This is the Samurai version of The Great Escape. Why? Because it is basically a real story with a token yank dropped in to make it sell in America.
The real Samurai in question was Saigo Takamori who was one of the key figures in the Meiji Restoration. The rest of the story is basically correct, he did lead a rebellion against modernisers (who he helped to power a short time before) and popular myth has it that he committed suicide on the battlefield after his final defeat. Although he didnt wear Samurai armour and the only way to tell the armies apart was a scraf worn on the arms. Also untrue is the dislike of modern weapons. As anyone knows, Japan had guns before almost everyone else!
Why the US has the need to add their own heroes to the mix and steal from other cultures the victories of their great men, I have no idea. Still, this film does portray, and play to, the western notion of the “Golden Age” of Samurai popular amongst almost all western youth. The part about Cruise learning the secret to sword play, “too much mind”, is ham fistedly translated and transposed but the key is correct. For example in Karate (Empty Hand) the thing that is empty is NOT the hand but the mind. This is a general concept Cruise grasps and given that was already an experienced sabre fighter he could have picked up the Japanese style that quickly.
I also liked the genre reliability of at least one ninja confrontation per Japanese film.
All in all, I like this film, it is fun. Unrealistic and, like all history based US films, unbelievably arrogant, but for all that it has a stirring quality. It is therefore to be recomended.
However, If you want real understanding of Japan, watch The Shadow Warrior, The Yakuza, Lady Snowblood, Yojimbo or anything by Kitano.