The real story behind the Movie the Last Samurai

Posted by diana1988smith on October 24th, 2013

The Last Samurai, a 2003 movie staring Tom Cruise, is based upon the Satsuma Rebellion, in which the samurais that stood against the imperial changes made by the Japanese government. Although they were not the only rebellions to engage in war with the Meiji ruler (modernized government), they were the last to die for the cause which made samurai redundant. Reluctantly lead by the war hero Saigo Takamori, they were the biggest thorn in the side of the Meiji government. 

The new era which started in 1868, with many rebels in high positions including Takamori, aimed to discard the social standing of samurai warriors and their part in military. Takamori, along with many others, wanted to create a war against Korea in the hope that it could restore the samurai honour after victory, or at least die trying. When his plan was rejected by Meiji he gave up his position and retired to his hometown Kagoshima where he started his own military academy and taught the classic ways of war. 

As time passed and Takamori support grew stronger they managed to secede. With roughly 132 academies spread across their homeland, the Meiji government heard about the training that was being provided. Scared that it would ultimately start an uprising they sent police officers to investigate and remove any weapons the Satsuma rebellion was stockpiling. The police officers were captured and tortured for information. After confessing that assassination of Takamori was part of the plan, the rebellion was formed to protect him.

The Meiji had just finished several small but brutal battles regarding samurai uprisings and the fact that the legendary Takamori would be leading the next was intimidating. Hoping that quick dispersing of the group might stop an all-out war, Meiji made another attempt to attain the stockpiled weapons by sending a warship to Kagoshima. 1877 marked the year of open conflict when this ship was raided by 50 angry Satsuma students.

Over a period of three days a 1000 students raided as much of the naval yards as possible while Satsuma governor tried to explain the situation to the Meiji, but to no avail. Takamori was reluctantly pulled from semi-retirement to lead the rebels into a war that would not see the end of that year. Marching into Kumamoto territory in hope of taking the Kumamoto castle, said to be the strongest in Japan, their attempts failed. Forced to retreat and losing samurais with every step taken backwards, Takamori stood for his final battle in Shiroyama.

With only 500 men left, outnumbered 60 - 1, Takamori rejected the offer made by Yamagata (Imperial officer and leader) to surrender. Yamagata did not leave anything to chance and prepared well for several days before striking. The battle of Shiroyama was the last for the Satsuma samurais. Takamori was wounded but it's not clear whether he died because of it. Legend states he asked his follower Beppu Shinsuke to assist him with kaishakunin. The remaining men, including Shinsuke, died while charging the imperial army.

This war brought Japan to its knees in regard to finance. Paper currency replaced gold standard and the samurai, as a title, seized to exist.

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