The Last Samurai

2h 34m 2003

Brief Synopsis

Captain Nathan Algren is a man adrift. The battles he once fought now seem distant and futile. Once he risked his life for honor and country, but, in the years since the Civil War, the world has changed. Pragmatism has replaced courage, self-interest has taken the place of sacrifice and honor is nowhere to be found--especially out West where his role in the Indian Campaigns ended in disillusionment and sorrow. Somewhere on the unforgiving plains near the banks of the Washita River, Algren lost his soul. A universe away, another soldier sees his way of life about to disintegrate. He is Katsumoto, the last leader of an ancient line of warriors, the venerated Samurai, who dedicated their lives to serving emperor and country. Just as the modern way encroached upon the American West, cornering and condemning the Native American, it also engulfed traditional Japan. The telegraph lines and railroads that brought progress now threaten those values and codes by which the Samurai have lived and died for centuries. But Katsumoto will not go without a fight. The paths of these two warriors converge when the young Emperor of Japan, wooed by American interests who covet the growing Japanese market, hires Algren to train Japan's first modern, conscript army. But as the Emperor's advisors attempt to eradicate the Samurai in preparation for a more Westernized and trade-friendly government, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai. Their powerful convictions remind him of the man he once was. Thrust now into harsh and unfamiliar territory, with his life and perhaps more important, his soul, in the balance, the troubled American soldier finds himself at the center of a violent and epic struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his sense of honor to guide him.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Dec 5, 2003
Premiere Information
World premiere in Tokyo, Japan: 22 Nov 2003; Los Angeles premiere: 1 Dec 2003; New York premiere: 2 Dec 2003
Production Company
Bedford Falls Company; Cruise/Wagner Productions; Radar Pictures; Samurai Pictures, LLC
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures
United States
Japan; New Zealand; Los Angeles, California, USA; Engyoji Temple,Japan; Himeji,Japan; Kyoto,Japan; Lake Mangamahoe,New Zealand; Los Angeles, California, United States; Mt. Shosha,Japan; New Plymouth,New Zealand; Taranaki, New Zealand

Technical Specs

2h 34m


In 1876, a drunk and disillusioned Civil War hero, Captain Nathan Algren, haunted by his role in a massacre of innocent Native Americans, interrupts his performance at a San Francisco sideshow advertising rifles, by hysterically recounting the bloodshed and then shooting above the terrified crowd. After the show, his former commander, the rapacious Colonel Benjamin Bagley, introduces him to Omura, a Japanese businessman bent on making feudal Japan into a modern nation for his own financial gain. Omura offers Algren a lucrative job working with Bagley to mold conscripted farmers into Japan's first modern army. Realizing his outburst at the sideshow has cost him his job and needing to feed his penchant for alcohol, Algren accepts the offer to work with Bagley and his loyal former sergeant, Zebulon Gant, in Japan, but seethes with rage against Bagley for having ordered Algren to slaughter innocent Native Americans. Arriving in Yokohama Harbor weeks later, Algren is greeted by English expatriate Simon Graham, a translator and photographer, who, after showing him Tokyo's bustling streets, escorts the visitor to the palace for an audience with Emperor Meiji. Once there, despite Graham's etiquette advice, Algren breaks the imperial code by boldly looking into the young emperor's eyes. Days later, during training, Algren learns that veteran Samurai Katsumoto, once a member of the Emperor's Guard and Meiji's personal teacher, is offended by the country's modernization and plans to lead a rebellion against which the army must soon be prepared to fight. After General Hasegawa, who once fought with Katsumoto, informs Algren that Katsumoto and his Samurai are only armed with swords and arrows, not firearms, the American decides to study his enemy by reading Graham's extensive writings on the Samurai and Bushido, their code of honor. When days later, Katsumoto attacks a railroad owned by Omura, Algren refuses to follow Omura's orders to enter into immediate battle and attempts to prove the army's lack of preparedness by ordering one of his men to shoot at him. The peasant shakes in fear so uncontrollably that he repeatedly misses Algren, but Bagley nevertheless insists they fight Katsumoto. The next day at the foggy, forest battleground, the soldiers hear the approaching Samurai yell and, fearing for their lives, begin shooting too early, thus allowing dozens of Samurai on horseback to expertly wield their swords, wounding most of the men. When Gant is killed, Algren rushes to his side, and, having run out of ammunition, fights several Samurai in hand-to-hand combat, despite his own wounds. Katsumoto watches as a Samurai clad in red armor prepares to deliver the American a final blow, but the prone Algren manages to spear and kill his enemy. Impressed by Algren's skill and perseverance, Katsumoto decides to take him prisoner rather than kill him. Following his capture, Algren witnesses Hasegawa, who has surrendered to Katsumoto, perform seppuku, a ritual in which a defeated Samurai disembowels himself with his sword to maintain his honor, while another Samurai assists by decapitating the dying man to prevent prolonged pain. After they arrive at a remote mountain village, Algren is housed with Katsumoto's sister Taka, who is forced to nurse him back to health, despite knowing that the American killed her husband Hirotaro, the warrior in red. Later, Katsumoto, finding Algren's book about military strategies to conquer the Cheyenne, begins to study his enemy, but when he questions Algren about it, the American refuses to answer. Sober and sufficiently recovered from his wounds, Algren is then allowed to walk through the village accompanied by a guard, the Silent Samurai, and observes the Samurais' diligent daily practice of martial arts and swordsmanship. When he is called before Katsumoto and asked his name, Algren at first refuses to answer, but his curiosity about the seppuku ritual opens up a conversation between the two. After Algren learns that Taka's husband was the red-armored Samurai he killed during battle, Katsumoto tells the guilt-ridden Algren that it was a "good death." Although, upon returning to Taka's house Algren is pleased to be invited to dine with family, Taka insults him in Japanese, which he does not understand, and later begs Katsumoto to remove him from her house. One day, Ujio, the most traditional of Katsumoto's Samurai, viciously knocks Algren down with his wooden practice sword, as Taka and her young son Higen watch with satisfaction. However, as Algren, despite his lack of skill or strength, continues to stand and face Ujio, Taka and Higen begin to feel sympathy for him. During one of their short conversations, Algren tells Katsumoto that he served under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Katsumoto praises the illustrious soldier, but Algren retorts that Custer was a vain and malicious murderer. After months of being treated with "mild neglect" while living among the villagers, Algren concludes that, despite their polite and quiet demeanor, the Japanese are filled with emotion and still dedicated to their emperor. Soon after, Algren, having won Taka and the Samurais' respect, is given traditional Japanese clothing to wear and begins learning Samurai fighting and riding skills, while Higen teaches him Japanese. When one day, Algren expresses his regret to Taka for killing her husband, Taka reminds him that they were both only doing their duties. By the spring of 1877, Algren, who has finally found some peace, realizes that he has been in the village longer than anywhere else since he left home at seventeen, and dedicates himself to becoming as skilled as the Samurai. One day, during a practice fight with Ujio, Algren at first loses, but is then advised by Katsumoto's son Nobutada to be of "no mind." Remembering Ujio's previous moves and honing his concentration, Algren forces his opponent to a draw, surprising all the Samurai. Later, as the town gathers to celebrate the spring planting by watching a comic play, Algren notices the guards have disappeared and, realizing they are about to be attacked, alerts Katsumoto to the danger. Cornered in Taka's house by dozens of Omura's warriors, Algren and Katsumoto fight side by side while Katsumoto's men defeat the remaining attackers outside. Days later, Katsumoto explains Bushido to Algren by noting the timeless beauty of cherry blossoms nearby, and advising him to know life in every breath and face death without fear. Soon after, at the village baths, Algren's eyes meet Taka's and, realizing she has deep feelings for him, he thanks her for her kindness. After learning that he has been granted an audience with the emperor, Katsumoto returns Algren's books to him, explaining that he is no longer an enemy, and they both depart for Tokyo. Algren returns to find Bagley has trained thousands of soldiers, and Omura has promised the army to the emperor if Meiji agrees to sign a new trade treaty. In an audience with Meiji, Katsumoto offers to end his life for the emperor, but when the inexperienced leader asks for advice from his former teacher, Katsumoto insists the emperor must make his own decisions. Later, Omura asks Algren to lead an attack against Katsumoto, but Algren insists he was only hired to train the army and leaves the meeting. Meanwhile, when Katsumoto meets with the council and suggests that Japan has become a "nation of whores" selling themselves to the West, the council arrests him without protest from the emperor. Learning of Katsumoto's fate, Algren is determined to free his friend, but is attacked by Omura's men and forced to fight them off with swords. With Graham's help, Algren then gains entrance to Katsumoto's cell, where he and Ujio convince Katsumoto to escape rather than kill himself. During the ensuing battle, Nobutada is mortally wounded and, after telling his father that "it is my time" to die, raises his sword and rushes into the enemy fire, allowing the others escape. Later, Katsumoto laments that the Samurai are no longer necessary in the new Japan, but Algren argues that the Samurai must fight Omura's army to make the emperor understand that the ancient ways must not be forgotten in the wake of Japan's modernization. Arriving at the village the next day, Algren tells Taka and Higen he will fight alongside the Samurai. When Taka informs Algren that his decision has caused Higen to fear that, in addition to losing his father, he might lose Algren as well, the soldier holds the boy in a tearful embrace. As they make battle plans to defeat Omura's army, which is armed with machine guns, Algren suggests to Katsumoto that they must lure the enemy in close enough to engage them in sword battle. On 25 May 1877, the day of battle, as Algren prepares himself to greet death, Taka offers him her husband's suit of armor and slowly undresses and kisses Algren. Later, Katsumoto gives him a handcrafted sword with the inscription "I belong to the warrior in whom the old ways have joined the new." Later, as they approach the battlefield, Algren hands his notebooks to Graham, who positions himself high above the soldiers to document the battle with his camera. After the first round of cannon fire from Omura's men, the Samurai light fires to cover their retreat with smoke, luring all of Omura's infantry into marching behind a hill where the Samurai archers shoot and kill hundreds of the soldiers. After a round of hand-to-hand combat between bayonets and swords, Ujio leads an attack on horseback, but is soon killed. Suddenly a bugle is sounded, signifying the army's retreat. Realizing that two more regiments will be brought in, Algren tells Katsumoto that the Samurai will now be forced to march into Omura's machine guns. Lining up his remaining men on the battlefield, Katsumoto lets out a war cry and leads the suicidal charge with Algren at his side. The westernized Omura is incredulous that the defeated Samurai will not surrender despite their losses. Bagley, regaining his sense of honor, mounts his horse and rides into battle to meet his enemy and face his certain death. The soldiers then commence firing the new and powerful Howitzer machine guns, which litter the plain with dead Samurai, injuring both Algren and Katsumoto. Realizing that Katsumoto is mortally wounded, Algren assists his friend in his final courageous act, that of seppuku. As he dies, Katsumoto watches nearby cherry blossoms float through the air and whispers to Algren, "they are all perfect." Filled with humility at the passing of so great a hero, Omura's men kneel reverentially in tribute. Days later, Algren interrupts the emperor only moments before he is to sign an American trade treaty. Kneeling before Meiji, Algren offers him Katsumoto's sword, asks that he remember what his ancestors died for and offers to end his own life at the emperor's command. Having finally embraced Katsumoto's advice, the emperor announces that he will not sign the treaty, because it is not in the best interest of his people. Algren then returns to the village, where he is reunited with Taka and her children to begin a new life.


Ken Watanabe


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 [Benjamin] Bagley

Masato Harada


Masashi Odate

Omura's companion

John Koyama

Omura's bodyguard

Timothy Spall

Simon Graham

Schichinosuke Nakamura

Emperor Meiji

Togo Igawa

General Hasegawa

Satoshi Nikaido


Shintaro Wada

Young recruit

Shin Koyamada


Hiroyuki Sanada


Shun Sugata




Sosuke Ikematsu


Aoi Minato


Seizo Fukumoto

Silent Samurai

Shoji Yoshihara

Sword master

Kosaburo Nomura Iv

Kyogen player #1

Takashi Noguchi

Kyogen player #2

Noguchi Takayuki

Kyogen player #3

Sven Toorvald

Omura's secretary

Scott Wilson

Ambassador Swanbeck

Yuki Matsuzaki

Soldier in street #1

Mitsuyuki Oishi

Soldier in street #2

Jiro Wada

Soldier in street #3

Hiroshi Watanabe


Yusuke Myochin

Sword master's assistant

Hiroaki Amano

Kenta Daibo

Koji Fujii

Makoto Hashiba

Shimpei Horinouchi

Takashi Kora

Shane Kosugi

Takeshi Maya

Seiji Mori

Lee Murayama

Ryoichi Noguchi

Takeru Shimizu

Shinji Suzuki

Hisao Takeda

Ryoichiro Yonekura

Tomoya Abe

Takayuki Akaike

Raymond Chan

Chris Chin

Masayuki Deai

Taiga Etoh

Nobuhiro Fujita

Kota Fukuchi

Koichi Funayama

Furuo Geiri

Masayoshi Haneda

Mitsuki Harada

Takeyuki Hirai

Brian Ho

Yukihiro Hokke

Hiroki Hoshino

Kogi Inoue

Hidetaro Ishibashi

Kiichiro Ishimoto

Koichi Ito

Toshihiko Ito

Kiyoshi Iwata

Toru Kadowaki

Ryoga Kajiwara

Yuhei Kametani

Takanobu Kaneko

Nagamasa Kato

Yoshitake Kato

Yoshihiko Kawamoto

Yuki Kawanishi

Yasunari Kinbara

Joe Kitamura

Hisataka Kitaoka

Masato Kobayashi

Mitsuki Koga

Teishu Kohata

Akira Koieyama

Akira Kojima

Yasuhiro Koshi

Misao Kurata

Jiro Maeda

Masayuki Maekawa

Takashi Maeyama

Yoshihiro Masujima

Fumio Matsuki

Shinji Matsumoto

Akihito Mimatsu

Shusuke Mitsuyoshi

Giorgio Miyashita

Hirokazu Miyata

Kenji Motomiya

Hiroyuki Muraoka

Naruhito Nakada

Motokuni Nakagawa

Ginji Nakamura

Satoshi Nakamura

Fred Nakanishi

Yuya Nakashima

Kiyonori Namikawa

Hidetomo Nishida

Akihiko Nishimura

Masaki Nishimura

Kosuke Oda

Toshiaki Ogawa

Masahiro Ogura

Kazuma Ohuchi

Tadashi Oiwa

James Okada

Daisuke Okano

Matt Okui

Mitsunori Omae

Atsushi Ono

Eijiro Ozaki

Shinobu Sakurai

Daisuke Sasagawa

Yuichiro Sasaki

Naruto Shigemi

Yoshinobu Shigemura

Kazuya Shimizu

Taku Shinya

Masashi Shirai

Shogo Shirasaka

Akihiro Soen

Susumu Suou

Takashi Taguchi

Ken Takagaki

Osamu Takahashi

Hiromi Takatani

Shusei Take

Teruhito Takita

Ryo Tanaka

Katsutoshi Uchibori

Hiroshi Uenoyama

Hajime Unesa

Tadashi Watanabe

Kazunori Yajima

Masayuki Yamada

Hideki Yamaguchi

Takashi Yamaguchi

Keisuke Yamamoto

Tetsuro Yamamoto

Yasunari Akita

Yoshihisa Asai

Yasuo Hiroki

Toru Ishida

Makoto Ito

Yuki Maekawa

Hidemitsu Nakadate

Ryuji Nakamura

Motohiro Okita

Nobuhiro Oshima

Satoru Shibue

Masaki Sono

Yuki Tanifuji

Tomohide Tanigawa


Tsuyoshi Abe

Stunt performer

Nicole Abellera

Casting Assistant

William Acedo

Set dresser, Los Angeles unit

Romulo Adriano Jr.

Visual Effects Coordinator

Cesar Aguirre

Utility Sound tech, Los Angeles unit

Janice Alexander

Hair Department head

Deborah Alleck

Prod Secretary

James Allen

Special makeup Effects Coordinator

Mark Alston

Video Assistant

Sal Alvarez

Camera loader, Los Angeles unit

Daisuke Amano

Stunt performer

Charlene Amateau

Costume Supervisor

Alistair Anderson

Special Effects tech

Graeme Andrews

Horse wrangler

Slamm Andrews

Score rec

Cesar Angebaldo

Transportation capt

Peter Angles

Set dresser, Los Angeles unit

Orion Archung

Craft service

Craig Argent

Crowd hair stylist

Dawn Armstrong

Addl makeup

Hiro Asari

Stunt performer

Gunner Ashford


Christopher Assells

Sound Editing

Drew Bailey

Addl 3rd Assistant Director

Alexandra Bain

Swing gang

Dana Baker

Best boy grip, Los Angeles unit

Sala Baker

Loc Assistant

Danny Baldwin

Stunt rider

Terry Baliel

Key hair stylist

Ronald Baratie

Greens foreman, Los Angeles unit

Michele Barber

Addl makeup

Trevor Barber


Sharon Bardsley

Horse wrangler

Carl Barnes

Caterer, Japan unit

Roy Barnes

Set Designer, Los Angeles unit

Jennifer Barrons

Makeup/Hair Coordinator

James Bayliss

Set Designer, Los Angeles unit

Anna Behlmer

Re-rec mixer

Bob Behr

Foley Editor

Tov Belling

"B" Camera 1st Assistant, splinter unit

John Berger

Assistant art Director, Los Angeles unit

Erik Bernstein

Assistant chief lighting tech, Los Angeles unit

Stan Blackwell

1st unit Coordinator

Thomas Blake


Joel Blanchard

Special Effects tech

Tom Boland

Visual Effects prod

Rudy Bonner

Standby painter, Japan unit

John Bonnin

Libra head

Dave Booth

Special Effects tech

Louise Boothby

Off set 3rd Assistant Director

Tristan Bourne

Assistant art Director, Japan unit

Jamie Boyce

Set dresser, Los Angeles unit

Tatjana Bozinovski

Paint/Rotoscope Supervisor, Flash Film Works

Rachel Bracegirdle

Loc Assistant

Steven Brennan

On-set dresser

Josh Breslow

Post prod Assistant

Bridget Brewer

Horse wrangler

Rick Broderman

2d scenic

Cheryl Brown

Facilities Assistant

J. C. Brown

Graphic artist

Thomas H. Brown

Special Effects tech

Tom Brown

Paint Supervisor

Anne Bruning

Prod Supervisor

Bob Buck

Costume Coordinator

Andrew Buckley

Health & safety Coordinator

Chris Burian-mohr

Supervisor art Director

Lois Burwell

Makeup Department head

Jon Bush

Lead, Los Angeles unit

Dean Bushby

Special Effects tech

Kevin Butson


Kami Calevro

Accounting Assistant

Guy Campbell

Off set 2d Assistant Director

Joanna Campbell


Lucinda Campbell


Gary Capo

2d unit Director, splinter unit

Gary Capo

Director of Photographer, splinter unit

Javier Carillo

Const gen foreman

Paula Carswell


David Casey

Swing gang

Patrick Cassidy


Corey Castellano

Addl makeup

Dean Caulfield

Stunt rider

Mari-an Ceo

Key Costume

Ollie Chadwick

Loc Assistant

William Chalk

2d on-set dresser

William 'rob' Chalk

Greens foreman, Japan unit

Brent A. Chan

Stunt performer

Lauro Chartrand

Co-fight Arrangements

Del Chatterton

Off set addl 3rd Assistant Director

Mike Ching

Stunt performer

Karl Chisholm

Special Effects tech

Dr. Kenji Cho

Japanese doctor

Phil Chong

Stunt performer

Gunner Clancy

Assistant to Ms. Wagner

Dean Clarke

Special Effects tech

Peter Clarke

Assistant Props master

Dolores Clay


Peter Cleveland

Special Effects tech

Stacy Clinger

Paint foreman

John Coats

Matte painting Supervisor, Flash Film Works

Samuel M. Cobb

Const medic

David A. Cohen

Dial Editor

David Cole

Loc Assistant, Japan unit

Kim Coleman

Casting Associate

Byron Connew

Swing gang

Sophia Cook

Costume Associate

Kate Corrigan

Set Costume

Mick Corrigan

Stunt rider

Jonathan Costelloe

Stunt rider

James Cottle

Chain mail assembly

Don Coufal

Boom Operator

Paula Coulthard

Costume props Supervisor

Jason Cox

Set prod Assistant

Jackie Old Coyote

Stunt performer

Thomas 'mike' Craven

Special Effects tech

Tim Crosbie

VFX Supervisor, Rising Sun Pictures

Emma Cross

Addl 2d Assistant Director

Lorraine Crossman

Set Costume

Ngaia Toroa Croyden

Loc Assistant

Tom Cruise


Ricardo Cruz

Stunt rider

Vic Cuccia

Transportation capt

Tulsi Cullen

Costume Assistant

Geoff Curtis

Special Effects tech

Lenny Dalrymple

Special Effects tech

Mitchell Dauterive

Prod Supervisor

Alaynna Davis

Stunt performer

Christine Davis

Stunt performer

Richard Davis

Loc Manager

Sarah Davis

Stunt performer

R. Michael De Chellis

Rigging gaffer, Los Angeles unit

Kevin De La Noy

Unit Production Manager

Steven Dearth

Special Effects tech

Dave Degaetano

Const Coordinator

Oscar Delgadillo

Set dresser, Los Angeles unit

Ronald Denny


Kim Derry

Special Effects tech

Robert Deschane

ADR mixer

Jean-jacques Desplanques

Stunt performer

Sgt. Maj. James D. Dever

Military tech adv

Geoff Dibben

Key off set 2d Assistant Director

Ngila Dickson

Costume Design

Lisa Chu Dietze

DGA trainee

Dino Dimuro

Sound Editing

Graham Dolan

Horse trainer

Shirley Dolle

Addl hair

Louise Dove


Michael Doven

Associate Producer

Shane Down

Swing gang

Victor Dubois


Amanda Duncan

Extras casting Assistant

Stephen Dunham

Stunt performer

Mathew Dunne

1st Assistant Director, splinter unit

Megan Dwyer

Addl makeup

Polly Earnshaw

Lead crowd makeup artist

Craig Eastman


Don Easy

Facilities lighting

Greg Eby

New Zealand loc accountant

Kristian Eek

Production Assistant

Al Eisenmann Ii

3rd Props master, Los Angeles unit

Al Eisenmann

Stunt double

Katalin Elek

Addl makeup

Zoltan Elek

Crowd makeup artist

Patrick Shining Elk

Stunt performer

Maggie Elliot

Makeup Artist

Geoff Ellis

Assistant Props master

Tom Engelman


Victor Ennis

1st Assistant Sound Editor

Steve Erdody


Terry Erickson

Special Effects tech

Josh Ernstrom

Set prod Assistant

Kendall Errair

Mr. Cruise's Costume

Sian Evans


Tim Everitt

Anim Supervisor, Flash Film Works

John Fagan

Special Effects tech

Doug Falconer

Special Effects tech

John Paul Fasal

Addl audio

Michael Fauntleroy

"A" Camera 1st Assistant, splinter unit

Martha Fein

Prosthetic painter

Guy Feldman

Special Effects tech

John Fenton

Loc Assistant

George Ferguson


Ted Field

Executive Producer

Rick Findlater

Addl makeup

Eric 'fish' Fishman

Props Assistant, Los Angeles unit

Tyson Fitzgerald

Prod staff Assistant

Elizabeth Flaherty

Assistant art Director

Vincent Flaherty

Firing weapons specialist

Patrick Flanagan

Digital artist, Pixel Magic

Paul Flinchbaugh

Assistant Sound Editor

David Fogg

Compositing Supervisor, Flash Film Works

Sean Foot

Prosthetic tech

Paul Ford

Set dec foreman, Los Angeles unit

Dave Foreman

Stunt performer

Alexandria Forster

Costume Supervisor

Robyn Forster

Costume props Supervisor

Bruce Fowler


Billy "butch" Frank


Jessica Franks

Set prod Assistant

Jessica Franks

Visual Effects Assistant Coordinator

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Dec 5, 2003
Premiere Information
World premiere in Tokyo, Japan: 22 Nov 2003; Los Angeles premiere: 1 Dec 2003; New York premiere: 2 Dec 2003
Production Company
Bedford Falls Company; Cruise/Wagner Productions; Radar Pictures; Samurai Pictures, LLC
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures
United States
Japan; New Zealand; Los Angeles, California, USA; Engyoji Temple,Japan; Himeji,Japan; Kyoto,Japan; Lake Mangamahoe,New Zealand; Los Angeles, California, United States; Mt. Shosha,Japan; New Plymouth,New Zealand; Taranaki, New Zealand

Technical Specs

2h 34m

Award Nominations

Set Decoration


Best Costume Design


Best Sound


Best Supporting Actor

Ken Watanabe




At the end of the film, the first time the cast credits appear, Tom Cruise is listed first and above title followed by principal actors. After initial crew credits, the cast is listed again in order of appearance. Opening voice-over narration by Timothy Spall, who portrayed "Simon Graham," describes the legend of the Japanese islands' formation. Throughout the film, Cruise, as the character "Nathan Algren," also provides voice-over narration from his notebooks, which recount his captivity, and growing interest and resulting conversion to the ways of the Samurai. Spall provides a voice-over narration at several other times in the film, explaining some historical context and concluding at the end of the film that although no one ever saw Algren again, he May have finally found peace. In the closing credits, special thanks was given to the following people: Government of New Zealand, The People of Taranaki, New Zealand, Peabody Essex Museum, Weta Workshop, City of Himeji, City of Kyoto, Engyoji Temple on Mt. Shosha and United Performers Studio.
       The Last Samurai was based, in part, on the Samurai Revolt of 1876-1877 and the Meiji Restoration in a rapidly modernizing Japan. For hundreds of years, Samurai had acted as personal armies for warring land owners, but by the 1600s, Shogun Tokugawa created peace among the factions, causing the Samurai class to turn to more domestic life. By 1854, the Japanese had signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening the country to international trade. However, by 1868, the Samurai, disgruntled by poor wages, led a successful insurgency against the Shogunate regime, thus beginning the period known as the Meiji Restoration. The new genro, ruling court officials, abolished the ancient class system, redistributed land and banned the wearing of swords in public, a direct insult to the Samurai.
       Information found in a September 2003 Premiere article and the pressbook on the film states that Radar Picture's producer Scott Kroopf claimed the original idea for the film was based on the first cattle drive in Japan during the country's modernization in the late 1870s. After several drafts from various writers, Kroopf hired Vincent Ward, who changed the cowboy drama into a saga about a Civil War veteran. After Ward and Kroopf went on to other projects, Zwick took charge of the film and hired John Logan to complete the script. The final screenplay includes writing from Academy Award-winning director Zwick and producer Marshall Herskovitz, who are both AFI alumni and longtime writing and producing partners.
       Although the character of Algren is fictional, according to the pressbook, the character "Katsumoto" is based on Samurai warrior Saigo Takamori, who led the defeat against the Shogunate Army to restore imperial power. Additionally, Simon Graham was based on American photographer Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in Japan in the 1890s writing for Harper's and The Atlantic Monthly. Zwick stated that he was influenced by Takamori's story as it was told in the book The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris. After installing fifteen-year-old Emperor Meiji, Takamori was appointed to the post of commander-in-chief of the armed services. Disgruntled by the Meiji regime opening its doors to western ideas, the more traditional Takamori soon retired from public service to Satsuma.
       When he later discovered that the government, fearing a revolt, was monitoring him and his students, Takamori, insulted by the distrust, led his 20,000 Samurai into battle against the government's 50,000 soldiers, who were armed with Western firearms. In 1877, after months of battle, a wounded Takamori, unable to continue fighting, committed seppuku, a ritual suicide using the Samurai's own sword. Japanese still honor Takamori as a symbol of devotion to one's principles, although others believe he was a pampered and conservative aristocrat. The Samurai code, known as Bushido, emphasized loyalty, courage and sacrifice. It was also influenced by Zen Buddhism's concept of living in the moment and incorporated both meditation and the art of the "tea ceremony," which are both depicted in the film.
       According to Tom Cruise, The Last Samurai, a book about the film published by Warner Bros., the brutal battles against Cheyenne Native Americans, which Algren relives in flashback sequences throughout the film, are based on two actual battles: the 1864 Sand Creek, CO massacre and the 1868 attack at the Washita River in Oklahoma Indian Territory by General George Armstrong Custer on the same tribe, which had surrendered only days before.
       According to the pressbook, Cruise trained for over eight months to perfect Japanese swordsmanship and martial arts, and performed all his own stunts during over two months of battle sequences. Supporting actor Ken Watanabe also trained intensely and performed most of his stunts. Over 400 New Zealanders, including 75 of Japanese ancestry, and 600 Japanese extras were used in the film.
       Meiji-era costumes created by award-winning designer Ngila Dickson and her 80-member team included over 250 sets of armor and period dress for village life, American Indian wars and diverse Japanese street scenes. Portions of the film were shot at Kyoto, Mt. Shosha, the village of Himeji and nearby Engyoji Temple, Japan, which had not allowed filming on the premise previously. Shooting also took place in Los Angeles, CA, where the Warner Bros. New York Street lot was turned into the congested 19th century Ginza district in Tokyo. New Zealand locations included New Plymouth, the Lake Mangamahoe area and the Taranaki region, where set decorators planted period gardens and hundreds of pear, apple, cherry and bamboo trees to recreate a rural Samurai village.
       According to a January 14, 2003 HR article, members of the Maori, indigenous New Zealanders, objected to filming at Taranaki, which they consider sacred, and sought compensation for the footage of the mountain. The outcome of this dispute is undetermined.
       An November 11, 2003 DV article states that writer Garner Simmons filed charges against the Writers Guild of America-West (WGA) for their refusal to arbitrate his writing credit on The Last Samurai. Simmons argued that he and Michael Alan Eddy wrote a script with a plot similar to that of the film in 1992, and Warner Bros. refused to give them writing credit onscreen for their initial work. After the WGA found insufficient evidence of a link between the two scripts in a "participating writers investigation," Simmons and Eddy appealed to the WGA Board, but were refused an arbitration hearing. A January 6, 2004 Los Angeles Times article reported that Eddy filed a federal lawsuit against the WGA on January 5, 2004, accusing them of spurning his efforts to secure proper writing credit and compensation for his screenplay by blocking Eddy from entering the arbitration proceedings. Documentation filed that week states that Interscope Communications, predecessor to Radar Pictures, paid Eddy for a screenplay entitled Eastern Western and then hired Simmons to rewrite the script, which was retitled West of the Rising Sun. The article then states that Ward gave this draft to Zwick, who stated that this draft was the script about an early Japanese cattle drive. A March 26, 2004 Los Angeles Times article states that a federal judge dismissed a suit filed by Eddy against Zwick, Herskovitz, Radar Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros., in which he had accused them of depriving him of onscreen credit writing credit. This ruling did not effect Eddy's federal lawsuit against the WGA, which Eddy continued to pursue. The outcome of this suit is unknown.
       As noted in a December 19, 2003 Entertainment Weekly article, The Last Samurai marked the first American feature film role for actor Ken Watanabe, a famous Japanese film and television actor. The picture also marked the film debuts of Shichinosuke Nakamura and kung-fu expert Shin Koyamada. In addition to being selected as one of AFI's top ten films of 2003, The Last Samurai was selected as one of the top ten films by the National Board of Review, which also named Zwick as Best Director of 2003.
       The film was nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role-Drama (Cruise), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Watanabe) and Best Original Score (Hans Zimmer). Watanabe received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor by the Screen Actors Guild. Additionally, producers Herskovitz, Zwick, Cruise and Paula Wagner were nominated for the PGA's Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award. The Art Directors Guild nominated the picture for Best Production Design of a Period or Fantasy Film. The Last Samurai also received Academy Award nominations in the following categories: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Costume Design, Sound Editing and Best Supporting Actor (Watanabe).

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the 2004 Best Director award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Voted one of the 10 best films of 2003 by the American Film Institute (AFI).

Winner of the 2003 award for Best Director (Edward Zwick) by the National Board of Review.

Winner of the 2003 award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture by the Visual Effects Society (VES).

Released in United States Winter December 5, 2003

Released in United States on Video May 4, 2004

Released in United States Winter December 5, 2003

Released in United States on Video May 4, 2004

Nominated for the 2004 Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) award for Best Supporting Actor (Ken Watanabe).