Friday Favorites 4/5/2013

plumberWhen I need a plumber, I don’t go out of my way to learn what kind of life he’s lead.  I don’t hire from the Most Wanted List but I don’t do background checks either.  If I need an accountant, I don’t feel the need to inquire about her political philosophy or party affiliation.   In seeking out a new auto mechanic, I don’t feel a need to know his religion or even whether he has one.  OK, OK, I admit it.  If his advertising features the Itcthys … or Christian Fish Symbol … I may take my business elsewhere.  After all, if he features a Christian symbol in his advertising, he wants only Christian customers, right?  But I digress.  The point is when I hire someone to do a job, what I want to know is that they are very good at their trade or profession.  So, it only seems logical that when it comes to films, I would put the philosophies and persona of the actors aside when deciding whether to like a film.  And I do try.   But if you’ve been coming around here for a while you know that celebrities in general … and actors in particular … frequently annoy the crap out of me.   I don’t have to research their personal lives or their own peculiar choice of spirituality or their opinions on political issues they know nothing about.  Our modern celebrity-driven media continually throws it all in my face on a daily basis.  I suppose if my accountant was hawking a fringe religion involving aliens on TV and claiming that mental illness is a myth, I’d sack him and find a new one.

All of which makes it a bit astounding that today’s Friday Favorite is a film starring Tom Cruise.  Filmed in 2003, The Last Samurai places cynical American civil war veteran and mercenary, Captain Nathan Algren (Tomlast samurai Cruise), in 1937 Imperial Japan.  Sent by American arms traders to train peasant conscripts to serve in a Japanese Imperial Army, Algren leads his army against an outnumbered band of samurai warriors who reject the Westernization of Japan and even the use of modern weapons.  Algren’s army is defeated and Algren is captured by the samurai and taken to a remote village in the mountains.  Impressed by Algren’s bravery, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), the samurai leader, keeps him alive ostensibly to know his enemy, housing him with his sister, Taka, the widow of one of the men Algren killed in battle.   At first only tolerated as a foul-smelling barbarian by the village, Algren gradually comes to appreciate the samurai way of life under Katsumoto’s patient tutelage.

Last night, my son walked in while I was watching The Last Samurai.  Ever the movie expert since taking a screenwriting class, he said, I thought it was a little slow.  And for a film about war, it was.  But at its center, The Last Samurai is about two men from completely different cultures who find a connection under the most difficult of circumstances.   And it is about a purposeless, troubled soul, Algren, who finds both purpose and peace in the samurai way.  The film has slow passages because it isn’t just about Algren learning the samurai way of war, it’s about learning the samurai way of life … honor, appreciation of beauty, poetry and meditation.  The film’s slower passages, with Algren wandering through the Samurai compound simply observing, or Katsumoto quietly talking about the beauty of a cherry blossom are essential to Algren’s transformation.

The Last Samurai is beautifully filmed under the direction of Edward Zwick with a marvelous soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.  Ken Watanabe, and, yes, Tom Cruise are amazing together.   Koyuki is radiant as Taka, Katsumoto’s sister.  So, The Last Samurai is this week’s Friday Favorite, my personal distaste for the antics of Mr. Cruise not withstanding.

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