Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Last Samurai, 01-01-04, Meditation on Blood in Films

On the afternoon of the first we went to see "The Last Samurai." While it is a visually stunning film and accurate in styles and technology, I found it unsatisfying in a number of regards. Although there were indeed rebellions of samurai against the reforms that occurred as part of the Mejii restoration and the modernization campaign, the movie plot involving the participation of an American soldier is pure fantasy. I was thrown off by Algren and Bagley being permitted to wear their sabers into the presence of the Emperor, for a start, and for a finish, imagined I could hear howls of outrage coming from the direction of Japan as Algren takes the place of Katsumoto as the Emperor's teacher. (Anyone know how this was reviewed in Japan? I'd be curious to know--.) The Algren character, consumed with remorse at his part in massacres such as Wounded Knee, becomes sympathetic with the "similar" "vanishing culture" of the samurai in a very "Dances with Wolves" fashion, but we never really hear why the samurai culture is any different from the "noble savages" of the Comanche or the Sioux. The term "bushido" is mentioned exactly once, but we never get any description of what it is or means, and why it is more significant than just being "the old ways".

The battle scenes are violent and realistic in most aspects, although, if anything, the effects of gunfire are underestimated. At the climactic battle, Katsumoto remains awake and alert with two .45 caliber exit wounds showing through his upper back (i.e., chest wounds) and has to beg Algren to help him commit seppuku. In another scene, a young samurai charges into rifle fire, taking at least a dozen hits at close range, only to gracefully slide to his knees and fall on his face, rather than being thrown on his back. One concern did not materialize—excess blood. Indeed, given the amount of combat, the movie is actually very bloodless. Katsumoto does not bleed from the wounds described above, nor is any spilled blood seen when Katsumoto assists the seppuku of General Hasegawa, or when they are stepping over the fallen bodies of Katsumoto's guards. The occasional bloodied nose or bloodied sword blade is seen, but that's about all.

I was interested by an article in the paper recently remarking on the ascendancy of swords over guns in recent films, including "Kill Bill," and "Return of the King," which caused me to realize that, despite the many battles and deaths in "Lord of the Rings," very little blood is seen. (This is helped by the fact that orc blood is evidently black.) Boromir doesn't get a chance to bleed from his arrow wounds, although if I recall, he does the cough-blood-from-the-corner-of-the-mouth thing, which is always a sign of a mortal wound in anyone but the protagonist. Haldir's death, his skull split from behind by an orc chopper, could have been bloody, but was not due to tasteful camera angles. Theoden is crushed beneath his fallen horse and Eowyn has her arm broken by the Witch-King's mace, both as written by Tolkien, which may imply that he had an aversion to having his heroes hacked to death. Tolkien does not describe Faramir's wounds, but in the film he has evidently been dragged by his horse with most of the damage being presumably fractures and contusions. Rohirrim, elves, and Gondorian soldiers die by the hundreds in the various battles, but, as extras should, it's in the background. All in all, keeping the gore level so low in both films really is a remarkable accomplishment.
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