The Last Samurai: Social, political, and military analysis
I just finished watching the Last Samurai for the first time. While I wanted to see Tom Cruise kill himself at the end, still, it wasn’t that bad even though the plot and context were typical of Hollywood: Leftist Hollywood but perhaps that would be redundant a characterization.
I went and saw it not because I love Tom Cruise but because I have just finished reading Shogun by James Clavell primarily due to Soob’s listing of that novel in Quantum Library. One of the reasons (okay the only reason) I hadn’t seen it yet, even though I knew about it and heard the name often, was because of the star actor, Tom Cruise. I had seen him in other flicks like Mission Impossible I and II and I wasn’t impressed. Unlike many people who criticize a movie or book by its plot, excitement, lack of it, slowness, or lack of “authenticity” or “acting ability”, I didn’t like Tom Cruise because I didn’t like Tom Cruise’s actions. Not the “authenticity” or “acting ability”, you understand. I am concerned with the ethics of what the producers, writers, and directors have their people do in a film and I am concerned with the type of actors that agree to accept a role in such scripts.
To start off with some relevant details about me, I am a student of the Art of Propaganda as well as the Art of War. What this means is just that these topics are not typically entertainment value to me. They are interesting, yes, but they are interesting because they have real consequences to real people not because they look good on film or because it is an exciting thing to read about. Or rather, not solely (or even primarily) because it is an exciting thing to read about.
The Last Samurai is a proto-typical Hollywood construction made out of equal parts political entropy (corruption), black vs white characterizations, and the white guilt desire to resolve things through war and death (revolutonary means).
Evidence for my first claim, political entropy, can be seen in how the movie portrays the Emperor Meiji (the movie may or may not call him that but that is the name of the Emperor ruling over that specific time period the movie wants to highlight) as a uncertain youth that gets manipulated by his advisers (oil and railroad tycoons, robber barons, and Dick Cheney look alikes) into sending conscripts, downtrodden blacks and minorities, into a war for exploitation (war for oil, blood for oil, etc). A pretty concise overview, eh? I thought so.
Normally, that kind of portrayal of things wouldn’t be too far off the mark. In actual fact, for most of human history that is exactly the type of men or situation that are the norm. The Emperor of Japan, even though he is descended (unbroken) from the Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu (just call her Sarah Palin), the Imperial family has no revenue. The Emperor owns all land and is the divine monarch of the Land of the Gods (Nippon or the four Japanese islands) yet only the daimyos (japanese feudal lords) are able to collect taxes (measured in kokus of rice cause food means armies) from that land. Yeah, it’s a weird and screwed up system for those that were raised or brought up in Eurpean cultures derived from absolute monarchism. Now, what this normally means is pretty simple. The Emperor is the source of all power yet the Emperor often couldn’t feed himself without the daimyos giving him charity. That is true, you understand, and if that is true, what do you think that means for the power structure of Japan? Now, let’s skip to the Meiji Era, in which the Emperor Meiji got some influence and started getting rid of samurai and their old ways. One reason was because the Westernization brought in by America and Europe meant that Japan could become industrialized and thus, less feudal. Less feudalism means more influence for the Emperor and an easier life for the peasants. (what, you thought the peasants had it nice and easy under the samurai? Hah, wait until I get there) Back in the history of Japan, a lot of Emperors were “dupes” of daimyos and ended up doing what those daimyos or shoguns wanted. Just think of George W. Bush in a monkey suit listening to Dick Cheney and Rove telling Bush what to say and you’ll get the idea.
Now, I say “normally, that kind of portrayal of things wouldn’t be too far off the mark” because when Hollywood does something it ain’t normal: period. When Hollywood does something like the Last Samurai and makes the Japanese Emperor into a puppet you can bet it is because the producers or writers believed the same thing about America’s leaders. Nasty thing being a student of the two Arts: nasty in that you get to see a lot of stuff most people don’t and most of it ain’t pretty or pleasant. Still, seeing such things that most people refuse to see or are unable to see does make you wiser. It gives you a getter grasp of such uncommon subjects as manipulating people, waging war, ensuring the peace, and the various other things that are essentially macroscopic derivations of what usually goes on in civilian life. For example, say you want a job so you want to make yourself look good and your competition look bad. Add in some assassination, deception, bribery, poison, sex, suicide, and you basically end up with war and propaganda. Basically, you understand, not truly. Just basically as in if you pour water on salt it is still basically salt and water but there’s a whole world of technicalities in solvents and ionic bonding and all that other stuff that isn’t mentioned in the basics.
One of the reasons why Hollywood often makes things about America yet acts like they are telling a story about Japanese or Native American or Black or minority noble savage multiculturalism is due to the fact that Hollywood is just one giant propaganda apparatus of Leftism. To a certain extent, people in Hollywood at the elite (meaning top not necessarily competent) level think they are comprehending different cultures and putting themselves in other people’s shoes via “multiculturalism” but in reality what they are doing is just taking their culture and forcibly ramming it down the throat of a puppet they created to represent this “other culture”. This is multiculturalism. It is only “multi” in the sense that it is schizophrenic but the fundamental base or original personality was always the same; you always have the same body: if you have two personalities in two bodies, then you have separate identities, not schizophrenia.
Now some folks may say that is a rather harsh and all too serious a rendition of Hollywood: which is just designed to provide entertainment and not serious political commentary or analysis. Students of Propaganda and War do not have the luxury to pretend that this is true in this day and age, however. Other people can, if they wish (and they do wish), but those that want the truth must pierce a couple veils of illusion to get there.
So why isn’t it true? Now we get into the black vs white characterizations I mentioned in my thesis. One of the basic principles of propaganda is that you convince people through appealing to their emotions. However, to appeal to people’s emotions you must first understand what they believe to be true: you must understand what they are thinking of even if you don’t understand how they got to the process because you don’t know their life story yet. Currently, Americans think that killing children in cold blood is evil: killing women who can’t defend themselves with guns is evil: slaughtering innocent civilians that you know are innocent is evil: exploiting poor and powerless people to fuel your egomania and megalomania is evil. So, it just happens to be, coincidentally, that The Last Samurai has all of those elements, but only when talking about anybody associated with Western Civilization: America and the Westernized Japanese. Funny that. Propaganda is only perceived by two kinds of people. Propagandists creating the propaganda and propagandists being propagandized against. You cannot be “vigilant” if you lack the knowledge of how to conduct propaganda. That’d be like a person that knows how to “defend himself” when he has no knowledge in the use of bare hands, knives, sticks, swords, or firearms. It’s going to be a nice and idealistic dream, but in reality he is going to get jacked up and buried. Now certainly, the defenseless civilian or even military member can surely perceive that something bad has happened, but the exact details won’t be clear unless you know the fundamental principles of violence (or in this case propaganda, manipulation, deception, and all the derivatives). Even if you are trained, as the US military is trained, to shoot and follow orders, you still do not necessarilly understand the necessity of those orders nor do you understand all the tactical factors in a shooting battle. Comprehension and fighting are not necessarily the same things: meaning you can be part of the propaganda war or the war war and yet also be ignorant of much of it. This is true for many soldiers and civilians. It doesn’t matter and it is no shame to admit one is ignorant of what one is ignorant of. You cannot change your state of ignorance; you can only change the state of your knowledge. It doesn’t matter precisely because nobody was ever born being a military genius or knowing all the things that he has to know to be successful in civilian life or politics. We are not a hive mind civilization that passes genetic knowledge and history through blood. And that’s a good thing, by the way.
Now as a piece of propaganda The Last Samurai is rather transparent. For one thing, Americans are seen as slaughtering defenseless women and children (aiming at and shooting children in the back is both cowardly and yet less ruthless than shooting them in the face). The perception of innocence is created by the main character saying, in a flashback, that the village they are going to raid for punitive measures weren’t part of whatever attack they are taking retribution for. Now, the US military’s first instinct when presented with war atrocities is to 1. Find the Truth and 2. Punish the perpetrators of the atrocity or lie. In reality, though, some of that may happen and some of that won’t: not even the United States Army or Marines is perfect or ideal. In the history of the world, absent of America, neither 1 nor 2 happened 95% of the time, or even 99% of the time. This is a context few comprehend or wish to know. And the perfect example of that is when the Last Samurai presented war atrocities and blamed it on America and used it as a plot device to plague the main character with, and yet nobody involved in the atrocity was ever punished in the movie. Justice was not done. Claims of wrongness were made and justice was not done. That is one of the various methods in propaganda of creating resentment, for without justice and resolution people tend to just stick that emotion inside and let it out in an explosion sometime in the future. When you get the idea of a corrupt and evil America or military and you don’t ever put a solution into place, what do you end up with except people perpetually bitter against America’s actions and the American military? You don’t get people who want to solve problems nor do you get people who want the truth of America’s wars with Indian Tribes. What you get is a bunch of fanatics or useful idiots who want to talk about the noble savage vs the decadent Western Imperialism of America or something. What you get are conscripted soldiers who don’t even know what they are conscripted. That’s the power of propaganda and it is very useful precisely because of that power.
Now we come to the third and final segment of my thesis. After having created the background of a Meiji Japan affixed with black and white characterizations of the noble savage (Indian and Samurai) vs the corrupt robber barons (Westerners or those associating with them), we get to the resolution (solution) that the movie’s script writers and directors believed would be the correct one. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they believe this is the correct solution to real problems in America or the world, but I would say that they believe that this is a noble and beautiful (ideal) solution in an ideal world (given that they made the world for their movie, it has to be an ideal, wouldn’t it).
What was their solution? Was it political reconcilliation with the Emperor of Japan, who didn’t feel any threat from the samurai in the movie but couldn’t exercise the power necessarily to reject the influence of his military and political advisers? Was it a mutually beneficial deal, one of millions made in a representative democracy every hour, between the samurai’s interests and the interests of businessmen and those interested in modernizing Japan enforced by law, personal sacrifice, or long term security institutions? No, the solution was war. Killing people. Fauking them up and taking the soils once they have gotten hammered into the earth. That’s their solution to problems between groups. But that’s not the ideal solution to people like me, who value the dignity of human lives and the liberties and rights that make life worth living. Clan warfare is simply intolerable. Nothing gets solved there and the differences it creates takes a sea of blood to smooth over.
At the end of the movie there was a political reconcliation I’ll talk about it at the end, since it is a spoiler. And it wasn’t really a political reconciliation.
The Last Samurai is a proto-typical Hollywood construction made out of equal parts political entropy (corruption), black vs white characterizations, and the white guilt desire to resolve things through war and death (revolutonary means).
So far I’ve given what I hope to be a reasonably accurate overview of the political entropy, black vs white characterizations, and the desire to use fighting as the end all and be all solution to problems between one faction’s interests and another faction’s interests. Now let us apply them to the modern world: our world. I am not going to pull any punches.
Political entropy is seen whenever a warrior king fights his way to power and keeps it by the strength of his will or the justice of his decrees (power of his armies is a base requirement already) and then has a shit son who is spoiled and pampered and ends up as a petty tyrant, playboy, or sadist after the warrior king dies. (This is almost guaranteed 100% for most dynasties in their first generation) That is political entropy: the desire of all power to corrupt and make people’s lives into crap. Of course it is not really power, like the Christian view of Satanic power, that has the desire: it is us who have the desire. The weakness is in us, not the power. It is inherent in us not inherent in the power, the ability to do things, that decays. The ability to do things is just the ability to do things. Like TNT or gunpowder or firearms, it is only good or evil because of the decision of sentient and self-aware beings like us. When people say “power corrupts”, they are just repeating the age old excuse people always give when confronted with the challenge of ensuring that power does not corrupt people and nations. Few people are able to come up with solutions to that problem and fewer people still are able to implement. The Founding Fathers were the only ones of their kind in over how many centuries and millenium of human history? How long has human beings suffered in the billions to see such a moment in history?
When people complain and complain about problems and corruption, yet do nothing constructive about it, then you have seen people who further political entropy. Got nothing constructive say? So just blow other people’s efforts up as a way to supplement your deficiency (Abu Ghraib, terrorism, Drilling in Alaska). Instead of working to solve problems between factions you just work to highlight the differences and the blood hate between those factions: highlight the atrocities committed, but only by one side, while never covering the punishments for those atrocities or the actual consequences of them in the long term.
The black and the white characterizations are so easy to do. Take the noble samurai (noble savage) in the Last Samurai as an example. You think life for the average japanese peasant under the samurai was the way they portrayed in the movie? Some kind of happy pastoral life or something that got replaced by the mechanized pollution and death of Americanization? The peasants didn’t own land in Japan’s feudal history. The Emperor owned all land and the daimyos collected the tax. How much tax did you think they had? Some had lower than 50% and some had higher than 50%, total income (which meant total harvests). And if that left you without enough food to feed your family? Oh well, that’s fate/karma/inshallah then. Then there’s the fact that samurais at one time had the legal right to just hack peasants apart with their swords to test the blades, since the sword is the soul of the samurai and thus should only feel silk or blood when drawn. And let’s take Hollywood’s black and white characterization of Indian tribes as well. They never mention the fact that on the Trail of Tears, a lot of those people who died were slaves of Indians. Even after the American Civil War, Native Americans still owned slaves. Now to a certain extent some of them were just adopting Western or American customs to better fit in. In other areas, however, weren’t the Americans just adopting the savagery of tribal warfare, neh? Why blame one rather than the other when you have to see the problem in all its respects to solve it? Must be for entertainment, but that’s not an answer I accept. Not from the Left.
Black and white characterizations suppress the knowledge of the ability for power to corrupt all and turns it into some sort of political ideology that people can buy into and say “see, Americans are bad to suppress the Old Ways”. As if the “Old Ways” are something that always needs to be preserved, eh? That means America’s Old Founding Father ways must be preserved, neh? No. It doesn’t mean that, you see. It only means savagery and war and tribal warfare and the things that result in blood feuds for centuries between clans must be preserved. When nations like America come in and stop centuries of warfare, like in Europe or Native America or Japan, then that’s the wrong thing to do. There’s a better way. The better way is to just let people kill themselves over and over, you see. See the movie if you don’t believe me. Actually, don’t see the movie for that lesson, just read the history of japan, Europe, and of Indians like the Commache. Stopping eternal warfare in Iraq is not something America should be doing. Instead, we should have listened to Biden and Democrats and divided up Iraq into one partitions and let them fight it out on their own terms sometime in the future. Won’t be bothering Biden or the Democrats.
And you know that stylized armor they had the samurai wear in the movie? Guess what the samurai were wearing back in 1600-1700 when they wanted protection when fighting their fellow daimyos for the supreme title of Shogun. They wore European plate armor. Very expensive and perhaps only the leaders could afford it, but that’s what they wore since arquebusiers could not penetrate plate armor at a certain distance nor can arrows of any type penetrate plate armor from afar. Japan was never against new ideas. It was just their social and political structure were incredibly rigid and yet incredible chaotic at the same time. For example, Japanese used wooden torpedoes in order to destroy ships at Pearl Harbor, who were docked in the very shallow harbor that regular torpedoes dropped from airplanes couldn’t be used at (torpedoes dropped from that height tended to crater at the harbor floor). The japanese’s use of wooden parts for the torpedoe fins (I believe) solved this little problem. The Japanese, when faced with problems, were not against adopting Western or new ways of thinking. Neither was the Indian tribes in America. The problem is two fold. 1. Difference of culture, which also means difference of language. 2. Inability for a social compact to be forged and enforced given the differences in culture and language. This, of course, is why Democrats want America to be divided into two primary languages and why Democrats want Iraq divided up. That will solve problems and resolve them without violence. And if you believe that, you may be the ideal candidate for con artists.
I wrote before about the spoiler at the end that I was going to write here. The final end solution was for the Emperor of Japan to speak before his advisers that the old ways must be preserved so that means the armament deal with America (war for oil and selling arms to Saddam then killing him because he won’t buy our arms anyone?) was canceled just as the baron tycoons were sealing the deal in the Emperor’s presence. That was their “solution” and “resolution” to all the deaths of samurai and Japan’s modern army alike. That was their solution to the laws created during the Meiji era that outlawed the Japanese and outlawed the carrying of swords by private militias. (so sorry but that’s what private armies are called when families wield them from a feudal/tribal era translating to a modern one)
People like me will accept the deaths of enemies and allies alike in warfare. But it has to be actually for something more valuable than the lives of those lost. Having Japan cut off an ephemeral arms deal with America, after having just used gatling guns from that deal against the samurai, has what value exactly to the old ways? And the robber American/Japanese tycoons are the ones waging war for economic gain? Totally unacceptable hypocrisy there. Even an idiot couldn’t be convinced by that: depending on his propaganda skill level, of course. And what really takes the cake is the military and socio-political retardedness that has the main character saying that the final battle in the Last Samurai is going to be their Battle of Thermopylae where 300 men held off a million man army and, through their deaths, caused the entire Persian Empire to call off the attack. So sorry but the fighter to tail ratio in those days exceeded 1 fighter per 10 cooks, so it was only 100,000 men at best and the 300 Spartans had allies in the thousands which they mention (or rather don’t mention) with about as much respect as the Left gives to the allies of America in Iraq. And it was the Battle of Palatea and the joint Greek navy that destroyed the naval supply capability of the Persian army that really stopped the Persians. Military necessity, good tactics and strategy stopped the Persians. Not some suicide charge against gatling guns, artillery, and muskets. All these historical details are not evidence of ignorancy; they are evidence of malice and purposeful manipulation of data to pull the heartstrings of the audience where directed. The Spartans of Thermopyle did not give their lives hoping for the mercy of the Persian Emperor. They gave their lives to stall the Persian Army so that the ever fractious Greeks would grow a pair and start mobilizing their military force in a unified fashion. The final battle of The Last Samurai had great tactics up until the end, which was something out of the Leftist playbook of what they think good military tactics should be when seen from a political perspective: their political perspective.
Man, I was so looking forward to Tom Cruise dying in the movie.
The positive traits of the movie were usually in its fight scenes. The fencing scenes were rather nice. More accurate than Star Wars saber fights for the precise reason that many of the people in Star Wars are targeting the saber, not the human body. Every time they get into a face to face in that sword tangle that the French have a specific name for, it is because they tried to hit the saber. The sword is there for you to stick it in the enemy body, not keep hitting their sword. A simple deflection or avoidance with one balanced cut will end the fight. It’s hard to recover from a swing in time if it goes into the ground or the air.
The portrayal of the samurai code bushido could have used more work. The beauty in a work like Shogun, for example, really hits the difference between how the Japanese sees life and death vs the Western view. And it covers why dignity and stoicism matters more in death to the Japanese than to us. And it provides the reason why there is a second to cut off your head when you have already stabbed yourself in the stomach.Culture, Politics, TV, War comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.