Random Ninja Attacks

A week ago, it being Exam Time, I spurned a chance to see The Last Samurai, but a window of opportunity last night sent Sean and myself out to see it. I was a little reluctant, because while sometimes you hear good and bad things about movies all I’d heard about The Last Samurai was “OK” or “Enh”, and I figured that a work that can’t evoke passionate criticism both ways isn’t much of a work. But, I thought to myself, all the crucial ingredients seem to be there – honor, obligation, sacrifice, well-choreographed swordplay and beautiful, sprawling scenery that contains prettyboy actors getting pounded down.

So we went to the movies. Read on if you like, but I’m going so spoil some of it.

One note:

Dear Movie Advertisers,

I realize that I am not a producer of commercials myself, and I acknowledge that I’m not familiar with the various intriciacies of your profession. Having said that, I might humbly suggest that you might want to try a new approach; for example, I propose that you produce advertisments that make people want to purchase the products featured therein. That sounds crazy, I know. But it might work better than producing advertisements that make me want to punch you until pieces of you fall off, that just piss all over my moviegoing experience.

I’m just talking, here. Give it some thought. Thanks.

Now then, on the movie: The Last Samurai is a movie of missed opportunities.

It is a good movie, and that’s all. Things that kept it from being a great movie are few, but noteworthy.

  • For Christ’s sake, lose the soaring violins. It’s cheap and manipulative, and if you’ve done your job as a storyteller, they’re not just superfluous, but patronizing. They are the emoticons of the movie industry, screaming “we don’t think you’re smart enough to know how you should feel about this, so here’s some pointers”. This could be applied to virtually any movie these days, but in this particular instance it really pissed me off. I don’t know how much of the Dogme 95 Vows I buy into, but I can get all the way behind rule number two.
  • He should not have kissed the girl, period. It’s OK for a relationship to be understated. See Li Mu Bai’s relationship with Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon for details.
  • When I saw all those random ninjas, I was like “Holy crap!” And then I got super pissed off.
  • If you’re going to analogize the cutting off of the topknot with being scalped, which I’ll admit I thought was pretty cool, you should first let your audience know that the topknot was the mark of the Samurai class, and then treat this consistently throughout.
  • Throwing swords has never, ever worked. Ever. I promise.
  • Again with the violins, damn you.
  • Wrapping up a surprisingly powerful last few scenes with an “I don’t know what happened, but I’m sure he lived happily ever after” ending was weak, so weak. Such a letdown.

So there you go: The Last Samurai is an A paper marked down to a B- for the spelling mistakes.

Come to think of it, there are lots of movies out there that could be improved by random ninja attacks, and I think the world needs some concise way to describe that class of movie. Maybe we should adopt some simple convention or phrase like, say, “starring Hugh Grant”.


  1. Zeynep
    Posted December 13, 2003 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “I figured that a work that can’t evoke passionate criticism both ways isn’t much of a work.”

    That’s a very good observation, actually; thanks for sharing it. (It’s also going a long way towards explaining why movies like Moulin Rouge make people either love them very much or hate them very much.)

    That Vow of Chastity… sorry that I’m not artistically minded and all, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t want to watch a movie produced following all of those rules, not unless the script soars. The way it seems to be, that’s a scriptwriter’s creed, actually. But a few of the rules would preclude me from enjoying a book written by following them, too.

    Movies are supposed to “give people new ways to dream”, as well. “Genre is not acceptable” is therefore not acceptable, neither is the “Must be here and now.”

  2. Posted December 13, 2003 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I think more movies would be improved by adding Hugh Grant. Consider: Ninjas attack, Hugh stammers and blushes. Classic!

    Further, consider the following, at whatever length you like: Hugh Grant in Ewan McGregor’s role in the new (bad) Star Wars movies. Hugh Grant as Neo in the Matrix. Hugh Grant as Hugo Weaving in the Matrix. Hugh Grant as Vin Diesel in XXX.

    See? They’re all better.