The Last Samurai (1990)

While perusing the local pawn shop (my source of budget DVDs), I ran across The Last Samurai. “Isn’t this a new film?” I asked myself, remembering hearing the title recently. It then dawned on me, The Last Samurai is the title of Tom Cruise’s lastest piece of “work”, slated for a 2003 release. Assuming I hadn’t actually travelled through time by walking through the pawn shop’s doors, I knew this had to be another movie by the same name. So, I dropped my $4.99 on the counter and made my way home to find out if this was the source of Cruise’s latest flick, or just another movie with the same name. If it was the original film, it would be interesting to watch, and if not, at least I was adding yet another B-grade kung-fu DVD to my collection.

Well, unfortunately neither scenario turned out to be true. Tom Cruise’s new film is totally unrelated to this one, and instead of adding a B-grade kung-fu DVD to my collection, I added a D-grade late 80’s action/adventure DVD to my shelf.

The Last Samurai (the 1990 release) begins with a slow motion sequence that looks like it may have slowed down by playing footage on a two-head VCR in slow motion and then recording it on another VCR. DVD cannot help all things look pretty. The sequence (filmed in black and white, because we’re all idiots and don’t know that slow motion sequences, especially ones that open movies, are usually flashbacks) begins with a shot of some birds flying across the sky — although, since the slow-mo is so bad, the birds just seem to appear and disappear in different areas of the screen.

The scene, and it’s such a wonderful scene that I’m giving it its own paragraph, consists of two guys Kendo fighting on a beach. Of course, they’re wearing complete Kendo outfits — black suits with big head masks complete with grills over their faces, and big bamboo “swords”. These two guys continue to wail on each other for what seems like fifteen minutes. I mean, in REGULAR motion I’m sure most directors would have thought the scene was too long or awkward to keep in, but director Paul Mayersberg is a visionary. “Slow DOWN the footage!” he cried, trying to force one of those situations where two negatives make a positive. By slowing down already painfully long and drawn out footage, he will make it be interesting! Unfortunately for the viewing public (which can’t be many), he fails, and the scene actually put me to sleep. In fact, this scene is so long and boring, I fell asleep during it, and when I woke up, THE SAME SCENE WAS STILL GOING. Drool running and eyes burning, I stopped the DVD and went for a walk. I decided I’d try and watch it again later.

So, attempt two at sitting through The Last Samurai began about an hour later. I made it through the scene, which has one of the funniest moments ever recorded in film history. One of the Kendo “masters” KILLS the other one! Now you have to imagine this — two guys, in full battle armor are fighting with bamboo sticks on the beach. These are the same bamboo “swords” that they use in professional wrestling to whack each other with from time to time. And one of them KILLS the other with a blow to the helmet? At first I was confused, but when I realized what had happened I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pee. And then I watched it again, and again, and again, maybe twenty times total. And at the end of the scene, the one “surviving” bamboo stick master pulls his helmet/mask off to reveal … John Fujioka (They Call Me Bruce, American Ninja 1 and 2, American Yakuza, American Samurai, Mortal Kombat, and most recently, Pearl Harbor). The camera does a slow pan in on Fujioka’s face (remember, this is all still in slow motion) to show his “Yes. I was forced to keeeeel him with my bamboo stick” look. After all this laughter and pain I didn’t have it in me to watch anymore. “I’ll watch it tomorrow,” I said, and called it a day. I hadn’t even made it to the opening credits yet.

After three more failed attempts at making it through this movie, I decided to just put the movie on and continue working on other stuff, hoping to glean the high points of the film through osmosis. So, here’s what I gathered:

John Fujioka plays Yasujiro Endo, a business man wealthy beyond his wildest dreams (at the beginning of the film, he’s seen eating chocolates coated in gold). On a business trip, he ends up in Africa. Also in Africa is Johnny Congo, played by Lance Henriksen (best known as Bishop from Aliens, but also appeared in such classics as Mimic 3, Mangler 2, Pumpkinhead, Piranha II: The Spawning, Super Mario Brothers as the King, and the detective in the Terminator). Congo is a hard-drinkin’, tough-shootin’ sonnuvabitch.

After meeting Congo, some really boring stuff happened and I went and made a sandwich. When I came back, Congo and his woman along with Endo and his crew were off on an African adventure to “find Endo’s roots,” with Congo and another fellow acting as tour guides.

I watched for a while, then went back to IRC for a while.

Eventually, the group runs into this tribe who kidnaps the group. One of the group escapes, finds some guns, and all hell breaks loose. That’s about what I could gather while peeking over the laptop screen from time to time. I caught John Saxon running around at some point during all the commotion. Saxon is best known (to me, anyhow) as Nancy’s dad Lieutenant Donald Thompson in Nightmare on Elm Street, parts 1 AND 3. In part 3, he helps defeat Freddy “forever” (which means until #4 rolled along), but in this movie he only succeeds in talking a lot and eventually shooting at people.

I went downstairs during one part of the melee and when I came back upstairs with a Coke and a smile (acutally I just wanted to type that; I drink Dr. Pepper), the end credits were rolling. So when I knew the movie was over I guess I had a Dr. Pepper and a smile.

The Last Samurai has the distinct honor of putting me to sleep at least five times before finally basically giving up on it. Wth a plot that could fit in the head of a pin, acting straight out of an 80’s porn flick, and special effects that, in the words of Beavis, “weren’t very special,” The Last Samurai doesn’t have much to offer the majority of the movie watching public. However, if you happen to be an insomniac and can’t get your hands on any NyQuil, RUN, don’t walk to your nearest movie rental store and pick up a copy of this flick. After trying to sit through this movie so many times, I can only hope that this movie is, in fact, the LAST last samurai. ‘Nuf said.

Author’s Note: Since I really feel I may have short changed the readers with this review, I have attached three other reviews I found of this movie on the web.

E! Online’s Review: A mercenary escapes a kidnapping plot and sets out to bust up a covert weapons deal

All Movie Guide’s Review: A hard-drinking Vietnam veteran pilot (Lance Henriksen) is hired by a rich Japanese businessman, whose ancestors were samurai warriors, to fly him and his group to Africa. There they are captured by a cultured, Western-educated tribal leader who discusses philosophy with them while his rebel armies rob and massacre the local populace. The pilot manages to escape to the desert and starts to formulate a plan to rescue his employers.

Movies Unlimited’s Review: While on a search for his samurai roots, a Japanese businessman is led to a war-ravaged African country where he must use his deadly fighting legacy in a fight for survival. Action-filled tale of honor and betrayal stars John Fujioka, Lance Henriksen, John Saxon, Lisa Eilbacher.

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