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Wednesday, January 14, 2004



Good little fisking of the movie there. Beautiful movie but the subject matter presented kept it from being anywhere close to my top ten from last year.

Silly Sally

It's mostly affluent white folks burdened with white-guilt after watching too much Oprah Winfrey -- that come to Asia playing out a "Dances with Asians" fantasy.

Your brother from the hood, or Asian-Americans looking for an easy English teaching job in Asia don't suffer from this "romance with the primitive".

It's usually the guilty-white people that imbue Asia with "Oriental Wisdom" and "traditions of honor".

Anyone with a clear head can see Asia is the land of un-repentant ethnic narcissism and not-so-noble opportunism.

Silly Sally

John in Tokyo

I've wanted to see this and I will but you captured my sentiments exacty. This is what immediately popped to mind when I started reading about the premise.

I've lived in Japan for almost a decade and I love it but feudalism should not appeal to anybody's sense of romanticism. The modernization of Japan is one of the most interesting phenomenon in the last 200 years. It has been a huge success and a boon for the Japanese people and the rest of the world.

Except, of course, the years astarting around the late 20's (Koreaphiles may say as early as 1910) when Japan was seized once again with the spirit of reactionism and the rejection of liberal society in favor of romantic notions of its Samurai past and the spirit of Bushido, Sonojoi, etc. etc. We all know the devastation and havoc that resulted.


Excellent take on this movie. I saw it the other day and couldn't believe some of the crap in it - talking to the emperor in "masu" form, for instance, and the emperor showing sympathy to the Katsumoto character, or the American colonel giving orders to Japanese troops. I'd go into more but don't want to ruin it for those who haven't seen it. Anyway, the movie was all about nostalgia, trying to hold on to the past, and America represented the ugly future in store (actually America was a convenient current day symbol of the many European countries involved in the Meiji Restoration). If I were Japanese I'd certainly be unhappy with the flick - feudalism sucked for the vast majority of the population. Actually, most samurai adapted pretty well to the new order and founded the big houses like Mitsui and Mitsubishi.


The movie and you ask...Why do some Americans keep assuming that we are missing something and that someone else has it?

Sometimes I think that we have become the great melting pot a little too much. There is a richness in visiting another country where you are immersed in a culture, language, and way of life that you can only get a brief whiff of here. We are not wrong in our way of life, nor are other countries. It is what we have become by inviting any and all to our shores. I think we should value both the melting pot and pureness of culture.


Frankly I think the fact that our history has been mangled and in most cases not even taught as much as it should be has made us...lose some identity. The fact that most people don't know hoe great a man Crockett was and such...well we've lost the heros.

The Yangban (Andy)

Reinhardt, welcome to my Jeongja.

Two things, I also had a positive thing to say about the movie: The violence was excellent.

Also, saying something like "so many people miss the point" without saying what "the point" is, is bad form. Please share the point.


Here's a less conservative, but critical reading of Dances with Samurai.

The problem is that Algren seeks, and finds some kind of redemption in "traditional culture". This is presented as a prescription for relieving Algren of his guilt for killing Indians and participating in racism and imperialism. The solution to his dilemma is found in escape into the culture being destroyed.

Relate this back to the real world, and we see people doing the same thing with the environment. We destroy the environment, so guilt-ridden city people retreat into "nature." It also happens with race, where guilt-ridden white people move into "the hood", or they fetishize Indians, Asians, etc. and seek entry into some "pure" culture.

The way to deal with these problems is directly, not through guilt-induced escapist fantasy, which movies like Dances with Samurai suggest.

The Yangban (Andy)

Welcome to my Jeongja WildGift,

You forget one thing. I'm from the South. We tend to feel less guilty about such things because we also have felt the boot of The Man.

So I guess the real answer is not to feel guilty.


As a third party (being mexican) in this whole debate, I would agree in your point that it is wrong to think of Japanese culture as superior to that of your country. Every culture in the world is as rich and valuable as the other, and thinking that Japanese culture is superior to the culture of the USA would be to turn a blind eye to the not-so-nice characteristics of it like racism and discrimination.

Also, I find that you make a really strong point in how the modernization lead by Emperor Meiji benefitted the common folk. I mean, behind the layers of romanticism, it really must've been a burdened life for the average serf back then.

And impressive that you knew of the burakumin, so many few people do, even today, of the absurd discrimination of this group of Japanese by their own people.

And about Crockett, Christopher... well, hope you don't mind if I don't see the guy as a hero...


Excellent comments all. Tis a refreshing watering hole you've got here!

As a big fan of Japanese culture, I was looking forward to this film (it's not often Hollywood makes a samurai movie), and was sadly disappointed (and not because the theater felt and smelt like a grimy bath house). My main problem was with the "superior American hero" bit, which seems ever present in film, and which, in hindsight, paints this film more as a Cruise vehicle and less as a quality samurai film.

But at least there was some sweet swordplay.

The Yangban


I rolled when I read your comment about Crocket. I guess that Japanesse don't think much of Korean Admiral Lee Sun-shin either.

I first learned about the Burakumin from James Clavell's "Shogun." BTW, ethnic Koreans also have a hard time in Japan.

I have said this a thousand times "Tom Cruises character needed to die." It would have made for a much stronger ending. At a minimum, he should have taken his new woman and left Japan (no what that 19th century Japanese culture would have accepted them). Maybe they could have ended up in Hawaii just in time for us to overthrow the queen there.


After carefully reviewing your site and digesting it. I can say with conviction you are an asiaphile. I know this because of your insatiable curiosity of asia is coupled with your hidden pathetic desire to learn(exploit) asian culture and demystify it or make sure it is always on equal footing with the 'west'. Your entire opinion on the samurai is very revealing. You're a white southerner that wants to bring asian down a notch or two and that is all.


Ah, Shogun! A fine, fine work. One of the turning points of the book is when Blackthorne discovers that his own crew live like the eta he has come to despise... and about ethnic koreans, I don't doubt they have a hard time.

Only ethnic Korean actually living in Japan that I've met (a Japanese teacher at that) seemed pretty well adapted... though I don't doubt that she must've received some cold stares in her life when people found out her last name was Kim and not Honda.

Heros? Villains? It's all a matter of perspective. Still, both you and us consider Santa Anna a nasty, selfish ess oh bee.


What's the big deal? This is just the hackneyed "guns vs. sword" dramatic device which was already there for years in Japanese cinema. So what if you like westernization more than feudalism. That's not the point of the movie. The point of the movie is to wallow in romaticism for a few hours. Being critical like this is like going to see, say, a romance movie and insisting on hardheaded and realistic.

The Yangban


Your point is valid.

Maybe I'm just a little too sensitive to the "Asian-good, whitie-bad thing" since we catch enough of it already over here.


It's only a movie. Much appreciation to those in the movie industry. Now I have a great desire and interest to learn about Japanese and American history. What really happened,- I'll search it out, do a little investigation of my own. I WANT to buy a Samurai sword, and.. I only can wish that my wife, who's a quarter Japanese, will change MY clothes for ME one day, YEAH!!! But that'll be the da-a-ay, when I die.(LITERALLY!)
People like me WILL use this movie, 'The Last Samurai' as a reference. Critics say the movie has it's misinformative takes, Whatevah... I'm just one of those who's interest to learn was grasped immediately by the power of the Samurai. I can only imagine THAT ART OF WAR. The part the Westerners played,.. isnt that always the case in most 'signing a treaty' type of movie, but i also became interested in learning about Firearms;Infantry weaponry from guns to tanks to battleships to aircraft fighters, to the Window, to the Wall, (oops), and from that time until today how it GREATLY evovled- and also the politiktalks.
The movie definetely... famed... Pride, a characteriztic that we all play.


This movie has got a way too much of hollywood in it. But it also tries to show the way of the sword or better: the way of the warrior/samurai (bu shi). It seems strange to me that some questions have no answers in this movie, although it is hollywood made. Just look at the Kanji at the posters.


my friends,
I dont know that you know anything about turkey and its past as ı dont know much about country.Maybe ı am foreigner ı think that the film is excellent.This is also what people in turkey say,too.But for one thing dont criticise katsumoto or someone see the film together.YANGBAN you want to see the points then ı want to show you the points for me
Firstly ı see your anxiousness for katsumoto but dont forget that he isthe one who holds the oppositisiom what shall happen if there is no opposition.My friens please dont forget that noone on earth will hold any civilizations hand because of god sake goodness.They have benefits.they shall use and broke the peace of japan they shall use their lands.İN past in dynasty wars the foreigners let samurayis kill each other.I thought film reflects a good point and also the director adores japan.I also watch the sword actions and they are really exciting.I want to draw a sword and jump into the battlefield.DONT take it on politic way also katsumoto can advise to strike to korea .WArs are normal in this world.I said I am from turkey tell me if you know anything about our past and wars we are similiar to japans and mongols becouse we are from southasia too.Please forgive me if ı know something wrong but ı SHALL STİLL SAY PERFECT!!!
blossoms-cycle of life
tradition-please tell me what is the situation in japan having anything traditional as ı thought that japan is losing its traditions the same as turkey is doing now.
There are many but of course I am not able to write becouse of tireness.if There is a chance to live in past i will definitely say to live in japan as a samuray rather than being a knight----please notice knights had privileged positions too and they really does it well.DONT take it so political I said again AND ALSO I APOLOGİZE AGAİn.

Diana Laura Torres Hernández

¿en realidad existió Katsumoto?

The Yangban

Hi Diana,

Katsumoto was based on Saigo Takamori. Go up to the article and click on his name to go to a bio on him.


dang. i jus didnt get how tom cruise could get shot 3 times, get stabbed like 8 times and still fight and take down 20 samurai and even more jap soldiers. oh yeah, and learn the way of the bushido in a year. borrowing from bollywood me thinks.

i dont know why you trying to bring asia down. the film helps stem racism and makes people appreciate other cultures.

and tom cruise never answered the question because it was up to the individual to make their own interpretation. toms character found solice in that place, leave him alone already.


sometimes when people go to certain places, they feel spiritual. i felt it when i went back to taiwan, although people there would call me crazy. i think any alternatives are good.


ironic isnt it that tom cruise was - "the last samurai". but guys, hey, i didnt ask for a documentary right?!

at the end of the day you could say that americans are looking for somewhere better to make them forget about thier own living conditions through film. but u cant. these films arent produced for the american public. they are international films. you americans always think u are at the centre of everything.

i guess you made brave heart to represent the hate americans have for the evil britsh and the subconscious love for scots in kilts.

does the past always have to be worse than the present? there has been loads of sacrifice through societies and cultures through the years and all films are doing are exploiting them.

dont mix fantasy with reality kids.


i dont see how after the whole film you can still not appreciate samurais and their lifestyle. its like saying i hate muslims and the east because theyre all terrorists.

remember: people commit the crimes. not the religions.

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