Home > Movies > Life of a Samurai : Pride, Honour and Discipline

Life of a Samurai : Pride, Honour and Discipline

This article has been written as a submission for the course ‘Management of Self in organisations’ at IIMC and is based on the movie ‘The Last Samurai’ by Edward Zwick. This is not a movie review but a general discussion.

I saw the movie a few months back. Before watching the movie, I did not have even the faintest idea of what the movie is about. After watching the movie, I felt very good about it, I felt very enlightened. I found many underlying themes running parallel in the movie. They were:-

1)      Doing what is right and the will-power to do it against all odds– The main protagonist of the film stands up for what he thinks is right

2)      Rules – Discipline – The Samurais conduct all their day-to-day activities with a high level of discipline.

3)      Repentance and self redemption – The protagonist of the film, Captain Algren displays these throughout the story.

4)      Pride and honour, Shame – The Samurai way of life is a described in a detailed manner. I found the fact that the Japanese placed their honour above everything else very moving. But again, honour sometimes becomes very subjective and culture specific. And this fact has been discussed in the movie.

5)      Bravery – The movie being a war film to an extent portrays the bravery and sense of self sacrifice of the soldiers. There are a number of instances when someone gives his life or who fights bravely and dies. The usual cinematic way of glorifying the hero is quite evident.

The movie begins with the following statement – “I say Japan was made by a handful of brave men warriors willing to give their lives for what seems to have become a forgotten word Honor” which more or less defines the essence of the movie.

Important Protagonists

Nathan Algren (TOM CRUISE) is shown as a man who has started hating his own life. He hates guns and still has to work for gun shows for the sake of money. Algren had to fight against an army of American Indians and in the process kill many of them. He had to kill innocent people who were not at war with him and thus according to him something extremely unethical. Contrastingly though, Colonel Bagley, his superior is shown to have no remorse whatsoever for what he has done. Thus we can see that Algren is a man of high integrity and does not believe in war just for the sake of it.

But as is shown in the movie, he is surrounded by ironies of his life and thus he was made to do what he hated the most. I also like the fact that he has great clarity of thoughts and is not a bit reluctant to go against his own people when asked to make a choice. He says that the WHITES or his own people come to destroy what he likes the most and hence he will fight them.

I feel that he hated his life so much after joining as the trainer that he even started taking his chances with death. He asks the soldier to take a shot at him and I am sure he wouldn’t have minded being killed by the soldier. But quite contrastingly, he fights hard to save himself from the Japanese when he captured at the end of the battle. This is perhaps because of his will power which is again displayed during his sword fight with Ujio. But this willpower has not helped him so far to change the course of his life. But later on in the movie, I see that when he is given an opportunity to set things right, his willpower helps him complete what he had promised to Katsumoto.

But in spite of all the good will and willpower shown by Algren, he is able to do this because of the recent events in his life where he had started practising the Samurai way of life. He had no trouble sleeping; he could stop alcohol consumption too.

Katsumoto (KEN WATANABE) is a very wise man and has lot of self control. He follows the samurai principles very much and conducts his activities without being very emotional. He is ready to help his old friend in SEPUKKU (The ritualistic suicide), where he cuts off his head. At the same time, he was intelligent enough to understand the sensitivities of another culture and he did not kill Algren as it is not necessary that a person from another culture would be having the same values of shame and defeat. He is patient with Algren and makes him his guest even though Algren has killed his brother in law.

I also see Katsumoto as extremely dedicated to his task. He is a keen learner and student of war and wants to keep improvising. Katsumoto is also a great thinker and is always mindful of the larger good of the society. He is a very experienced person and finds out the reason behind Algren’s nightmares – the fact that he is ashamed of himself. The only point I did like about Katsumoto is the fact that he appreciated bravery even though it means foolhardiness. Algren was much more sensible when it comes to this aspect.

Taka (KOYUKI KATO) is faced with the dilemma of treating the murderer of her husband as her guest and she feels very perturbed about it. She having brought up the samurai way understands that her husband got killed in a war and it was only karma. And she is honest enough to acknowledge that even though she should not have thought ill of Algren, she does so and she is not mentally strong. She is also very forgiving and when Algren apologizes for having killed Hirotaro, she accepts his apology which I think was a great deed on her behalf. She is also brave, though not a skilled samurai and takes up the sword to protect her children. She also sees a father figure in Algren later on in Algren and is ready to accept her husband in spite of him having killed her husband.

From the perspective of the above characters, the story ends on a positive note. These characters are able to achieve what they were striving for and at the same time Omura is punished for his evil ways. Thus the story gives a sense of completion which makes the whole experience of watching the film even more fruitful.

  1. November 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Hey frankly speaking, i am not an expert or anything, the viewpoint was mainly based on the movie i saw. Well, Thanks for quoting

  1. November 22, 2011 at 4:24 am
  2. January 13, 2014 at 12:52 am

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