Pride, Honor and Survival in The Last Samurai and Hidalgo

Pride, Honor and Survival in The Last Samurai and Hidalgo

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Pride, Honor and Survival in The Last Samurai and Hidalgo


In the 2004 movie, Hidalgo, the story of how a cowboy and cavalry dispatch rider, billed as the “world’s greatest endurance rider,” is challenged to compete for pride, honor, and his own survival in a 3,000 mile long race known as the Ocean of Fire. Likewise, the story of The Last Samurai depicts how a civil war era captain is charged with the responsibility of training a “modern” Japanese military force, and is captured by Samurai warriors in a battle to quell the Samurai rebellion. While he is being held by his captors, he learns the ways of the Samurai and must use his new skills to fight for his, as well as Japan’s pride, honor, and cultural survival. This essay will attempt to draw similarities between Hidalgo and The Last Samurai by examining the individual feats accomplished by the movie’s main characters as well as explain how these seemingly dissimilar movie plots are actually quite similar.

The movie Hidalgo tells the story of Frank T. Hopkins, cowboy and cavalry dispatch rider. During his career, Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo have competed in many American endurance races, and Hopkins has become honorably billed as the world’s greatest endurance rider. Riding as a dispatch rider for the cavalry, one of the main character conflicts of the movie unfolds. Frank T. Hopkins, born to a Lakota Indian woman is half Lakota Indian, but has a hard time dealing with this aspect of his heritage. The conflict comes when he rides a dispatch for the U.S. Calvary unknowingly delivering the order to disarm the Lakota Indians, and inadvertently causes the Battle of Wounded Knee, where the Lakota are massacred by the cavalry.

Knowing that he delivered the order sealing the fate of his people, Hopkins falls into horrible depression, taking to heavy drinking. Because of his reputation as the ‘world’s greatest endurance rider,’ Hopkins joins Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, and is haunted by the nightmare of the massacre.

In an example pride, honor and survival, Hopkins is challenged to overcome his depression and self-pity and enter a race, a 3,000 mile survival race across the Arabian Desert, known as the Ocean of Fire.

The Ocean of Fire, held annually for more than a 1,000 years, is an endurance race like no other. Beyond being a race for pride and honor, rider’s survival skills are tested in the 3,000 mile Ocean of Fire.

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Hopkins has been invited to the race by a rich Sheik who wishes to test the title of “world’s greatest endurance rider.” To win the race, Hopkins must compete against the world’s greatest Arabian horses and Bedouin riders determined to prevent a first ever foreigner allowed in the race from finishing.
Similarly, the story of The Last Samurai tells a story of pride, honor, and survival.
It's 1876, and Captain Nathan Algren is an alcoholic wreck of a man. A veteran of the Civil War as well as General Custer's Indian campaigns, he drifts from one situation to another apparently looking for work but really seeking refuge from his inner demons of slaughtering innocent women and children.

Opportunity knocks in the form of an old Army acquaintance Colonel Ben Bagley, who has accepted work with a Japanese businessman named Omura. Omura has been charged with recruiting American war vets as military advisors to a new modern Japanese Army. Emperor Meiji, under advice from Omura and other parties, is interested in modernizing his nation's military with rifles and other armaments which he is told will be the key to Japan’s survival.

In order to unify the nation, the new Japanese army must first take care of civil dissidence within Japan. The samurai, led by chieftain Katsumoto, are violently opposing the invasion of Western culture into their islands. Under American command, the ill-trained soldiers are foolishly sent into combat against the samurai. During the resulting massacre Algren is captured and taken to the samurai's village.
During the course of the winter, Algren, in a show of survival, slowly gains the trust of his captors and in turn is given free roam over the village. For pride and honor, he begins to train. Depicting the pride and honor of the Japanese people, Algren is actually given food and shelter by Taka, the wife of one of the samurai Algren killed during battle.

Katsumoto meanwhile seeks to learn about his enemy, and begins to respect Algren as a fellow warrior. Also interested in the American is Katsumoto's son Nobutada, intrigued by Western culture. Algren finds the first peace he has known in a long time, and begins to adapt to the ways of the samurai and even learns to speak Japanese. Proving he is honorable, he acts as a father to Taka's children, learns to sword fight with a kitana blade and begins to respect the culture that he originally sought to destroy. In the ultimate show of pride, honor, and survival, Algren, who was once close to death, now embraces his new place in the samurai world, and will soon come to the aid of the samurai, and ultimately the Japanese people and their culture.
During Algren's absence the Japanese Army has had better opportunity to prepare themselves, and time is soon approaching that will determine the fate of the samurai and the future of Japan.

These two stories strongly portray how a man at the bottom of the barrel can overcome adversity to survive for pride and honor. In both Hidalgo and in The Last Samurai, the main characters, Hopkins and Algren, are at ultimate lows when the proposition of easy money inadvertently places them in life-altering situations, where they must prove their pride and honor through their ability to survive in a foreign land with a foreign culture.

Annotated Bibliography

The Last Samurai. Dir. Edward Zwick. Perfs. Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe. DVD.
Warner Bros. 2003.

The Last Samurai is the story of Nathan Algren, a civil war era captain in the U.S. military and also the Custer Indian Battles. Algren is recruited to help build and train a new, modern Japanese army, and during a battle against the new army and the samurai, Algren is captured by the samurai. While he is a prisoner, Algren gains the trust of his captors and begins to learn and train in the ways of the samurai. He learns of the samurai culture and embraces his new place. Overcoming adversity, Algren must come to the aid of the samurai in a battle for the future of the samurai way of life, and for the future of Japan.

Hidalgo. Dir. Joe Johnston. Perfs. Viggo Mortenson, Omar Sharif. DVD. Touchstone
Pictures. 2004

Hidalgo is the story of Frank T. Hopkins, born to a Lakota Indian woman, he is a cowboy and dispatch rider for the U.S. cavalry. Riding a dispatch, he unknowingly causes the massacre of Wounded Knee, and the destruction of the Lakota people. Hiding in the nightmare in which he lives, he and his horse Hidalgo are challenged by a rich Sheik to compete for Hopkins title as the “world’s greatest endurance rider” and to enter a 3,000 mile race across the Arabian Desert known as the Ocean of Fire.

References

Hidalgo. Dir. Joe Johnston. Perfs. Viggo Mortenson, Omar Sharif. DVD. Touchstone
Pictures. 2004

The Last Samurai. Dir. Edward Zwick. Perfs. Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe. DVD.
Warner Bros. 2003.
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