When we are out for dinner with friends the other week - we got talking about films and books. And the film 'The Last Samurai' was mentioned - I'm afraid I jumped in with a comment about it being dreadful, which was rather embarrassing (and rude) given our friend was saying how much he liked it. My lack of manners aside (which I must work on) I wanted to think about why I don't like the film, was I being prejudiced because it stars Tom Cruise, which in an of itself would mean I would normally avoid the film as I find him intensely irritating? After all this is a film which garnered critical acclaim and was nominated for 4 oscars.
So when it came on TV this week I decided to watch it, and to try and watch it with an open mind. Yes it was watchable and visually impressive. And I didn't not enjoy it, but wouldn't go so far as to say I particularly enjoyed it, I didn't get emotionally engagedt, to borrow a phrase from a friend I was a little 'meh' about it. I watched the film when it first came out and I thought it was based heavily on the book Shogun by Clavell, whilst I have now discovered that it is not intended as a film of the book (which is a good as the lead characters are completely different!) it does seem to borrow heavily on story elements (isolated 'barbarian' westerner comes to Japan, is a prisoner of the tradititional Samurai class, becomes an adviser, friend to the Samurai leader, comes to respect and admire the culture, eventually becoming a Samurai himself during a civil war) .
Shogun is an epic novel at 1125 pages, which I loved when I first read it, it has a huge scope and a wealth of depth and detail which simply cannot be translated into a film of 154 min and I suppose it would be unfair to expect it to, the internal monologues, side stories, character expositions etc simply wouldn't be practical, but I still found the film a little simplistic. Although I can accept that the film does give a glimpse, a window into the incredibly complex and fascinating culture of that Japanese Era (although I should point out that Shogun is set rather earlier in history than The Last Samurai film), and if I hadn't already read books about the period it would probably intrigue me enough to seek them out. But I shan't be watching it again, and I won't be buying it. But equally I shan't be so quick to be rude about it.
(I can't help but think though that without Tom Cruise I would have enjoyed it far more! oh and the American role in Japanese history of the time is predictably exaggerated if you don't believe me read the IMDB statement of factual errors: Japan *did* seek military advisors in the latter half of the 1800s to form a modern Army. The only problem with this is that they didn't consult the Americans to assist them. The most successful army at that point was the Prussian (not yet German) Army, whom they recruited for training purposes... as well as British naval attachés to assist in the creation of a modern fleet)
Having revisited my opinion of The Last Samurai, I thought I should also revisit the novel Shogun by Clavell and so duly ordered a copy through work - and it arrived the day before yesterday -I'm only 86 pages into the 1125 pages but so far it is as brilliant as I remembered it from when I first read my mum's copy 11 years ago... I'll report back once I finish it!
If anyone else is interested in reading Shogun...
Shogun by James Clavell
first published in 1975, there have been many editions since. I have:
9780340776163 (2006) Hodder & Stoughton
Blurb: 'The epic saga of Pilot-Major John Blackthorne, who is shopwrecked on Japan, the most alien of shores. The novel charts Blackthorne's rise from the status of reviled foreigner up to the heights of trusted advisor and, eventually, samurai. All as civil war looms over the fragile country'
If you want a copy, please buy it from a real bookshop, the sort you find on the high street - you'll miss us when we all disappear and you have no choice but to shop online!