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  • Stefan Riedlinger

The Last Samurai - Hans Zimmer - Soundtrack Review

Another review of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack on my website, and for me, still one of this best scores which should reserve an extended edition because the music is really great!

The movie

"The Last Samurai" is a 2003 American period action drama film directed and co-produced by Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Logan and Marshall Herskovitz. The film stars Tom Cruise, who also co-produced, with Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki, and Shin Koyamada in supporting roles.

Tom Cruise portrays a United States Captain of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into contact with samurai warriors in the wake of the Meiji Restoration in 19th century Japan. The film's plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and the westernization of Japan by foreign powers, though in the film the United States is portrayed as the primary force behind the push for westernization. It is also influenced by the stories of Jules Brunet, a French army captain who fought alongside Enomoto Takeaki in the earlier Boshin War and to a lesser extent by Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary who helped Westernize the Chinese army by forming the Ever Victorious Army.

"The Last Samurai" grossed a total of $456 million at the box office and was well-received upon its release, receiving praise for the acting, writing, directing, score, visuals, costumes and messages. It was nominated for several awards, including four Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two National Board of Review Awards.

Ed Zwick is the director of movies such as “Glory” (1986), “Legends of the Fall” and “Courage Under Fire” (1996), James Horner composed the music to all three of them, and “Glory” ranks amongst his best soundtracks. 2010 directed Zwick “Love & Other Drugs” with Anne Hathaway, for me one of the best drama-comedies in the last years.

The music

Hans Zimmer was hired to compose the soundtrack for “The Last Samurai”. This score is Zimmer at his best, he composed in his well-known bombastic style and mixed the score with traditional Japanese instruments such as Shakuhachi, drums, and also added male voices to increase the emotions in scenes, e.g. in “Red Warrior”.

I remember sitting in the movie theatre and watching these epic scenes, especially at the end with the big fight, heard Zimmer’s music and was highly impressed how his music increased the emotions in the scenes. This soundtrack is really a masterpiece!

Tom Cruise gives a great performance, and this movie is without any doubt one of his best. I had some trouble with his performance as an alcoholic at the beginning, but when it comes to action, you can see that Cruise is one of the best actors these days.

Ken Watanabe is playing the Japanese samurai who leads the rebellion against the Japanese Army. This character is based on the historical figure of Saigō Takamori, a hero of the Meiji Restoration and the leader of the ineffective Satsuma Rebellion, who appears in the histories and legends of modern Japan as a hero against the corruption, extravagance, and unprincipled politics of his contemporaries.

The soundtrack has 11 tracks and offers a good mixture between lyrical tracks and action music. The first track “A Way Of Life” is a highlight of the score. Nr. 2 “Spectres In The Fog” is at the beginning a wonderful piece with a beautiful melody, but the action moments remind me too much of “Gladiator”, so I skip this track every time I listen to the score.

“A Hard Teacher” and “To Know My Enemy” are more lyrical track, also the first part of “Idyll’s End”, but as you can imagine because of the title, the training of Tom Cruise and the life in the Japanese village is over. With “Safe Passage” starts the action part of the score. The battle scenes reminds me of the final battle in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”.

“Ronin” is a shorter track but interesting because of its use of Japanese drums. “Red Warrior” starts slowly and shocks us with the sudden use of male (warrior) voices: We are ready to fight, and will give our lives to win! The rest of the track is pure Hans Zimmer action.

The real highlight of this score is track 10 “A Way Of The Sword”. This is Zimmer and his co-composers at his best. In the film, this music has an amazing effect, and you really feel blown away by the emotions shown. Listen to this track and turn your speakers on! The musical structure is wonderful, and you can hear how good Hans can be with his special style, especially when the slow motion scenes start.

The last track “A Small Measure of Peace” closes the soundtrack. It was the 100. Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, and it is without any doubt one of this best. I love the music and like to listen to it over and over again. “The Last Samurai” is also a movie with one of Tom Cruise finest performances and made nearly $ 500 Mio.

I found one clip of the fight scene in the rain, a very emotional scene in the movie:

And a clip about the real story of the last Samurai.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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