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Soundtrack review: The last samurai (Hans Zimmer, 2003)

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Soundtrack review: The last samurai (Hans Zimmer, 2003)


perfection (according to the dictionary) : broadly, a state of completeness and flawlessness
It’s very hard for me to express through words what this score means to me…Did you ever dream a dream so beautiful, so pure that you never really got over it? Picture the afternoon of an early spring day…you are sitting in your favorite place in the whole world, be it on the porch of your childhood home, on the shore of a sea, on the top of a hill or in the arms of someone you love….It’s about one hour before the sun will start to set, it’s that magic hour when the sky looks as if it’s on fire with all sorts of colors. Now imagine that you are also in your favorite memory, the time when you felt the happiest. It doesn’t matter if it’s from two weeks ago, or 20 years, or if it’s your most distant childhood memory. It’s that memory so blissful that you’ve always longed to recapture its feeling. Well, you just did. You are in your perfect place, in your perfect time; it’s spring and you will look at the most beautiful sky you have ever seen.  This is where “The last samurai” takes me.
Hans Zimmer found that secret place inside me and put it in notes. That perfect dream now has a score. He achieved what I thought impossible: to help me relieve that dream over and over again, to return to the happiest memories of my life, to reconnect with myself in times of need.  He constructed “The last samurai” with the same care and attention for details that Japanese meditating gardens are built with. Every cue is put in the right place. He populated the garden with flowers that symbolize sensitivity, melancholy, delicacy, tenderness, longing, anger, honor, determination. The music is the water flowing through that garden, inviting me to dream. In that garden it’s always spring. Everything gets reborn, warms up and comes back to life.
When I listen to this score, I enter a never ending dream of a warm spring afternoon. The feeling of eternity I get from this music starts right at the opening cue. Time just sort of stops…“A way of life” is the birth…It comes from a prayer on the shore of an endless sea…with its Japanese flutes, violins and warm strings in the background. I close my eyes and it lifts me in a gentle, uninterrupted flight…
“Specters in the fog” is a heartbeat that becomes stronger and stronger…
 “A hard teacher” is among my five favorite music cues ever written.  You can picture that idyllic and hidden Japanese mountain village from the movie when you hear this track.  The gentleness and delicacy of the cue take me back to the innocence and joy of my childhood. It strikes a distant chord that reverberates through years of my purest memories.
“Idyll’s end” is the most complex track of the score; it includes bits of most of the themes from it. It’s a miniature of the entire score, hidden right there in the middle of it.  “Red warrior” is as tough as a Japanese sword.   
I see the last two cues, “The way of the sword” and “A small measure of peace” as one single story: the long road, sometimes difficult, but never interrupted that you take to get home, to find your place. Those two cues are there to always remind me that no matter what might happen, the road is still there, I will never lose my way and I will eventually find my small measure of peace…
It’s a score to listen before you go to bed, regardless of the type of day you had…it’s a score to listen on a beach, while looking far over the see…it’s a score to listen to, yes, on a spring afternoon after a tough winter. Listen to it, and you know that everything is going to be alright. There’s beauty in this world… Let yourself dream.
The Japanese gardens have their roots in the Japanese religion of Shinto, with its story of the creation of eight perfect islands. Hans Zimmer created eleven tracks in this score. And, as Katsumoto says in his dying moments in the movie, thinking of the cherry tree flowers, “they are all perfect”…
 My ratings:
(from Aristotle): is perfect
1. which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
3. which has attained its purpose

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. woodpaul 5th April 2016

    One of the best soundtracks of all time. I am going to see/hear Mr. Zimmer in two weeks time, cannot wait. Hopefully he will play 1-2 tracks from this masterpiece as well.

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 6th April 2016

      I totally agree. You are lucky, I have to wait a month to see him in Vienna 🙂

  2. Megan H 26th August 2017

    Great review! I completely agree, and love the way you worded this! I love all of Hans’ music but this CD I’ve literally played thousands of times. It’s the one thing I say when people ask what would you want on a deserted island? I say this CD and a means to play it. It brings peace to a life that might not be peaceful at all! You captured all of that in such beautiful words! Thank you!

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 30th August 2017

      Thank you for your wonderful words! A score as magnificent as this inspires me.

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