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Stateside with Rosalea: Movie Review

Stateside with Rosalea

Movie Review: The Last Samurai

A couple of weekends ago, one of the local movie theatres had a preview screening of The Last Samurai. I ended up getting back too late from a trip up the Marin coastline and had to be satisfied that day with a very Taranaki-like drizzly outlook over a black sand beach instead. Soon as the movie opened nationwide the following Friday, I went to see it, hoping most of all for a sighting of that most important part of my whakapapa - my maunga.

Well, there was a glimpse of him in the movie, but most of the landscape seemed to be Vincent Ward's "Vigil" territory in the eastern part of the province. Although it may have been in the area around Lake Mangamahoe. And was the final battle scene filmed at a pa site? I really should read up about the filming, I suppose, but so much of the landscape looks like that and like the photo on this tourist website about my off-the-beaten-track part of the world: http://www.holidayparks.co.nz/zone8/index.html

I was gleeful to see the sports ground at Pukekura Park, with its terraced, grassy seating. Years ago, my afternoon walk to work would take me from the top end of the park to the exit near there. On my way I would call out to a tui that lived in my corner of the woods, so to speak, and he or she would imitate my call then fly down to the boatshed near the sports ground and call to me as I went by. So I liked to think, anyway! It's that kind of a magical place.

And I recalled with some nostalgia the Saturday trip all the local primary schools would take on a steam train up to Ngamotu Beach, cases of Granny Smith apples gleaming greenly in the aisles, there for the taking. Of course, you don't see the beach or nga motu in the movie; they were hidden behind a blue screen upon which effects could be shown.

Here endeth the nostalgia and my abuse of te reo. (But there is only one place in the world that I can say my waka was the Strathallen, that I'm Ngati Irihi, and where I can name Taranaki and Patea respectively as my mountain and river.)

The movie. My most enduring memory from it is not the fight scenes, spectacular as those are, but the zen moment. A zen moment in a Hollywood movie? Who'd have thunk it! But there it is, and it is moving and much more powerful than the enigmatic bit where we're not sure if the Emperor's soldiers are bowing in respect to Tom Cruise's character or to the samurai leader who has been vanquished by the terrible machinery of the West.

Plenty of people have reviewed this movie, as you can see at http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/lastsamurai/ where its rating has dropped from in the 80s when I looked last week, to only 56 today. Several reviewers from the public (whose reviews aren't counted in the metascore) have given it a 0, saying it is racist and just plain bad.

Well, it's not so much racist as romantic in the sense the idea of the noble savage was a romantic idea. And that's probably just exactly the thought milieu of the time in which this movie is set. If a movie makes the racism inherent in the idea of "noble savages" and "noble-but-technically-inferior civilisations" that obvious, then I think that's a damn good thing.

Don't miss it.

ENDS

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