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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Last Samurai

Epic dramatization of the end of the feudal period in Japan

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1974, Okami yo Rakujitsu o Kire, Japanese) During the Tokugawa Shogunate on July 8, 1864, the Shinsengumi were victorious - swords and slaughter - over Choshu insurgents at the Ikedaya inn in Kyoto. Divided into two parts, director Kenji Misumi's epic final feature film - screenplay co-written with Takeo Kunihiro, based on Shotaro Ikenami's novel, That Man - dramatizes the separation of the feudal period in Japan from the new age.

In part one, "The Passionate Storm," Sugi Toranosuke (Hideki Takahashi), a ronin who had been traveling the country with a sensei, returns to Edo after an absence of eight years following disinheritance as a child. On the same night that Sugi rescues his drunken uncle during an altercation over broken umbrellas, word reaches him of his father's death.

In a flashback, Ikemoto Mohei (Tarahiro Tamura) saves Sugi from drowning and becomes the boy's mentor, teaching him the way of the Samurai: "You must open your heart to know yourself and your opponent." The sensei emphasizes to his pupil that the purpose of the sword is not for killing but to keep oneself and one's opponent alive.

In going back to his home, Sugi precedes Ikemoto, who expects to retire in Edo in peace. After rescuing Ohide (Kiwako Taichi), the widow of a samurai from a gang of men - she admits of having gambled with her body and lost but being unwilling to sacrifice herself to their lust - and loaning her money to travel to Kyoto, Sugi visits with Iba Hachiro (Masaomi Kondo), the sensei head of a dojo, who was impressed by Sugi's style of swordsmanship. Sharing secrets of each other's techniques during personal combat, Iba observes: "Let the enemy slice your flesh, so you can cut his bone."

Finding a dying priest with a Shogunate pass and oral instructions from Ikemoto in his quarters, Sugi proceeds to escort Reiko (Keiko Matsuzaka), a female warrior and daughter of a samurai being pursued by samurai from Satsuma, to Kyoto.

In Kyoto, after fighting off an inept gang, Nakamura Hanjiro (Ken Ogata), a rural samurai (mocked as a "potato") who refers to himself as Hanjiro the Slayer, hears Ohide offering to mend his garments; now a nun calling herself Sister Hoshuni mourning her husband, she nevertheless acquiesces to his proposal: "Let's sleep together."

Led by stealth to his sensei, Sugi is disappointed when Ikemoto - injured and confessing, "Only after risking my life did I realize the futility of it all" - insists that he go back to Edo to "live for the coming age." When Sugi refuses - "You must allow me to stay with you" - his mentor sternly directs the younger man, who has no ties or allegiances in the current conflict: "I didn't teach you the sword so you could die in vain."

However, upon encountering Iba in Kyoto, Sugi determines to remain to fight with his sword for the Tokugawa Shogunate against the Choshu rebellion, which is armed with Western weapons. By chance Hanjiro makes acquaintance with Sugi, repaying the ronin for the loan to Ohide; he then manages to present himself (after being denied audience) to Saigo Takamori (Ryutaro Tatsumi), the last true samurai, who greets Nakamura, fondly recalling his mother and rewarding him with the honor being his own right-hand warrior.

Her father having been captured and killed as a spy, Reiko reports to Ikemoto that Sugi has not departed for Edo.

In part two, "The Surging Waves," following imperial restoration in 1868 (when Edo was renamed Tokyo), Sugi has married and settled down with Reiko while Iba announces his determination to fight on for honor and loyalty to Tokugawa. Nonetheless, events conspire to give Sugi cause to once again take up his sword as well.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)