Hans Zimmer,
The Last Samurai
(Elektra, 2003)

As Hans Zimmer's 100th film score, The Last Samurai stands with his more accomplished offerings, doing a predictably solid job in adding to the emotions of the film and standing as a valid listening experience on its own. The score is presented here as a lengthy suite, with the music segueing from one track into the next without interruption, and it's an effective technique.

Here Zimmer scores for a lot of deep strings (basses and cellos), and frequently uses electronically manipulated Japanese taiko drums as accents. As with most film scores, there are several tracks that simply sound like background music, such as "A Hard Teacher" and the first four minutes of "Idyll's End." Others, however, are quite electrifying, like "Spectres in the Fog" and "To Know My Enemy," which utilizes some otherworldly vocals and moves from stillness into a full orchestral sound with underlying taiko drums. The taiko are used relentlessly in "Ronin," which leads into the exciting "Red Warrior," the musical climax of the score, in which orchestra, rhythm, and male voices combine in a frenzied rage, quelled by the tragic and majestic "The Way of the Sword." The final track, "A Small Measure of Peace," restores the quiet serenity.

Though not up to Zimmer's best work like The Thin Red Line or Black Hawk Down, the score to The Last Samurai predictably blends the sounds of East and West, although I would have liked to have heard more authentic Japanese music. This is first and foremost a traditional romantic Western score, and those looking for authenticity will be disappointed. Nothing implies the alienness and strangeness of other cultures as much as their music, but there's only the suggestion of the East here. Of course the conceit of the film itself that "The Last Samurai" is an American gives the game away. It's a western movie, and with that limitation in mind, the Zimmer score is a solid fit.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 8 May 2004

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