This week, we’ll be going all Tom Cruise for our second media review, and discussing the actual history behind the mishmash of stories used as the background for the 2003 film The Last Samurai.

Listen to the episode here.

Sources

Drea, Edward. Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945.

Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan.

Ravina, Mark. The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori.

Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Watanabe Ken as Katsumoto, the leader of an anti-government samurai rebellion. Note the historically inaccurate lack of firearms.

Watanabe Ken as Katsumoto, the leader of an anti-government samurai rebellion. Note the historically inaccurate lack of firearms.

Saigo Takamori in the uniform of a French officer.

Saigo Takamori in the uniform of a French officer.

Some of the major Western characters from the film. On the right is Tom Cruise's character Nathan Algren, based in part off the French officer Jules Brunet. In the center is Simon Graham, based on the real life British diplomat Sir Ernest Satow.

Some of the major Western characters from the film. On the right is Tom Cruise’s character Nathan Algren, based in part off the French officer Jules Brunet. In the center is Simon Graham, based on the real life British diplomat Sir Ernest Satow.

Jules Brunet during his time in Hakodate. This was taken in 1869 as the Ezo Republic was collapsing in the face of the Imperial Army.

Jules Brunet during his time in Hakodate. This was taken in 1869 as the Ezo Republic was collapsing in the face of the Imperial Army.

Sir Ernest Satow: diplomat, scholar, gentleman. Satow was one of the first Westerners to seriously engage with Japanese culture and brokered many of the early deals between Japan and the United Kingdom.

Sir Ernest Satow: diplomat, scholar, gentleman. Satow was one of the first Westerners to seriously engage with Japanese culture and brokered many of the early deals between Japan and the United Kingdom.

Tokugawa troops being drilled by Brunet and his compatriots in the French fashion.

Tokugawa troops being drilled by Brunet and his compatriots in the French fashion.

Bakufu troops being loaded onto transports and shipped to Hokkaido to serve the Ezo Republic.

Bakufu troops being loaded onto transports and shipped to Hokkaido to serve the Ezo Republic.

The French and Japanese military leadership of the Ezo Republic. The French officers were sent to serve the Tokugawa, but came to respect the Japanese to such a degree that they volunteered their services to fight for the final holdouts of the Tokugawa regime. Top row, left to right: Andre Casenueve, Jean Marlin, Fukushima Tokinosuke (one of their students), Arthur Fortrant. Bottom Row: Hosoya Yasutaro (one of the Japanese commanders), Jules Brunet, Matsudaira Taro (Vice President of the Ezo Republic), Tajima Kintaro

The French and Japanese military leadership of the Ezo Republic. The French officers were sent to serve the Tokugawa, but came to respect the Japanese to such a degree that they volunteered their services to fight for the final holdouts of the Tokugawa regime.
Top row, left to right: Andre Casenueve, Jean Marlin, Fukushima Tokinosuke (one of their students), Arthur Fortrant.
Bottom Row: Hosoya Yasutaro (one of the Japanese commanders), Jules Brunet, Matsudaira Taro (Vice President of the Ezo Republic), Tajima Kintaro

 

The Battle of Hakodate, the final combat of the Boshin War. Bakufu troops are charging in at left, facing Imperial troops at right. Soldiers in French uniform are visible at the bottom left on the bakufu side.

The Battle of Hakodate, the final combat of the Boshin War. Bakufu troops are charging in at left, facing Imperial troops at right. Soldiers in French uniform are visible at the bottom left on the bakufu side.