I really enjoyed this film. A lot of people I know resent the extremely Hollywood ending and I can appreciate that, but up until the final battle I was thoroughly engrossed. This film totally changed my opinion of Tom Cruise and I actually left the cinema thinking very highly of him.
However, the real star of this show, for me, was Ken Watanbe. What a talent! Seeing Algren completely change his ways and adopt the samurai way of life was really rather interesting. It's a typical Hollywood spin to paint Samurai of this era as the good guys, but it really got me thinking about how much self-discipline they must have had. If you can ignore how warped this film is, you will probably enjoy it. The storyline focuses on Japan attempting to modernise its military power by adopting Western inventions, such as the rifle. In a typically shrewd move by the Americans, they end up selling high powered weapons and technology to a buyer who will later become a fearless opponent.
Samurai resent this, partly because the weapons are to be turned against the unruly swordsmen who refuse to recognise the western style of government and democracy. Seeing how the world got lazy with guns in comparison to the well-educated and morally righteous samurai was always an interesting aside to the dramatics occurring on-screen.
The scenery is picturesque, the fighting scenes are well choreographed, the costumes are perfect and just about everything falls into place nicely.