In an apparent homage to masterpieces of the samurai genre, THE LAST SAMURAI opens with an incongruously elegant, black-and-white sequence, in which two unidentified martial artists spar on a seashore. The film settles down more pedestrianly in the office of Yasujiro Endo (John Fujioka), a
wealthy Japanese businessman. Endo, a devotee of the martial arts and the disappearing traditions of an earlier era, is haunted by visions of a solitary figure traversing the plains. With his assistant and sparring partner Miyagawa (James Ryan), Endo embarks on a trip to the fictional African
nation of Imatzi. Ostensibly traveling to negotiate with silicon miners, Endo also seeks the source of his visions, which he believes to be an ancestor, killed while on a mission to bring Buddhism to Africa. Johnny Congo (Lance Henriksen), a Vietnam vet making his way around the world as a
mercenary, also arrives in war-torn Imatzi, accompanied by his girlfriend Caro (Arabella Holzbog). Congo's bravado catches Endo's eye, and he is promptly hired to fly Endo and Miyagawa into guerrilla territory. The party arrives at the luxurious tent dwelling of gunrunner Haroun Al-Hakim (John
Saxon) and his wife Susan (Lisa Eilbacher), an American novelist who has converted to her husband's Muslim faith. These unlikely and mutually distrustful comrades pass the time uneasily, jockeying for opportunities to pursue their own agendas--and deriding Congo's violent nature and dishonorable
soldier-for-hire status. Pledging that he is not afraid to die when "the perfect moment" comes, Congo storms from the camp. Hakim is killed by weapons he supplied to the guerrillas, and Johnny finds his perfect moment. In sacrificing himself for the lives of others, he regains his honor in the
eyes of his companions.
THE LAST SAMUARI provides adequate action in tandem with director-screenwriter Paul Mayersberg's almost poignant insistence on addressing the themes of honor and cultural displacement, common to his earlier work as a writer on films such as THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR.
LAWRENCE. Still, this film suffers from lack of a clear mission of its own. Endo's desire to avenge his ancestor, originally the driving force of the film, fizzles next to Congo's more complex dual role as action hero and tragic hero. The loose ends of several subplots, raised and quickly dropped,
suggest missed opportunities to have some fun--and to give the more wooden characters in the ensemble some depth. Holzbog, underused as a potential foil for Congo, enters the film gamely toughing it up, but soon sheds her boots and jeans for more feminine attire and becomes just a pretty face who
needs rescuing. Hers is not the only character suffering from lack of development. This meeting of lost souls from nearly every corner of the globe is marred by its reliance on ethnic stereotypes to propel the narrative, rather than the potentially complex motivations of its troubled characters.
(Violence, nudity, profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: In an apparent homage to masterpieces of the samurai genre, THE LAST SAMURAI opens with an incongruously elegant, black-and-white sequence, in which two unidentified martial artists spar on a seashore. The film settles down more pedestrianly in the office… (more)