Cultural Analysis of "The Last Samurai"

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Cultural Analysis of "The Last Samurai"

By | October 2005
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An Old Movie in a New Light

"The Last Samurai" is one of my favorite films; I have watched it at least ten times. This time around, I was forced to watch it from a completely different point of view. I had never realized how much you can learn about the Japanese culture from this movie. It depicts the Japanese culture very well, and shows the contrasts between that culture and American culture very blatantly. Although the main conflict of the film lies within the Japanese culture, it encompasses the loss of cultural identity, and the movement of some Japanese to embrace a more modern, western culture. By doing so, it pushes the cultural differences to the forefront.

This film is set in Japan during the 1870's. During this period of time Japan was engaged in a civil war. While some of the country desired a more modern, western way of life, the samurai, the traditional warriors and protectors of Japan, felt that the change was occurring to quickly and at the expense of the nation's cultural identity.

Traditionally, Japan is a collectivistic culture in which the well-being of the country, and one's family is placed above an individual's desires. They live in the same village as their ancestors did, and they rely on other family members greatly. This, of course, is not the point of view of American culture. We are an inherently individualistic culture. Japan also values certain aspects of a masculine and a feminine society. This is defined in our textbook as: first, the degree to which gender-specific roles are valued; and secondly, the degree to which a culture values traditionally "masculine" or "feminine" values. The Japanese value gender-specific roles highly. Katsumoto, the dominant male, is the leader of the warriors in the village. The other men in the village devote their time to practice and providing for their family. Women, on the other hand, are responsible for raising the children, keeping the house, and educating the kids....