Last Samurai – Mastering

Last Samurai is receiving rave review, and I think it deserves it. As a movie, it is very good. But when I try to learn something from it, the gross difference between reality and made up movie story on important factor about life is rather disturbing. This is discussed in books written by actual practioner of their art, be it sports, management, research and development.

Captain Nathan Algren in the Last Samurai practices Japanese swordsmanship for a few months, and he becomes a master. I can laugh it off in parodies, but I find it difficult to just swallow it in this kind of movie, even with understanding that it’s objective is to entertain. The movie has the kind of reality that even illusions can seem as reality.

Somehow, with this kind of things happening all the time in movies, TV shows, mangas, even those seasoned adults often start to believe aquiring masterful skill in an art needs only a few months, at the most.

In the real world, hardly no one ever wins gold medal in the Olympics without many years of long hours of practices daily. All professional sports players spend much of their time practicing. Nobel prize winners including Tanaka-san spent hours after hours, years and years in the lab. Effective business managers and project managers spend years developing their skills. Why then, do so many business consultants who spent limited amount of time actually involved with real projects, actually working for real business are trusted to make effective changes in their client’s company?

As I write this, I could see my business associates smiling and saying, there you go again! You make these surpriing connections, that seems to come out of blue.

Here is my biggest thing, at the very end of 2003. I felt as though I did not get anywhere, made no progress this year. But here is my personal conclusion. In order to master the art of business as a major factor in giving meaningful life to people living in many of today’s advanced country, time spent mastering the art is crucial. When one wants true success in work life, this part can not be shortened.

2 thoughts on “Last Samurai – Mastering”

  1. Fujiko-san, a (belated) happy new year for you.
    By the way, by “Never give up, never surrender”(your other comment) it sounds like Nathan Algren.. Yes, as you have wrote, spending a couple of months to master Japanese sword and language is not simple laughable, but also misleading people to take their life too easily..
    I think I missed that element for two reasons. First I was so in it, I had no intention or room to focus on what I think during watching the movie. Second, main reason, I am always facsinated and excited by the sense that something is happening and getting better. So when Tom Cruise was gradually mastering his skill, I was yelling “Yes!” in my mind.. This acknowledement also goes to other areas, for example I prefer trailers to the movie itself.
    Falling into the trap you described is dangerous and I will always remember it(and it might be saying Japanese tradition is rather primitive), and also knowing how inaccurate my English is after learning for 20+ years, I still find myself attracted to the possibilities that we can do what we want. And that(over-looking at the positive side) is what drives us toward seemingly impossible goal.


  2. Well, I’m not so sure about the language part. Captain Algren was afterall, a linguist, wasn’t he? He’s studied the American Indian language. Of course Japanese language must be quite different from that of Native American Indian’s but as a linguist, I think he would have been good at learning a language, at least get a good understanding given he was very good at observation. Even after spending a winter in totally Japanese environment, he did not speak so fluently, very haltingly at best, but that seemed very authentic to me. We all learn to understand much faster than be able to speak.

    I keep beating up on the “Last Samurai”, but many incidents stayed with me, echoing in my mind. My favorite line by Captain Algren was when Katsumoto said, do you belive in destiny? or something like that, he replied
    “I think, we do what we can, and the destiny reveals itself.”
    As Stephen Hawkins says, in scientific sense, there is such thing as destiny, but it might as well be that there isn’t because nobody knows until it happens.

    And when Katsumoto is contemplating commiting Seppuku, which is considered honorable in Japanese culture, saying Samurai’s death is by sword, Algren urges,
    “Then let it be by enemy’s sword!”
    Technically, it would most likely be by bullets rather than sword, and they both knew it. But I think by then Algren understood the culture enough, and I think by saying so, he was making a pledge that he will be by Katsumoto’s side until death. The most important lesson in those words by Algren to me is “Never give up, never surrender” as you say, but in addition to that, knowing the likely ending, one choose how to live.
    And as Katumoto was dying said to Algren when Algren despaired that he has once again survived when he should have died, you have something you must do still. Of course at that time, Katsumoto had no way of predicting what Algren would do later. The Algren held true to his belief, and the destiny revealed itself that he would teach the Japan’s unique culture to the young emperor, who called Katsumoto “sensei” and plead for guidance. But Katsumoto could not give guidance without being like the others.
    The words pierced my heart. The emperor asked,
    “Please tell me how he died”
    and Algren replied
    “Let me tell you how he lived.”
    The irony of life. That the lessons could not be directly learned from the master, but from the disciple. That to show true love, one had to die. That heart had to be broken before the lights could come through.

    You see, there are so many elements that was so true to life. But what makes me weary is my own experience. Before moving to outside of Japan, as 12-year old girl, I belived everything I read, including bunch of stories by girl’s manga and how it portrayed non-Japanese. Why, they were no different than us except the language and the way they looked, the way they dressed. Biiig mistake! Their behavior, social structure, their perception of acceptance, happiness were totally … foreign! Yes, they wanted to be popular, they wanted to be happy. But the definition of popular and happiness were entirely different. Because of this kind of experience, I trust laughter. The kind of universal laughter helps us get over our differences much easier.

    Geez, what long comment I’ve written! I’m glad you’ve given me the chance to say what I wanted to say, because without your previous comment, I wouldn’t have felt the right timing to say all this!


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