One Small Scene: “I will miss our conversations.”
In the midst of the romanticised death of the traditional samurai, gunned down by an unscrupulous businessman, the opportunistic foreign investor, and the apathetic Emperor there is time for a short joke and memory shared before a warrior aids a samurai in ritualistically taking his own life.
“You have your honour again. [Smiles] Let me die with mine.”
The Last Samurai is quite a beloved film by quite a few people I know, for me occupying a special place due to my late Grandfather having the DVD, and it being a film I watched when my attention span made something as long as a film something dreamlike. And the quality of the ineffable, and themes of tradition are fitting, permeating the film and making the story something I think is beyond explaining the plot or its historical accuracy. Ken Wantanabe and Tom Cruise are depicting the nature of culture, cultivation, hostility becoming kinship and the true fight against homogeny and human predation rather than the exact year in which a rebellion was quelled. Much like the enjoyable flux of the foiled assassination scene, before the ring of swords and broken necks the smiles and appreciation of the samurai lord is seen among his people, with the onlooker quietly looking and learning as his rootlessness and loneliness give way.
From “I would like a good conversation”, to the wry retort “if it is my destiny” as a response to being told Katsumoto can have a death just like Custer’s someday, to this last callback to what were at first conversations culminating with a “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE!” Katsumoto has come a long way to the end of his dynasty. Weary, broken but not beaten in spirit the warrior’s life will end beside a beautiful blossom tree, and his friend, with purpose and the same sanguine clarity is comfortable rather than melancholic or overdramatic, the pair bloody but no different in the sense of two people speaking close together quietly, their tones very light while the nature of the words speaking to the hardest topic of mortality.
The passing of teaching is concluded with the teacher’s life and a joke, as well as honour and sorrow accompany Katsumoto in death, suiting the nature of the universe as suffering and release, constraints of life and death, perfection as a state, yin and yang. The loosely held appreciation of life and death, how it is faced, and the admiration of beauty and the higher nature of things beyond our mortal comprehension conveys The Way of Strategy or Bushido without needing to quote it, and this feeling and bare introduction to it makes the story linger perhaps as liked the way it is.
“They are all…perfect.”
While no doubt Katsumoto’s last words have worth and have been discussed, this line resonates to me in bringing that needed smile making the tragedy more poignant and The Last Samurai more human. Katsumoto was full of humour joining in the Kabuki theatre himself, contemplative in the blossom garden. The blossom tree and battle are his life, and part of his death’s poignancy are all of the emotions associated with him all tying in his ritual suicide accompanied by the friend sharing the journey.
Algren, someone happy to be sarcastic, his Western sensibilities complimenting the cast as he brings academic understanding, willingness to learn and apply his diligence and wild streak for survival and then the protection of others. This man, adding his own part of the pair, his own quips ones the audience likely make with their own friends and family, they appreciate the callback. It brings back the image of comrades, of family members who will joke and smile even upon one another’s deathbeds. The honest feeling of oncoming loss, as the man who fundamentally dislikes suicide nevertheless silently prepares himself to do this thing, more for the sake of aiding his friend than it ever being perceived as murder or Algren being an enemy.
“I will miss…our conversations.”
A small line, and a different tone to the hero’s passing. But also a beautiful call back by the film’s protagonist, and a show of what learning, friendship, honour can do to heal a human being and help them fight for a cause they deem worthy. Even in the face of death, there is beauty and the capacity of the heart. And among such beauty is the ability to smile, to communicate with amusement and kinship until the very end.
The Last Samurai. 2003.