledge of modern warfare the Samurai draft a plan. As the Samurai prepare for battle Taka asks that Algren wear her late husbands armor to honor her family. Algren accepts and Taka helps him dress silently. This is a very emotional moment between them and the two kiss only once. Algren appears outside the house in full armor and is greeted by the other Samurai, ready to fight.
The two armies meet on a field and Katsumoto and Algren ride out to meet Bagley and his men. Refusing Bagley's request for surrender Algren says he will see Bagley on the battle field and both parties ride back to their sides. The Samurai, who number 500 armed only with swords and arrows, stand ready against an army of over 2.000 men with rifles, howitzers, and gating guns. Omura orders a volley of fire from the Howitzers, which falls short, missing the Samurai army. The Samurai stand motionless until the trajectory is corrected and the second volley lands with deadly accuracy. The Samurai begin to retreat behind a hill lighting fires to mask their actions. An over confident Omura sends a full battalion to "mop up" against the objections of Bagley. As the battalion rounds the hill the Samurai signal and a flaming arrow is shot infighting hidden barrels of oil, which explode, cutting the battalion in two. The retreat was simply a rouse to draw the soldiers on to ground controlled by the Samurai and out of the range of the Howitzers. After several volleys of arrows by the Samurai, hidden Samurai attack with Katsumoto and Algren in the thick of the fight. The first battalion is defeated and in panic the second is sent by Omura. The Samurai appear to be beaten, then a second signal is given and horsemen attack the battalions flank. A long battle ensues with many of both sides killed. A retreat is called by the modern soldiers and the Samurai appear to have won, though with many casualties.
Algren tells Katsumoto that Omura will simply send for more troops and that they will not be able to win again. Next we see the remaining Samurai on horseback as they charge the remaining army and heavy guns. They ride though a hail of fire with many dying. They break through the line of the remaining soldiers, where Algren succeeds in killing Bagley. They are making their way up the hill to the Howitzers and Omura. Omura orders the use of the new weapons (gattling guns), which mow down Samurai quickly. Both Katsumoto and Algren are shot and fall. The firing ceases and we see that Katsumoto is wounded badly he asks Algren to help him commit seppuku. Reluctantly Algren helps and Katsumoto lies dead. In respect the solders remove their hats and kneel.
Back to the Emperor he prepares to sign a treaty with the United States and Ambassador Swanbeck (Scott Wilson). Just as Omura announces the eminent signing a messenger tells the Emperor that Algren is coming. Algen enters, in uniform and offers the Emperor the sword of Katsumoto. Finally the Emperor sees the error of his ways and refuses to sign the treaty. He also punishes Omura by giving away his fortune to the people of Japan. The Emperor makes a speech how Japan must be modern but still independent.
A voice over is heard of Graham who says that no one knows what happened to the American Captain. "Some say he died of his wounds, some say he returned to American, but I like to think he found his peace" we see Algren riding back into the Samurai village and connecting with Taka.