The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai

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Today’s feature is a little film called “The Last Samurai.” No, not the 2003 Tom Cruise movie that we are all familiar with: the 1991 Lance Henriksen movie that no one has ever heard of.

“The Last Samurai” was directed and written by Paul Mayersburg, who is best known for writing “The Man Who Fell To Earth” and “Croupier.” “The Last Samurai” was the last of three films that he directed, but he is still active as a screenwriter, and is currently attached to an announced 2016 movie called “Killer Surreal.”

The cinematography for “The Last Samurai” was provided by Sven Persson, who worked on and off on films set in Africa since the late 1940s according to his IMDb entry. “The Last Samurai” is his last reported film work.

One of the producers of “The Last Samurai” is a man named Tony Carbone, who has no other recorded producing credits. However, he has a co-writing credit on a 2010 episode of the television series “Archer” called “Honeypot,” which is a fan favorite in the series. I’m a little curious if these are indeed the same person, and how he wound up with these credits decades apart from each other.

lastsamurai4The special effects on “The Last Samurai” are credited to Massimo Vico, who worked on films such as “King Solomon’s Mines” and Albert Pyun’s infamous “Alien From L.A.”

The stunt coordinator for “The Last Samurai,” Scott Ateah, has gone on to work on over 200 films, including big budget productions like “Watchmen,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Slither,” and “I, Robot,” as well as infamous flicks like “The Core,” “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2,” “The Wicker Man,” and a whole bunch of “Air Bud” movies.

The cast of “The Last Samurai” is headlined by Lance Henriksen, a veteran b-movie actor who is best known for his role as the android Bishop in “Aliens.” However, he has also been featured in movies like “The Pit and The Pendulum,” “The Mangler 2,” “Hard Target,” “Super Mario Bros.,” and more movies about Sasquatch than you might expect. John Fujioka takes the other central role, and has appeared in films like “American Ninja” and “Mortal Kombat.” The rest of the cast features John Saxon, a veteran character actor who has appeared in features like “Mitchell,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “From Dusk Til Dawn,” Arabella Holzbog of “Carnosaur 2” and Richard Linklater’s “Bad News Bears” remake, and Lisa Eilbacher of “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Leviathan,” and “10 to Midnight.”

lastsamurai3When it comes to summarizing the story of “The Last Samurai,” I can’t possibly do any better than the back of the suspiciously-fake-looking DVD case that I paid 95 cents for:

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“Japanese multimillionaire, Yasojiro Endo journeys to Africa to find the truth about a Samurai ancestor who disappeared two centuries ago and to find the true spirit of the Samurai in himself. While on a safari with mercenary Johnny, he bumps into a business acquaintance also on safari, except he is actually in the midst of a covert arms deal. Endo and Johnny are now in the way, and must reach deep within themselves and come to terms with their personal demons to summon their strength for their fight to the finish. They confront their inner selves, and both discover their true nature is that of the Samurai.”

“The Last Samurai” was initially released straight to video in Germany, and took a number of years to get distribution in the United States. As I mentioned earlier, almost no one has heard of this movie, so it clearly didn’t make a financial splash. Predictably, there is no budget information about the film available, but I have to assume that it was very, very low.

“The Last Samurai” starts with a black and white, slow motion sparring session, which is later implied to be a moment from a former life of Fujioka’s character. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of the film, and I am a little curious as to if it was filmed after the fact and edited in. The fact that it was used for at least one home video cover of the movie has me a little suspicious.

lastsamurai2My first thought after starting “The Last Samurai” was “Holy crap, this score is awful.” The theme sounds like a synthesizer replication of a middle school saxophone player warming up.  The rest of the score is a mixture of ominous synthesizer tones and occasional drum beats, which gets very old quickly. The music is credited to a guy named Rene Veldsman, who only did scores for six low budget movies in his career, which is probably for the best.

I’m not sure if the problem is my DVD copy or if it is the movie itself (or a combination of the two), but the film quality here is just abysmal. to the point that it is honestly distracting whenever there are sudden movements or cuts.

Lance Henriksen portrays a mercenary in “The Last Samurai,” and has a line at one point that I am willing to bet was pulled from real life. When negotiating his pay, Henriksen nearly runs down Fujioka with a car, after which the following exchange takes place:

“You have a Japanese sense of theater”

“If I’m an actor, I want 20 grand. A day.”

I’ll admit, I got a little giggle out of that.

Speaking of which, the acting in “The Last Samurai” is a mixed bag. Lance Henriksen thankfully hams up his character, and makes his segments entertaining. He even seems to be enjoying himself with the role, which is really great to see. Fujioka makes a lot of dramatic use of a personal fan, which I think is supposed to be stately, but just looks kind of ridiculous in the context of the film. John Saxon also stands out, if for no other reason than because of his astounding miscasting as a wealthy middle eastern arms dealer. His attempts to nail down his character’s accent and just surreal coming from a second generation Italian immigrant from Brooklyn. The rest of the cast outside of those three, however, is abysmal. There is clearly a lot of use of non-actors who can barely get through a line, which makes any interactions between the actual actors and the accessory cast excruciating.

At least some of the blame for the performances has to be leveled at Mayersburg, given he both directed the feature and wrote the dialogue (which some of the actors were understandably having trouble with). His inexperience as a director almost certainly contributed to some of the problems with the movie, and I think it is safe to say the the film is better written than it is directed.

All of that said, the movie isn’t all bad. It takes way too long to get going, but the last 20 minutes of action is pretty fun, and Henriksen absolutely thrives in his role. The movie could definitely have used some more editing to help with the pacing and the extraneous character details that bog it down, especially given how long it feels at 1 hour 30 minutes. Still, there are far more tortuous film experiences out there, and this flick at least offers some redeeming moments.

As far as a recommendation goes, if you have ever wanted to see Lance Henriksen’s bare ass or watch him awkwardly play with a monkey, this is the movie for you. Outside of those niche interests, “The Last Samurai” is a bit too slow to recommend outright, though the highlights are probably worth checking out.

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