Today’s Prayer Focus

The Last Samurai

also known as “The Last Samurai: Bushidou,” “El último samurai,” “Last Samurai,” “Le dernier samouraï,” See more »
MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for strong violence and battle sequences.

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Moral Rating: Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Teens Adults
Genre: War Action Adventure History Drama
Length: 2 hr. 34 min.
Year of Release: 2003
USA Release: December 5, 2003
Copyright, Warner Brothers Copyright, Warner Brothers
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures
Eastern religion

BUDDHISM—Ten questions I’d ask if I could interview Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) today

What is Monism and Pantheistic Monism? Who believes in Monism? Is it biblical? Answer

What is Shintoism? Answer (Wikipedia)

Pain and suffering

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer


Drunkenness in the Bible

DEPRESSION—Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer


SUICIDE—What does the Bible say? Answer

If a Christian commits suicide, will they go to Heaven? Answer


War in the Bible



Armor and armory

WAR—What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

PATRIOTISM—Does being a Christian mean that I should be patriotic? Answer

Anger in the Bible



Sin and the fall of man

Final judgment




Click here to watch THE HOPE on-line!
Discover God’s promise for all people—told beautifully and clearly from the beginning. Discover The HOPE! Watch it on Christian Answers—full-length motion picture.

REVENGE—Love replaces hatred—former israeli soldier and an ex-PLO fighter prove peace is possible-but only with Jesus

VIOLENCE—How does viewing violence in movies affect families? Answer

Kings and emperors in the Bible


Copyright, Warner Brothers Copyright, Warner Brothers Copyright, Warner Brothers Copyright, Warner Brothers Copyright, Warner Brothers
Featuring Ken Watanabe (Katsumoto), Tom Cruise (Nathan Algren), William Atherton (Winchester Rep), Chad Lindberg (Winchester Rep Assistant), Ray Godshall Sr. (Convention Hall Attendee), Billy Connolly (Zebulon Gant), Tony Goldwyn (Colonel Bagley), See all »
Director Edward Zwick
Producer Warner Bros. Pictures, The Bedford Falls Company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Radar Pictures, Tom Cruise, See all »
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures. Trademark logo.
Warner Bros. Pictures
, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company

Tom Cruise finally has a starring role in an Epic. “The Last Samurai” is painstakingly historically researched, visually stunning, thought-provoking, joyous and sad. It also has extreme violence and some Eastern spiritual overtones, and is appropriate only for a mature audience.

The year is 1876. Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), formerly of the U.S. 7th Cavalry, has served against the Confederates and then against various Indian tribes. Now haunted by memories of a dishonorable campaign in which his Cavalry slaughtered a village of women and children, he’s an alcoholic stumpsman for the Winchester Arms Company. When offered the lucrative job of training a modern army in Japan, he takes the position even though he despises his former superior officer who will again be over him. Algren’s position is: he’ll kill “Japos,” he’ll kill their enemies, he’ll kill anyone he’s hired to kill. He really doesn’t care anymore, and he longs for death himself.

The Japan that Algren encounters is a culture in transition: the old and the new everywhere existing side-by-side, but not always peacefully. The Samurai, pledged to the service of the Emperor, resent and reject the Westernization of their society. They attack the railroads being built by profiteer Omura (Masato Harada). Omura and the Ruling Council, who stand to gain financially from sweetheart deals with Europe and America, speak in the Emperor’s name since he’s too holy and pure to speak for himself. They conveniently brand the Samurai as rebels and enemies of the state. A band of Samurai under Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) has rejected the use of firearms. Therefore, they should be easy pickings for Algren’s modern conscript army and its American-made weapons. But not so.

Taken captive in battle by Katsumoto and forced to live through the winter in a Samurai-controlled village, Algren slowly comes to admire the Bushido code and the Samurai way of life. Through an excellent job of screenwriting and directing, Algren’s personal journey to reclaim his honor is expertly bound up with the struggle of his captors to preserve their place of service to the Emperor or die trying. (In interviews and talk-show appearances prior to the film’s release, Cruise called this “The role of a lifetime” and compared the Bushido code to his own religion of Scientology). The Japanese culture’s view of life, and the Samurai’s wholesale dedication to their cause, are presented in a very positive light.

The film contains about twenty profanities and vulgarities (some oaths; no f-words), plus some racial comments. There’s no actual sexual content, nor any implication of sexual activity. (One reviewer commented on a female classic statue with a bare upper torso, which I didn’t notice.) There’s a very moving scene in which a Japanese woman—who has nursed Algren back to health from previous wounds—now wordlessly undresses him (discreet camera angle), then dresses him for battle in under-armor garments that formerly belonged to her deceased husband. She weeps as she does so, presumably over the evoked memories as well as over the likelihood that Algren will soon be killed in the same armor. At the end of the scene, the two of them kiss lightly, just a quick brush on the lips. Oprah Winfrey referred to this as one of the sexiest movie scenes ever (from a woman’s point of view), probably for its emotion and artistic understatement.

The violence is extreme, comparable to “Braveheart” or “The Patriot”. Samurai warriors with swords and arrows go up against firearms and cannon. There’s abundant footage (much of it slow-motion) of bullets and arrows thudding into bodies. Many soldiers are burned alive. There’s a lot of blood-splatter due to swordsmanship in hand-to-hand combat. A few acts of decapitation and hara-kiri are seen. A final charge by a mounted band of Samurai results in them and their horses being mown down by Gatling guns. In Algren’s flashback memories, we see women and children shot and killed. The ideal of death before dishonor (including the willingness to commit suicide, if defeated) is strongly emphasized.

Cruise does his usual fine job, playing a mad-at-the-world guy who eventually finds what he’s been looking for. Watanabe is also thoroughly convincing in his part; he doesn’t even seem to be acting. The cinematography and the technical details are top-notch. The battle scenes have a more realistic feel than in most films of this type, which is good or bad depending on your point of view.

Unlike wars in Western culture, in which anger and vengeance play a major role, the battles between these two Japanese factions are for the most part conducted with “respect.” The tragic thing is, both sides believe they’re serving the Emperor. There’ve been many religious wars in which both sides claimed to be honoring the same God. In this case, the “god” is a man who, if he wished, could simply speak out and end the bloodshed. But due to a combination of his personality, his forced-reclusive training and prior custom, the Emperor keeps silence. When it’s too late, he finally does speak, and, in effect, decides that although the Japanese army must be modernized, it should retain some elements of the Samurai code. (Although this story is fiction, Japan did reach that same basic conclusion in real life. Whatever way that decision was arrived at, the result was bad news for Japan’s enemies in World War II.)

Is the film a cross between “Glory” and “Dances With Wolves,” with a nod to “The Seven Samurai”? Yes. Is it formulaic and predictable? Yes. (Ever since the days of “Rain Man” and “Born on the Fourth of July”, Cruise’ salaries have priced him out of the market for all films except sure-fire winners; so of course this is formulaic. The central character must face huge obstacles and must experience a character arc or epiphany, being transformed from one kind of person into another. Omission of that plot device, or use of a non-standard ending, would have been a major financial risk.) But despite all that, and despite the charmed lives of the lead characters, I found the story engrossing. Many scenes brought sobs from the theater audience. We always admire bravery, fearlessness, single-minded dedication. And “The Last Samurai” serves up all those elements in huge doses.

With the positive spin on Japanese ideals, Western society by contrast comes off as evil and exploitative. Also, Algren refers to his former commander General Custer as an arrogant murderer. (Historical note: Algren says Custer was actually only a Lieutenant Colonel. Some may wonder why, if that’s true, we always refer to him as a General. Actually, both ranks are correct. Custer was commissioned a Brigadier General at age twenty-three, as a wartime rank. After the Army was downsized in 1865, he reverted to his peacetime rank.)

A final warning: Algren says he’s never been a churchgoing man, and his military experience has raised questions about God; but he’s now found something spiritual in the Samurai village. Later, in the film, he commits himself wholly to what he’s found. He stops abusing alcohol, and regains his dignity. In other words, the Buddhist influence and the Samurai code have filled a void in his life. And conducting himself honorably on the field of battle supposedly erases what he’s done previously. Saying that that’s just plain wrong sounds harsh. Let’s say it’s incomplete.

Paradise or Pain? Why is the world the way it is?Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer

While there are many admirable teachings in Eastern philosophies and religions (I studied them myself as a spiritual seeker while in college), nothing except the forgiveness of sins found only in Jesus Christ can transform us into what we need to be and were meant to be. And in the Final Judgment, our good deeds will NOT be weighed against our bad deeds. Our slate must be WIPED CLEAN, and ONLY God’s grace can do that.

External discipline is fine; give me a disciplined person over an undisciplined one any day. But discipline cannot save us. Only Jesus saves.

Violence: Extreme | Profanity: Mild | Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This movie was fantastic. The scenery and acting was amazing. There was actually no sexuality in this movie, and I liked how the characters played by Tom Cruise and the widowed woman, despite their love for each other, refrained from inappropriate sexual conduct and remained pure. There was nothing dirty in this film whatsover.

It was a very gruesome movie, but I, even as a woman, did not find them offensive, I just focused on the whole picture of the battle scene and did not look closely at the gory parts. See all »
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
Claire Guthrie, age 34
Positive—Although this movie was very reminiscent of “Dances With Wolves,” it was done in a very good way. It showed the cultural aspects of the mid 19th Century Japanese samurai society with taste and dignity. The movie delves into some of the same moral baggage a soldier has from the senseless slaughter of western conquest/war, as the movies main character is haunted by memories of the atrocities of the Plains Indian Wars of the 1870’s. If you like the art of sword fighting in its purest form, or if you are a martial arts buff there’s isn’t a lot you will be dissatisfied with in this movie. This is an adult movie and there are a few things that I believe are unsuitable for children:

• Scenes of war/fighting and the carnage that goes along with it. Including several decapitations.
• As a Christian youngster, the scenes of the worship of Buddah may be confusing, unless there is a responsible adult teaching the truth.
• On the bright side. I do not remember any swearing in the movie and there are definitely no sex scenes.

If you liked “Dances With Wolves” you will enjoy this parallel journey of a disenchanted American soldier in Japan.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Jerin, age 29
Positive—I really enjoyed this movie. The scenery was beautiful. The acting superb. Reality was a plus, in how the world can ruin the good God has greated.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
Teresa, age 39
Positive—Very violent battle scenes. Western civilization takes a bit of a beating at the sword of multiculturalism. Western warfare and influence is depicted as barbaric compared to the ways of the Samurai. The Samurai are honorable and noble; whereas, the westerners and their ways are crude, rude, thieving, murderous, and cowardly. Basically, the introduction of the gun destroyed the Samurai tradition and the West is to blame. The movie is well made and may even be the best picture of the 2003 year, but the violent scenes rival those of other historical dramas like “Bravheart” and “Gladiator”.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
Woody Elliott, age 33
Positive—…an exceptional movie, but be warned. As any worldly person knows, there are no Christians in Japan in the 1800’s. Everyone is a Buddist and expect Buddist mysticism to be present in the movie. There is violence including bloody scenes and a few words of profanity but in comparison to movies nowadays. There is no sex, but there is one scene of intimacy (a woman dressing a man) that the immature may find offensive. Overall, it is an excellent movie that shows plays on the theme that modernity is not always good all the time and that redemption can be found in the most faraway of places.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
CasualSuede, age 30
Response to above comment—…Ignorance and over generalisation is often dangerous. Not everyone in Japan is a Buddhist—and never have been. The national religion of Japan even today is Shinto not Buddhism.

“there are no Christians in Japan in the 1800’s.” —This is just not true. Christianity was introduced into Japan after 1542 when the Portuguese landed in Kyushu in Western Japan. The Jesuit and Franciscan missionairies were eventually perceived to be a threat to the Shogun so they and their followers were persecuted from circa 1597 onwards. In 1873, following the Meiji Restoration i.e. the period this film is set, the ban was lifted and freedom of religion became the norm.

Although it is probably correct to say that there were few if any Japanese Christians on mainland Japan (the island of Honshu) during the period this movie is set, there was at that time and has remained up until today, a strong, originally underground centre of Christian belief on the island of Kyushu.
David Partington
Positive—The movie was very good. If you are going to see a movie with marital arts in it, you have to expect there to be worshipping of other gods in it, and there was. Tom Cruise, to me, didn’t seem to become Buddist in the movie. I never saw him praying before a Buddha. He definitely was learning how to meditate and “clear his mind” so to speak. Those things always let spirits in… but besides that, I thought it was good.

I was half-way expecting to shut my eyes because I thought there was going to be a sex scene and there wasn’t. THAT impressed me. The fact that the woman who’s husband was killed took Cruise in after killing her husband was amazing to me. It is something we as Christians should do with our enemies.See all »
My Ratings: [Average/4]
Sarah Vogel, age 25
Positive—“The Last Samurai” is a beautiful movie. Edward Zwick is a great filmmaker, and he has delivered another one here. Tom Cruise does a wonderful job here. He is believable in the role, which is something I had questioned before seeing it. I applaud the filmakers for not throwing in gratuitous sex or nude scenes… There is a sort of romance between Algren (Tom Cruise) and Taka (the samurai leader’s sister) that is handled very respectively. The scene where she helps him dress for the final rousing and saddening battle is touching and sweet, and filmed with decency. There is very little foul language, but be warned, the violence can be extreme. As you would expect with a movie called “The Last Samurai,” many die by the sword. Overall, a great cinematic experience that I look forward to seeing again on DVD in the future.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
Scott, age 28
Positive—Putting aside the religious aspect that was portrayed by the Japanese characters, as well as overlooking some of the violence, this movie was exceptionally good. The graphical violence, in my opinion, added to the repulsiveness felt by each side after the battles.

I was pleased with the lack of sex. Also, vulgarities were kept to, for an R-rated movie, a minimum (I counted around 5 or 6).See all »
My Ratings: [Average/5]
Jeremy Gonyea, age 19
Neutral—This is an extremely well-crafted movie, very well acted, except for a stray accent here and there, and the oddly emotional reactions of its implacable Japanese warriors. It captures the sureal beauty and mystery of Japan, as well as the brutality of the time-period, which is graphic in the extreme. (Heads roll.) It is entirely devoid of explicit sexual content; the Japanese heroine (for that’s what she is) is seraphic. The plotline bears strong resemblance to “Lawrence of Arabia”, with one critical difference: while Lawrence was sickened and ultimately destroyed by his own brutality, Cruise’s character’s violent rage is the key to his satori. (This doesn’t work, but everybody ignores the problem quite enthusiastically, including the audience I watched it with.)

Despite the movie’s heavy-handed references (in case we don’t get it) to Thermopalae and the Charge of the Light Brigade, it’s hard to reconcile Hollywood’s Bushido (a vague code of honor) with Hollywood’s murderous brutality. This is a post-modern film in the truest sense; don’t take your grandfather. WWII combatants will have a hard time ignoring WWII Japanese atrocities (reversed here, i.e, the bad guys are American diplomats) and the long history of pre-WWII Japanese cruelties inflicted on the Koreans, Chinese, Guamanians and others.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
Sparky, age 56
Neutral—This film is a cross between “Brave Heart” and “Dances With Wolves”. However, inferior to bother! Tom Cruise is not as bad as most of the critics are saying but this is certainly not one of his best films either. There are many violent scenes and the kind of battle situations that he survives… Please!!! Go to the film if you get roped into it, but don’t expect Hollywood’s best by any means!
My Ratings: [Average/3]
Bob C, age 40
Neutral—I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. However, I was disappointed that the movie seemed to put Buddhism in such a positive light. I was torn between enjoying the movie for it’s artistic and technical qualities such as costumes, acting, and other things and the idea that these people were serving a mere MAN as a god! Yes, the Japanese did serve the emperor as a god but no man has ever been a god but Jesus and He was the one TRUE God! Personally, I would not recommend this movie to a non-mature Christian. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a non-Christian either. It just has such potential to make eastern religions like Buddhism look so appealing. I enjoyed the movie and the story line but of course, I wish that the movie had not glorified Buddhism so much.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
Holly, age 22
Comments from young people
Positive—The Last Samurai created a warm, genuine feeling that is created by smart screen writing, beautiful scenery, and a thrilling soundtrack. The violence was abounding, but except for a few brief instances, the camera never stayed to glorify it. What shocked me the most was the low level of sexuality in the film. I was bracing myself for some passionate climax to Cpt. Algren and Taka, but instead it ended in a respecting and wholesome relationship.

The only negatives in this film were some historically inaccurate points and a bit to much pagan religion. Though necessary for the plot, their was too many references without any real explanation to what kind of god. Yet their is still something to learn from it. If only we as Christians could take the same zeal for Christ, even at gunpoint, if we could have the same drive, just imagine how far the kingdom of God could expand!
My Ratings: [Average/5]
C. Sanz, age 14
Positive—This was a really good movie!!! I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Although I do not entirely agree with the mysticism and the buddhism, I do appreciate the discipline these Samurai show. They do justify taking the life of another though by saying its a disgrace to die in dishonor. Other than that the acting was great and there was no sexual content. Although there is mention of a bare statue I did not notice it. I guess you really have to be paying attention to notice it. All in all this is definitely a movie for a more mature audience, but definitely worth seeing.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
Sara, age 18
Positive—This film makes little comment on Christianity due to the action being based in Japan in an early period. I thought there were several concepts that could be considered in moral terms. There were: 1. Fighting for your beliefs (the two groups fighting are both doing it in defense of the people and the emperor, whom they believe divine)whether you think the fighting will change your situation or not. 2. It effectively shows honor. I consider this a concept that we have forgotten. It contrasts sharply with the selfishness of parts of our present society. There are important things to be learned from this film but they are not explicitly connected with Christianity.
Lainey, age 17
Positive—This was an excellent movie! The violence wasn’t even close to what it was made out to be, and the movie was totally lacking sexual content, unless a kiss is too much for you. The only objection I have is the Buddist overtones. Tom Cruise, in the movie, was disappointed by God and turned to Buddhism. This makes it seem that any way to God is fine. This is not what John 14:6 tells us. Although this aspect was disappointing, it was very subtle. Great movie!
My Ratings: [Average/5]
Greg Nelson, age 15
Positive—This is a wonderful film, though its been criticized very harshly, there is much to admire about the cinematography, acting, and beauty of the film. Tom Cruise does very well in a very serious role, and his co-stars are likewise passionate in their acting. There are several bad words—minor ones—and a lot of fighting, but the fighting was not nearly as bloody as I expected. There are swords, of course, being a samurai film, but the camera doesn’t linger on gaping wounds or severed limbs.

God is not mentioned, and the samurai have a suicidal code of honor, which will probably be the largest objection some Christians will have toward this film. There is no sexual content; the love story is displayed with just a short, poignant kiss. The storyline is good, if not terribly original (the film was “Dances with Wolves” meets “Braveheart”, but in Japan), but then, who said it had to be a terribly original story? The point is to show the audience something that will affect them: make them think and feel about things they might not have thought or felt about before, and that is more important. Appreciate the beauty of the film, and what its message is: of ultimate courage, honor, and strength.

The most wonderful thing about the film, I thought, was the bond between Captian Algren and his faithful friend, the leader of the samurai, Katsumoto. It’s a fantastic example of the lengths to which good friends will go for each other, even unto death.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
Hana, age 16
Positive—The movie is incredible. The samurai lived and died for a purpose. The men gave their lives for each other; I was choked up at the end of the. The movie stired my heart.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
Thomas Pool, age 17
Positive—This is my absolute favorite movie! Its full of great values like bravery, loyalty, honor and respect. Yet it still has a great story line the whole way threw. Plus, there is no short supply of action. This movie is a must see!.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
Lindsay Schmidt, age 14
Positive—…absolutely my favorite movie. Even though there are some references to the shinto/bhuddism religions, mature people should be able to disregard that, although some may find it offensive. This movie is seems better and better every time I see it (although that may be because I take martial arts lessons in tae-kwon-do, kendo, and chanbara), some may disagree with me but I think this movie should have been nominated for the Best Picture of the year in the Academy Awards and it should have won the Best Picture Award in the Golden Globes. This movies includes very good themes and virtues like honor, devotion, loyalty, and forgiveness. The Samurai Ujio’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) loyalty to Katsumoto is absulutely remarkable.

The battle scenes in Last Samurai are also remarkable, with the form and technique of kendo, kyudo, judo and other martial arts performed flawlessly. The scene involving Ninjas was one of the best. This movie is one of the greatest of all time.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Nathan Algren, age 15
Positive—…very violent and somewhat depressing. There are several scenes of suicide which is not a sin in the Japanese religion. The movie is very visually appealing and is a good war film. The premise of the movie is a little unbelievable, but it doesn’t ruin the movie. Tom Cruise plays basically the same character he plays in every movie, a basically normal person put in a crazy situation (Minority Report). The real performance in this movie comes from Ken Watanabe, who plays the leader of the samurai village that Cruise is a prisoner of. The movie makes one reference to Christianity when Cruise’s character says that he’s never been a church going man. The movie focuses on the culture shock of being in an area where people have different beliefs. …violence is intense and some of the subject matter is gruesome.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
Michael, age 16