Oba the Last Samurai DVD Review - www.impulsegamer.com -
Oba the Last Samurai
Reviewed by
Sean Warhurst
on
Oba the Last Samurai DVD Review Definitely not a mainstream film by any standard, ‘Oba the Last Samurai’ is a rewarding experience for fans of world cinema and the more adventurous viewer. Although let down by some of the stilted performances of the American cast, the film rises above these shortcomings and is a fascinating insight into the mind of the soldiers that fought on the losing side of one of the most important wars in history.
Rating:
3.5

Feature 7.0
Video 6.0
Audio 6.0
Special features 1.0
Total 7.0
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Reviewer: Sean Warhurst
Classification
: MA15+

7.0


Oba the Last Samurai

Based on an amazing true story, ‘Oba the Last Samurai’ follows the story of Captain Sakae Oba, who, after a massive defeat during the battle of Saipan in 1944, leads surviving soldiers into the jungle of Mt. Tapochau where they set up camps for civilians and resisted capture for 516 days, continuing to fight four months after hostilities had officially ceased.

The film follows a two pronged narrative from the perspectives of both Japanese and American forces, a unique structure that lends the film its own identity. Shot by two different units helmed by Hideyuki Hirayama and Cellin Gluck, the film seamlessly integrates the distinct aesthetic of each director into a cohesive whole; a majority of the Japanese shots are wide, sweeping shots with a lot of breathing room, whereas scenes focusing on the U.S personnel are more tightly framed and claustrophobic.

Brought up on the gung-ho American World War 2 films regarding the Pacific Theatre, it’s refreshing to get an unflinching portrayal from the perspective of the other side. As a Japanese production, there is a lot of dialogue and scenes associated with the traditional Bushido codes of honour and respect that can come off as kind of self aggrandising, but for the most part the story is even handed.

The film has its fair share of battle scenes, such as a vivid depiction of the skirmishes leading up to the victory over Japanese forces on Saipan. These scenes are kinetically shot, and aside from some dodgy CGI, easily stand up to the exemplary standard of Hollywoods biggest blockbusters, replete with some satisfyingly gory deaths.

However, ‘Oba’ is more concerned with the personal toll of war rather than glorifying the horrors of battle, with heavy emphasis on the emotional states of the soldiers. Despite the declaration of peace, Oba and his troops remain mentally at war, with each handling their situation in different ways - Superior officers throw themselves onto their swords to avoid the shame of being captured while others steadfastly refuse to surrender, seeking revenge on Allied Forces for the deaths of their friends and loved ones.

Conversely, the U.S forces attempt to secure the island and end the conflict with Oba’s men by trying to convince them that the war is over and lend aid to the wounded, but Oba and his troops refuse to believe that Japan could have fallen, believing this to be a trick by the U.S Military to lure them out to slaughter, leading to a stalemate.

The acting by the Japanese cast is superb, with a myriad of emotions often conveyed through a simple look. Many of the troops have their own personalities, and it’s amusing to see many tropes from war films, such as the hot headed private, the stoic commander and grizzled battle veteran applied to men who would usually be faceless cannon fodder in most Western productions. The characters never become caricatures though, which speaks volumes.

The American cast is passable, with Sean McGowan handling the role of the main proponent of amicable conflict resolution, Captain Herman Lewis, relatively well. Daniel Baldwin chews the scenery, horrendously channelling every hard ass military man cliché under the sun... And rather poorly at that. Thankfully his role is relatively minor and he is quickly replaced by the far more capable Treat Williams, leading one to assume that Baldwin’s presence was solely to have a ”star name” on the bill.

Personally, I found that the film kind of stalled during Baldwin’s scenes, maybe because I was aghast at his agonising attempt at acting, but it falls into a much smoother narrative once he vacates the picture. Another small bone of contention is McGowan’s overwrought narration; although clearly for exposition purposes, it comes off as superfluous, or even worse, intrusive. Overall, some of the acting is stilted and unnatural but the effort of the Japanese cast more than compensates for this.

Video & Audio Quality

Although the image can be kind of soft on occasions, for the most part it’s of high quality, with no compression artefacts visible during darker scenes. The beauty of the jungle is vividly realised and contrasts nicely with the slightly sterile sepia tones of the U.S scenes – A visual representation of the difference between the opposing sides. The Japanese were more attuned to nature, living off the land and using the environment to their advantage, where the U.S relied on setting up camp by building barracks and shaping the landscape to accommodate their needs; the cinematography illustrates this dichotomy perfectly, all displayed in 16:9 widescreen.

Sound is adequate, with levels consistent even during the frenetic battle scenes. The score can be a little overbearing at times and dialogue can be a tad murky but the addition of subtitles negates this for the most part. Audio is only available in 2.0 channels, which is a bit of a shame, as the film would have benefitted from immersive 5.1 surround sound, especially during the battle scenes. 

Special Features

Aside from a trailer, ‘Oba the Last Samurai’ is the very definition of a bare bones release, even lacking chapter selection. This is disappointing, as a documentary of the real life inspiration for the film or even a commentary would have been welcomed. 

Final Thoughts

Masterfully portrayed by Yutaka Takenouchi, Oba is a sympathetic character struggling to reconcile his moral integrity with the demands of war and this performance is the linchpin that holds the film together.

Definitely not a mainstream film by any standard, ‘Oba the Last Samurai’ is a rewarding experience for fans of world cinema and the more adventurous viewer. Although let down by some of the stilted performances of the American cast, the film rises above these shortcomings and is a fascinating insight into the mind of the soldiers that fought on the losing side of one of the most important wars in history.






 
 



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