‘The Last Samurai’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘The Last Samurai’ (2003) is an epic drama film that takes place in a unique period of Japan’s history and highlights the conflict between modernization and tradition, between cultures, and also between different styles of warfare. However, it is not just the conflicts that are highlighted in this film but also the cooperation and the understanding that can happen as well in certain aspects such as between cultures. While this film is not specifically based on a true story, it is based on a number of true events that took place in the latter half of the 19th century for Japan and highlights the role of Western influence in Japan during the period of the Meiji Restoration or Reforms.

The main character, Nathan Algren (played brilliantly by Tom Cruise) is a Captain in the United States Army of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Nathan is a veteran of the American – Indian Wars and perhaps the Civil War as well. He is a bitter man who is suffering from trauma related to the atrocities committed against the Indian tribes during these brutal battles. When the film starts, we can see that Nathan is an alcoholic who is regretful over the orders that he had to follow and what happened to innocent Indian women and children whose lives were disregarded by his commanding officers.

However, for lack of purpose or money, or perhaps both, Nathan is recruited by his former commanding officer, Colonel Bagley, whom Nathan still resents for his role in the Indian massacres, to help train Japanese soldiers in the Western way of combat to put down the Samurai rebellion, which is ongoing in Japan. Algren is dealt a bad hand as he has to train peasants and not actual soldiers who are firing guns for the first time and would be better suited to the farms than to the battlefield.

In addition to that, he is expected to lead them soon into battle against the Samurai for which they do not have enough time to prepare. One of themes of this film is how good men are often corrupted by following misguided orders by their superiors and often end up harmed, captured, or killed for the negligence or ignorance of those with a higher rank. Nathan is a good soldier, but he cannot train peasants into soldiers in the time that is given to him especially when he is not familiar with the ways of the Samurai and how lethal they can be compared to his peasant conscripts.

In the battle between his soldiers and the Samurai, the Samurai end up killing most of them through surprise attacks and then an ambush in a refusal to fight the way of the ‘modern’ army that Nathan has assembled. One of Nathan’s fellow American army colleagues is killed in the battle while most of his army is decimated. Undeterred and with nothing to live for, Nathan fights the Samurai ferociously and is able to hold his own. Instead of killing him, the Samurai’s leader, Katsumoto, decides to capture Nathan instead and hold him as their prisoner. Unbeknownst to Nathan, Katsumoto sees something in Nathan and believes that he is a good warrior, who although tries to kill the Samurai, may be one of them due to his capacity to fight to the last breath.

At first, Nathan is not treated kindly by the Samurai given that he is a former enemy and that he also killed the husband of Katsumoto’s sister who resents Ethan’s presence in their village. Nathan also has his preconceptions and stereotypes regarding the Samurai and their culture. Over time though, Nathan starts to acclimate to his new life as a prisoner. He embraces the Japanese language and culture as well as earns the respect of the other Samurai by learning swordsmanship as well as how to train with others.

He also finds he has an affection for Katsumoto’s sister and ends up befriending her son as well. While it is not easy, he gains an appreciation for the Samurai and their way of life. He even begins to resent the modernity and the loss of the tradition that is being imposed on them by the imperial Japanese government. In this way, ‘The Last Samurai’ does an excellent job what it means to ‘go native.’

When you live in another country for long enough, you start to really embrace certain aspects of the culture and also if you take a liking to the language, you may realize you may want to stay there now that you’re acclimated rather than return to a home culture or country whose flaws become so visible to see when you were blind before to them. This movie does a great job of showing ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and how powerful it can be over time especially if you have a romantic interest in a woman or a man after a long enough period of time.

Algren is also no longer haunted by the nightmares of what he experienced during the Indian wars and has also forgone alcohol as he has found other ways to sustain himself while living with the Samurai. Perhaps most importantly, he develops a friendship with the Samurai’s leader, Katsumoto, who explains to Nathan their worldview and while preserving their 1000-year heritage is so important to them all. Nathan agrees with them and starts to see how important the ways of the Samurai are to Japanese culture and customs themselves.

The biggest turning point in the film is when Nathan begins to fight alongside the Samurai against attacks by both Ninjas, which one of the coolest scenes I have ever watched still. It is an amazing scene when you have Samurai battling with Ninjas and it is a very powerful point in the movie to show Nathan help save Katsumoto’s life. The Samurai are so dedicated to their way of life that they will die or commit ‘seppuku’ (suicide) to preserve their honor.

Without giving away the rest of the film, we can see that the Japanese emperor is being betrayed by big business interests and Western nations in the rapid attempt to modernize. While Japan was right in that it needed to catch up in areas of commerce and warfare, it is also important to remember the ways of the Samurai and to remember their customs as well. It is not right to destroy an important part of their culture and erase it from the history books.

That is what the Samurai leader, Katsumoto, and also Nathan wanted to preserve even if they knew that they were fighting a losing battle. A culture’s customs must be remembered, and its history remembered by all even if the country is to go in a new direction. ‘The Last Samurai’ makes it clear that even if there are no more Samurai, their memory must be retained in the national consciousness and it is important for Japan to not be belittled or bullied around by other powers. Receiving western advice, arms, and goods was a paramount need at that time but not at the sake of destroying a part of Japan that made it a special nation to begin with.

‘The Last Samurai’ is a powerful film because it reminds us all how customs and traditions form the backbone of a country’s culture and its’ history. While nations shift and change, the traditions and customs should never be forgotten by its people. That is the main message of the film and why the Samurai fought and died to preserve their place in Japanese society rather than be changed into something they are not. Becoming ‘Western’ because they had to be was an insult to them and something, they were against in an effort to remain as ‘Samurai’ in whatever capacity they could in order to serve the emperor.

It is a powerful film and also shows the redemption of Nathan Algren who went from a drunken soldier without purpose to a powerful Samurai commander who was able to integrate himself as best as he could into a foreign culture and even earn the love of a woman whose husband’s life he had ended. ‘The Last Samurai’ has many themes to it and each one of them are powerful. Remembering traditions, seeking vengeance, earning one’s redemption are all themes to the film and make it stand out still today as one of the best films of the 2000’s and maybe of this young century still. I hope you will check it out soon and please always remember the Samurai.

Oaxaca de Juarez

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cherry Blossom Season

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Location: Washington, District of Columbia 

Brussels Holiday Lights

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Location: Brussels, Belgium

Saint Patrick’s Day Parade

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

LocationSouth Boston, Massachusetts

USS Constitution 220th Anniversary and Head of the Charles Regatta

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LocationBoston, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts

Traditions

Why are traditions important? Why do we continue to pass down certain rituals, celebrations, customs, etc. from generation to generation? This is not a simple question to answer but I’d like to discuss my reasoning as to why traditions are important and why they should stick around in this article. In this day and age, there seems to be a movement against traditions and a counter-movement to think only about the present and what’s to come in the future.

I think that this view on traditions is shortsighted and inconsistent with human nature. While not all traditions are sustainable, useful, conscientious, or inclusive, there are numerous reasons as to why traditions should stick around, and why people should embrace traditions as being apart of how they live their lives. While people love to look forward into the future, it’s important to heed the customs and the ways of the past.

By observing traditions and celebrating them at times, we connect ourselves to past generations and rekindle the flame of days gone by. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the traditions instilled within us by our families and our communities. If we choose not to uphold those traditions instilled in us by past generations of family and friends, then we are doomed to lose traditions and the value that they held in our hearts and in our minds.

Each person must decide how much to incorporate the traditions of the forefathers into their lives and to what degree. However, to completely disavow of those traditions that lift the human spirit and are positive, and rewarding is to disregard one’s ancestry and upbringing in a sense. Not all traditions should make it from one generation to another but if there are traditions that are meaningful to you, and connect you to the past in a good manner, then those traditions should be continued and passed on to the next generation if that is the road you wish to take.

Having a tradition or traditions also helps you to create memories whether its’ with acquaintance, friends, or family. The memories around traditions are likely to be good ones and you’ll look back on them one day thinking about how special it was to celebrate or observe that tradition with the people you most care about in the world. While the tradition may only take an hour, a day, or a week, the memories of it will stay with you for a lifetime.

Also, it’s important to remember that traditions only come around every now and then whether it’s once a year or sometimes less than that so it gives you something to look forward to. Traditions give people a chance to relax, to enjoy, to reflect, and to be at ease in their lives surrounded by people who feel the same way. While the planning and the execution of traditions can be stressful and filled with anxiety, the payoff is worth it in the fact that you’re carrying on what’s been done for years, decades, or centuries beforehand, and that fact is something to really be proud of. Good and worthwhile traditions will likely lead you and others to count down the weeks and days until you can observe, celebrate, and reflect upon the special occasion.

It can be very difficult to get family and friends together under the same roof and near impossible especially if you live in different states or in different countries. Traditions give families an excuse to get together, laugh, talk, eat good food, and enjoy time together. Once your family starts a shared tradition together, it can be hard to let go of it. When traditions are observed, everybody has a role to play so it gives a chance for family members to connect with each other by having a personal stake in making sure that the tradition is observed in the correct manner. The ability to bring families together is a beautiful thing in life and sometimes it is only possible through the observance of a shared tradition. It can be difficult for family members to agree on everything but it’s likely that the thing they’ll all have in common is a desire to keep the tradition going, and make it a successful one.

Having a sense of identity is another reason why traditions are powerful. By connecting people to ideals, values, and beliefs, greater than themselves, your identity can truly feel whole. Being able to belong to a certain group, or a certain place can be quite healthy for most people, and to celebrate a healthy tradition as a group can really help to create a good sense of identity within an individual. It can be easy to lose your sense of identity nowadays, but by tying your identity to a set of values and ideals related to a group or your family through different traditions can help you feel like a whole person.

In a world where the present and the future take precedence, traditions can connect us deeply to those who came before us and to the past itself. Traditions from the past are important to preserve and uphold, and it’s a way to connect generations to each other. For myself, my traditions involve thinking about those who came before me and the sacrifices and struggles they went through in their own lives. Traditions are always passed down from generation to generation so that others and I in my family could celebrate and observe the traditions that are rich in history, religion and culture. If traditions are not followed and maintained in the current generation, then they are doomed to die out before being passed on to the next generation. If you or other family members refuse to pass on traditions to a member of the next generation, they will go extinct one way or another.

Finally, not all traditions are worth keeping or observing. Certain traditions can be harmful and carry a heavy height that people should not be forced to burden themselves with. Not every tradition created by humans is worthwhile, fair, or just. You don’t need to follow traditions if they don’t align with your moral conscience. Traditions can be good or bad, and they reflect upon our human nature.

The beauty of traditions is that you are given the choice, which traditions you would like to uphold to preserve and pass on to other people. If a tradition is aligned with the core values, beliefs that you have as an individual, then you should feel at ease with continuing it into the future. However, you should not seek to force your traditions on other people, and you should not preach about the superiority of your traditions when compared to the traditions of others. When it comes to traditions, use your best judgment and figure out which ones would be best to observe and celebrate with your family and friends.

Our ties to the past whether its’ through our ancestors, our family history, or our understanding of the world as it once was, is tied to our traditions. If you decide to forgo all traditions, then you are doomed to forget the past. Having a connection to the past through our traditions is a powerful thing and being able to celebrate them in a healthy manner should be encouraged. The memories we make with family and friends, the identity we gain from them, and the values and beliefs we pass on to the next generation make traditions a beautiful part of our existence on this planet. Whether its’ sitting down to a yearly Thanksgiving dinner, going to church weekly, or marching in a parade to celebrate your heritage and culture, traditions are apart of both who we are now and who we once were.


You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you…I don’t know, but it’s a tradition!” -Fiddler on the Roof

El Clasico Paisa

A packed stadium filled with 40,000+ screaming and diehard fans imbued with a fiery passion that is seldom seen in most sporting events around the world. No, my friends, this is a special event and one that deserves the rare title of a ‘clasico’ or classic in English. However, this isn’t your ordinary clasico or derby. This isn’t Manchester United v. Manchester City or FC Barcelona v. Real Madrid. This is the Medellin derby or ‘El Clasico Paisa’, an affair that has been raging for almost seventy years. They share the same stadium and play in the same national league. Their fans come from the same city and live in the same neighborhoods.

However, when it’s ‘clasico day’ in Medellin, the differences between the two local teams could not be starker. It’s blue and red v. green and white, history / traditions v. championship / past glories. This rivalry is more than just about football. It’s about your allegiance to a team, to its’ players, to its’ customs, and to its’ culture. ‘El Clasico Paisa’ is the long-standing rivalry between the teams of Independiente Medellin and Atletico Nacional. It’s the most important derby in all of Colombia and all of South America from its’ prior reputation.

Its’ one of the biggest rivalries in all of FIFA and I was lucky enough to witness this ‘clasico’ this past Sunday. Bragging rights are on the line whenever these two teams face off. They face each other a couple of times per season in the ‘Liga Aguila’, Colombia’s national league, because they are usually both very successful and find themselves ranked in the Categoria Primera A. Having won multiple championships in the past and most recently the famed ‘Copa Libertadores’ which is the South American edition of the UEFA Champions League, Atletico Nacional are the favorites of Colombian football these days.

Having watched a few of Nacional’s matches and having been a fan of their players and their uniforms, I learned about the upcoming derby about a week before kickoff time. Unfortunately, I did not strike when the iron was hot so I left my chances of getting a ticket up until the day of the match. Luckily, in Colombia, you can scalp tickets up until a few hours from local sellers at the Stadium. While the prices are marked up a bit, I found the one I haggled for to be fair and decided to go through with my purchase. During my time of living in Colombia, I wanted to make sure that I got to see a few matches especially given how huge the sport is here in South America.

The vibe and atmosphere in the Atanasio Girardot stadium before kickoff was simply electric and you could feel the sheer energy pulsating throughout the crowd. It was so filled to capacity that it was standing room only for the entire match. Luckily, I had a good vantage point of the entire field from about five rows up in the upper deck and was located near the exit in case the fans near me got out of control. From the opening minute to the last whistle blown, Fans on both sides chanted their teams’ songs, unfurled huge banners of support, waved flags, and cheered their heroes on until their voices were hoarse.

Despite being a supporter of Atletico Nacional, the ticket I bought last minute from a street vendor was located in the heart of the Independiente Medellin section. While I was uncomfortable with this arrangement at first given that I wanted Nacional to win the ‘clasico’, I have to give credit to the Medellin fans that were outnumbered by a count of 2:1 inside the stadium. They were loud, confident, and didn’t give into doubt or disappointment even when Nacional scored upon their team around the 65th minute making it an eventual 1-0 Nacional victory.

Win or loss, Independiente Medellin fans are still behind their players 100%. This loyalty to the team goes back over a hundred years when they were founded in 1912. While they have history on their side, Medellin does not have the more recent success or amount of championships that Atletico Nacional has accumulated in recent years. With the recent victory over Independiente del Valle in the 2016 Copa Libertadores, Atletico Nacional is the team to beat in the Liga Aguila in Colombia. Historically, in the ‘El Clasico Paisa’, Atletico Nacional has played Independiente Medellin 291 times with Nacional winning 119 matches to Medellin’s 92 matches.

They have ended in a draw 80 times total. Interestingly enough, the Copa Colombia has been played 16 times between both teams with Medellin having an advantage in this category with seven wins to Nacional’s five wins. Part of what makes this ‘clasico’ special is that both teams have a history that goes back almost seventy years. They are two of the most prominent and well-known football clubs in Colombia with a rivalry that is unmatched in South America.

Having been to football matches in both Germany and Turkey where the atmosphere was enjoyable, seeing a match here in Medellin was on another level. The passion of the fans was the craziest I have ever seen and they truly live through their team’s successes and failures. Unfortunately, certain fans take the results of the ‘clasico’ matches too seriously and there have been a few sad deaths and injuries that have taken place.

Luckily, both sides were not too hostile to each other during the most recent ‘clasico’ that I attended. They were shouts, curses, and a few bad fingers raised towards either side but nothing that escalated into all-out brawling and hooliganism. I had never seen that large of a police force at a football match before but the local police take it very seriously given what’s occurred in the past. There were also riot police present in full tactical gear but I don’t believe any tear gas was fired and everybody went home safely including myself after the match had concluded.

While I was happy that Atletico Nacional won 1-0, I had bonded during the match with the Medellin fans and enjoyed cheering, chanting, and jumping up and down with them. They are a passionate lot and they are all diehard fans. I hope to attend another ‘clasico’ soon where I can wear my green and white jersey and cheer on my Nacional in their fan section. When you’re in the opposing team’s fan section and your wearing the other team’s colors, it’s always a bad idea and trouble may find you whether you like it or not. Before the ‘clasico’, I was smart enough to wear a neutral grey shirt and jeans because I wasn’t sure in which section of the stadium my seat would be. It is a very lucky thing indeed that I didn’t wear my Nacional jersey in the Medellin fan section or otherwise I might not be writing this blog post about the ‘clasico’ today.

All kidding aside, while the football match wasn’t the best or most exciting I’ve ever seen played before, the atmosphere was incredible and it was the most-lively match from the fans’ perspective that I’ve ever witnessed. It truly was a sight to behold with both sides yelling, screaming, jumping, and dancing in the hopes that their team might end up on the winning side. I can understand now why South America is such a football hub. It is the number one sport and sometimes the only sport that matters to its’ fans. If you’re ever in Colombia or specifically in Medellin, I suggest you buy a ticket and go see ‘El Clasico Paisa.’ I promise that you won’t regret this amazing experience but make sure to wear neutral clothes because you never know which fan section you’ll be seated in.