Manifest Destiny

The Appeal of “The Last Samurai”
Manifest Destiny, the belief that imperialistic expansion of the United States is both justified and inevitable. Through this belief, Americans value and defend violence as the cornerstone of their country and society. Similarly, Japanese Feudal Samurai also relate violence to the creation of their society and culture. Combining these two elements created the perfect format for the Samurai-western, “The Last Samurai”. This film not only found resemblances between Japanese and American ideals. But, in an appealing manner, it bolstered the image of American mythology and ideology through the singular journey of the American protagonist and his spiritual redemption achieved through violence.

American mythology involves the burden of the American spirit, the side effects of Manifest Destiny. “The Last Samurai” captures and builds off this theme, as the American protagonist and former military captain, Nathan Algren, is burdened with the murder of innocent Indians in name of American unity and economic expansion. Hence, the audience is introduced to a resentful low-life character who’s life cannot possibly become worse. This sets up the next aspect of American mythology and ideology, separation and regression.

Another American ideological theme (often used in American Western movies) is separation, the lonely path through the frontier. Nathan Algren finds himself separated from his accustomed culture when the Samurai take him captive. It is through this captivity that yet another appealing aspect of American mythology is revealed. Nathan’s ultimate ability to be open and accepting of the foreign Samurai culture showcases the theme that Americans are superior by their ability to be open and accepting of new cultures. Through this captivity Nathan is regressed and introduced to a more primitive culture from which he rebuilds his philosophy of life.   Nathan then heroically redeems his burden through means of violence in...