The Last Samurai

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IJAPS, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Special Issue, September 2011) © Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2011 LEARNING BUSHIDŌ FROM ABROAD: JAPANESE REACTIONS TO THE LAST SAMURAI Jayson Chun∗ University of Hawai'i – West O'ahu e-mail: "There's some cool sword-fighting. But still, it's junk." – Stephen Hunter, Washington Post "I was crying a lot throughout the movie. That was not a surface feeling, but rather a deep-seated feeling that came from me as a Japanese." – skaskaclub88, Yahoo!Japan reviewer ABSTRACT Hollywood, struck by a case of Japan "fever" in the early 21st century, churned out a crop of Japan-oriented films such as Lost in Translation [Coppola 2003], Kill Bill Vol. 2 [Tarantino 2004], Memoirs of a Geisha [Marshall 2005] and Letters from Iwo Jima [Eastwood 2006]. But among all these, The Last Samurai [Zwick 2003] received the most positive Japanese audience reaction. This film, about an ex-Civil War American soldier who takes up arms to fight with the last of the samurai, played to mixed reviews in the U.S. but enjoyed a wildly popular reception in Japan. Judging from Japanese online discussion posts and media articles, many Japanese audiences read the film differently from the American critics. Why and what do these reviews tell us about Japan in the beginning of the 21st century? By being a foreign film, The Last Samurai allowed Japanese audiences to celebrate the nationalist messages taboo in a domestically produced film. Keywords: The Last Samurai, American Japan influence in motion pictures, mass media Japan audiences, bushido postwar reinterpretations, mass media culture in Japan 21st century ∗ Dr. Jayson Makoto Chun is an associate professor of history at the University of Hawai'i – West O'ahu, and his research interests include modern Japanese history, media culture and the use of Japanese popular media

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