Dharma Movie Review: The Last Samurai
Dharma Movie Review: The Last Samurai
In Honour of Selfless Sacrifice
Sypnosis: This is a film that takes a good hard look at how Japan was starting to change with its business deals with western civilization but the Samurai were still committed to the old ways of Japanese culture. This story is about a former Civil War captain named Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) who is an alcoholic and haunted by the memories of all the killing that was done during his tour of duty. Algren is offered a job in Japan to help train Japanese soldiers how to fight with modern weapons like guns and cannons. He arrives in Japan and starts to help train the soldiers but they are eons away from being ready to go into battle with the Samurai. Algren is told to lead them into a fight even though he knows they are not ready and after a very bloody fight where his army is nearly wiped out Algren is wounded and when a Samurai warrior is about to finish him off Algren kills him. Algren's life is spared when the leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) decides to bring him back to their village so that he can learn more about his enemy. Katsumoto and the Samurai are at war with the Japanese that want to change Japan into a more modern country that has trade deals with the Western culture. Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura) is young and envies the pride and traditions of the Samurai but he also wants to do what is best for his people so he is in the middle between the two armies. -imdb.com
16 Quotes & Comments
Captain Algren (Tom Cruise) (While looking out at sea) : There is some comfort in the emptiness of the sea. No past. No future.
Comment: In the vast expanse of the universe, we realise how little we are, and the insignificance of our baggage from the past and our anticipation of the future. Live now!
2) One Mind, No Mind
Nobutada (While teaching Algren to use the sword) : Too many mind. Mind of sword. Mind of people walking by...
Comment: The mind is focused and powerful when one-pointed. Even more powerful when one is one with its one-pointedness so naturally that mindfulness becomes "unminded".
Taka (On taking care of Algren, who killed her husband in battle): The shame is unbearable. I ask for permission to end my life.Katsumoto : No.....It is karma....
Comment: If there are situations we cannot change, we have to learn to accept them graciously (as Taka later did, gratefully).
4) Fulfilling One's Duty
Taka (on accepting her husband's death in battle and forgiving Algren for killing him) : He did his duty. You did your duty.
Comment: If we all fuffil our duties in the right way, any "wrong" thing that happens is just part of the right process. Likewise, the practising Bodhisattva does not lament for any misfortune which befalls him/her or those he/she care.5) Perfection
Katsumoto (Looking at blossoms) : A perfect blossom. You could spend your whole life searching for one, and it would not be a wasted life.
Katsumoto (Later, on battlefield, letting go of his life gladly, with his dying breath) : Perfect... They are all... perfect...
Comment: Perfection is not in seeking the perfect outside, which is perfect only when your mind is at peace. When the mind is pure, the land is pure. (Note that he chose to kill himself, to restore honour to Algren and the last race of Samurai and save him. He also did so as a final admonishment to the Emperor for the sake of the people.)6) How We Live
Emperor Meiji: Tell me how he died.
Algren: I will tell you how he lived.
Comment: How we live will determine how we die. To prepare for death, live well, with Compassion and Wisdom.7) Every Breath You Take
Algren: There is life in every breath. There is life in every cup of tea...
Katsumoto: That is, Bushido (Way of the Samurai).
Comment: Life is in the details, in the moment, in the here and now.8) Power to Change Destiny
Katsumoto: You believe a man can change his destiny?
Algren: I think a man can only do what he can, until his destiny is revealed.
Comment: In this sense, there is no fixed destiny - life is in your hands - just do what you can in the moment with the best of your Compassion and Wisdom, as you strive to learn to be kinder and wiser.9) What Do You Want?
Algren (shouting): What do you want from me?
Katsumoto: What do you want for yourself?
Comment: What do you want for yourself?10) Know Your Enemy
Algren: What do you want from me?
Katsumoto: To know my enemy...
Comment: After Katsumoto knows Algren well, they become loyal friends. When you embrace the enemy and understand him with Compassion and Wisdom, the enemy disappears. Know that your enemy is not the enemy out there, but your inner hatred of him - the enemy is in you.11) What Are You Doing Here?
Algren (shouting): What the hell am I doing here?
Katsumoto: When the spring comes, the snow will melt, and the pastures will open. Until then, you are here.
Comment: Until then, you are always here, now. Live here and now then; there is no need to fret - since you cannot be elsewhere, else-time.12) Bushido (Way of Humane War)
From LastSamurai.com : Bushido, "The Way of the Warrior", has come to be known as the samurai code, but it is more than that. The name given is not "the code" or "the law" of the warrior, but rather, "the Way." It is not merely a list of rules to which a warrior must subscribe in exchange for his title, but a set of principles that prepare a man or woman to fight without losing his humanity, and to lead and command without losing touch with basic values. It is a description of a way of life, and a prescription to make a warrior-nobleman.
Algren: My thanks, on behalf of those who died in the name of better mechanical amusements and commercial opportunities.
Comment: Who are the savages? The Westerners who invented guns, who wanted to conquer foreign land and foreigners in the name of modernisation or the Japanese Samurai who were relatively primitive materially but stronger spiritually? This teaches us not to judge by appearances, but to feel with the heart and reason with wisdom.
13) Die NowFrom LastSamurai.com : At the heart of Bushido is the samurai's acceptance of death. "The way of the samurai is found in death," says the Hagakure, a 1716 explanation of bushido whose title means literally "Hidden in the Leaves". Once he is steeled to the fact of dying, he may then live his life without worrying about dying, and choose his actions based on principle, not fear. "If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in The Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling."
Comment: If we are able to fully be prepared to die, we are prepared to fully live, to treasure the moment without attachment.
14) Suicide in Honour?
Comment: I watched the movie mainly to learn more about the Samurai way of life... as I had always been curious about ritual suicide in the name of honour. The word "Samurai" means "to serve", and dying for honour and the inability to stand shame of defeat was in my mind a distant concept, for it meant "to serve" the ego. And isn't honour part of the eight worldly conditions (concerns) : gain and loss, honour and dishonour, praise and blame pleasure and pain? Shouldn't honour be renounced? Having seen the movie and having surfed the movie website, I realised my misintepretation of the Samurai concept of honour. For the true Samurai serves not himself, but the people, and death by suicide is always for the bigger picture, to benefit others - as a Bodhisattva would lay his/her life willingly. Any otherwise would be breaking the precept of killing.
From LastSamurai.com : For 1100 years, they (Samurai) lived to serve their people with seven worldly and spiritual principles (partially influenced by Buddhism) to guide them. Gi: Justice and Morality, Rei: Polite Courtesy, Yu: Heroic Courage, Meyo: Honour, Jin: Compassion, Makato: Complete Sincerity, Chugo: Duty and Loyalty. Principles worth living. Ideas worth dying for... The man who could master himself and live by this discipline had true control of his life. If he lived each day well, he had no reason to fear death. And within the Buddhist concept of rebirth, death was seen as advancement (if one has lived and died well). The perfect samurai was, above all things, perfect in his loyalty, making all decisions based on wisdom, logic, correctness, and the good of his master, without the distraction of self-interest (egoism)...
Although much has been made of the matter of honor, and especially the suicide (hari kiri) to avoid dishonor or to atone for it, the way of the samurai was not always served by suicide, even in defeat. Many great warriors retreated or escaped capture in the face of certain defeat, and lived to fight another day. This was not dishonorable if it served the master's interest or his will. On the other hand, samurai have been known to commit suicide as an admonishment to the master for making demands of the warrior that were contrary to wisdom or honour.
15) A Good Death?From LastSamurai.com : Suicide, controlling one's own death as one does one's life, was considered more honorable than being killed by even the most worthy opponent... The samurai's form of suicide was seppuku, using the short-sword to slit open one's own belly... It was employed on the battlefield in the face of defeat. It was also an act of contrition for failure or some serious offense against one's superiors (in this context, it may be considered the most sincere form of apology), or even a protest against injustice. A condemned samurai was sometimes allowed to commit suicide to preserve at least one measure of his honor from total disgrace.
Comment: Buddhists treasure life, though we learn not to be attached to life and death. If a Samurai clings to craving suicide and egoistic self-honour in death, he is not a true Samurai or Buddhist. Buddhists do not glorify death, but revere practising Bodhisattvas who die in selfless service of others. In my opinion, suicide should not be used for apology or the preservation of self-honour - for as long as there is life, there is hope of making up for one's misgivings. Dying by suicide in despair or desperation is not conducive to a good rebirth - even if Samurai are able to bravely do it.
From LastSamurai.com : ... the samurai were only a small percentage of the overall population. The next lower class was the most populous, the peasants. In practice however, farmers were trapped in lives of virtually unrelieved misery. They worked incredibly hard and were allowed very few luxuries, even if they could afford them. Everything about their lives was regulated, down to the types of fabric allowed for their clothing. They were tenant farmers, not land-owners, and had to pay the daimyo a certain percentage of what the land was supposed to produce, regardless of whether or not the crop lived up to expectations. In bad years, they often had very little left to make ends meet, and periodically rioted. The farmers could not escape the land, either. Every effort was made to keep them in the country and away from influences that would increase their sense of discontent.The next group downwards was the craft and artisan class. They were divided into craftsman those whose customers came to them - i.e. craftsmen who have a shop - and those who went where the work was. The suppliers of military goods, swordsmiths and polishers, shaft-makers, armorers, etc. were often tied to a specific family for whom they worked exclusively. There were many other trades that served all classes and occupations, such as woodworkers, plasterers, sawyers, carpenters, mat-makers, dyers, and sake-brewers. Quite a few among these - those who traveled to their work - lived nomadic lives, enjoying far more freedom than most others in Japanese society of that period. The lowest class was the merchants. Officially they were despised because they produced nothing, and were seen as parasites making profit from the labor of others.Certain types of people were considered untouchable, most notably those who had professional contact with death. Dead animals were considered defiling, in accordance with Buddhist beliefs. Those who made leather were untouchable, as were executioners and the specialists who tested new swords by cutting up corpses.
Comment: This seems strikingly similar to the caste system of ancient India, which is still not totally abolished today. The Buddha did His part in actively speaking against the unfairness of imposing fixed social status in society. He taught that one is noble not by birth, but by what one does after birth - by his conduct. The true Samurai is like the true brahmin, who uses his status to help the masses, not to oppress them.