*The money grabbing, commerce obsessed westerner. *The evil easterner who has been seduced by the money obsessed values of the west. *The noble, savage easterner who turns out to be more spiritual and ethical than the typical westerner. *The disillusioned westerner who finally learns the higher spiritual values of the easterner and throws in his lot with them. *The neutral observer who records what happens and in doing so highlights the moral victory of the easterner.
Haven’t we met the above stereotypes before in various guises? Replace ‘Japanese samurai’ with ‘principled Native Americans’ and you get ‘Dances With Wolves.’
I went to see ‘The Last Samurai’ with no.1 son on the 1st day of the Lunar New Year. We enjoyed it. We must have because it was a rather long movie and we didn’t even feel the time. Like I said, it was a rollicking action movie, with powerful evocative music and breath taking cinematography.
And yes, ladies, Tom Cruise is cute. I guess. I’ll take Koyuki anytime. Wow! Wasabi hot! But I digress…
‘The Last Samurai’ is an excellent action flick. But nothing more. It shouldn’t pretend to be otherwise.
As I watched the movie I can’t help but remember that when the bushido code eventually embraced modern armaments, we had one of the contributory factors of World War 2 in the Pacific.
My dad was a young adult in Malaysia during the Second World War. He remembered friends who died during the Japanese Occupation. He saw people beheaded in public. He knew of women who were raped and killed by occupying Japanese soldiers.
At the same time he also recalled an occasion when he met some British soldiers resting by the roadside. As a young boy, he was naturally intrigued by the guns the soldiers were carrying. He came closer to get a better look. One of the British soldiers yelled: “Get away from there you Chinese pig.”
My dad had no illusions about the Japanese or about Westerners.
And that is my main beef about movies like ‘The Last Samurai’. They idealize one group, in this case the Japanese Samurai at the turn of the last century, while demonizing others.
Heck the samurai could do no wrong. (Ok, maybe they needed some work in the chivalry department.) They were brave. They were spiritual. They were one with the land. They were people of honour. They have cute kids. They were not interested in money. They smell good because they bathe regularly. They know advanced methods of hand-to-hand combat. They choose death over dishonour.
And the westerners? Most were into techno worship and crass commercialization. They fought without honour. They kill innocent women and children. And they export their corrupt values to other races. Oh yes, and they smell like pigs.
Anyone who takes this caricature as gospel truth needs to take ‘Discernment 101’.
This however, IS gospel truth: Christ and His Word stand in judgement of all races and all cultures. And we have all been found wanting.
Truth is, there is good to be found in all cultures, testimony to the divine origin of the human race. We were created by a holy God and fallen human nature still carries evidence of that goodness.
But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore all races and human cultures also carry the mark of Adam. Sin in its many destructive forms can be found in all races and in all cultures. Just take a glimpse at history. Just open today’s papers.
Which is why it really is so weird that Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion Of The Christ’ has been accused of being anti-Semitic. Those who nailed Jesus to the Cross were finally ‘everyman’. This has always been the Christian message.
So ‘The Last Samurai’ is a great action movie. But it will just be plain silly to see it as an accurate portrayal of human nature. It is a blatant romanticizing of one community for the purpose of setting up ‘the good guys versus the bad guys’.
For a much more sophisticated and nuanced treatment of the interaction between modern Japan and the West, dig up your DVD of Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Rain’. That too was one great action movie. And its cinematography was no less awe-inspiring. But Ridley Scott had a much better understanding of the good and the bad in all of us.
‘The Last Samurai’ has been judged at the court of history. And by the Word. And has been found wanting. Because humankind has been judged by history. And by the Word. And hasbeen found wanting.
But there is also good news for all.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus?” Romans 3:23-24 ESV
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan