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Played by: Tom Cruise
- The Alcoholic: Prior to his captivity. He eventually overcomes it during his captivity.
- The Atoner: Uses his assistance with the samurai to atone for the guilt he carries over his actions in the American military.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: With Katsumoto in the final battle.
- Badass Bookworm: Algren is a highly capable fighter, but he's also an excellent tactician (implied to be a major reason behind Bagley recruiting him for the Japanese mission in the first place), an author and a Cunning Linguist.
- Berserk Button: Mentioning Native Americans has a tendency to set off his PTSD, anger and self-loathing about his part in the Indian War massacres.
- The Captain: Was a Captain in the 7th Cavalry and is still addressed by his rank.
- Death Seeker: Tries to get a recruit to shoot him early in the film (as a Secret Test of Character) and participates in a plan at the end of the film that he directly compares to the Battle of Thermopylae, knowing full well how it turned out for them.Katsumoto: [about Algren] You do not fear death, but sometimes you wish for it.
- The Determinator: That's why Katsumoto admires him. Ujio, on the other hand, sees his refusal to accept defeat from his betters to be disrespectful. He comes around eventually.
- Going Native: Occurs during his captivity.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Goes into the final battle without one.
- The Hero: Of the movie.
- Manly Tears: Sheds them when presenting Katsumoto's katana to the Emperor.
- Mighty Whitey: Averted. Algren is the main character and learns the ways of the samurai, but he's never shown to be any better at being a samurai than the Japanese. The only advantage he has over the Japanese samurai is his knowledge of western war tactics, which comes in handy by the end of the film against the Japanese imperial army.
- My Greatest Second Chance: He experiences immense regret and guilt over his past experience with the tribal Native Americans, but the opportunity arises to redeem this regret when faced with a similar situation with the tribal Japanese.
- Papa Wolf: To a degree with Taka's children. During the ninja attack on the village, when Higen takes on one of the ninjas to distract him from Algren, the sight of the boy in danger motivates Algren to dispose of the one pinning him down and deal with the other. The look of fury as he drives his sword into the back of the ninja about to kill Higen and then twists the blade really drive the point home.
- Opposites Attract: With Taka.
- Samurai: Eventually becomes one.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Suffers nightmares of his time in the 7th Cavalry. The reason why he became The Atoner and The Alcoholic.Katsumoto: You have nightmares.Algren: Every soldier has nightmares.Katsumoto: Only one who is ashamed of what he has done.
- The Smart Guy: Uses his knowledge of western war tactics in the final battle.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: The way he kills Colonel Bagley. A particularly grievous example as, even by the standard of swords, katanas make really bad throwing weapons.
- Took a Level in Badass: Contrast his duels at the start of his captivity with how he looks at the end of it. Undergoes some significant Character Development at the same time.
- Underestimating Badassery: Subverted. Of the loyalist characters, he is the only one (initially at least) that seems to appreciate the danger the samurai pose.Bagley: They have no rifles; they're savages with bows and arrows!Algren: Whose sole occupation for the last thousand years has been war.
Played by: Ken Watanabe
- Back-to-Back Badasses: With Algren in the final battle.
- Bald of Awesome: Has a completely shaved head.
- Born in the Wrong Century: The Glory Days of the Samurai are long gone, Katsumuto is but the vestigial residue.
- Character Title: According to the Word of God, the title refers to him.
- Cool Helmet: In his full samurai dress.
- Death Seeker: Labels himself as one.
- Doomed Moral Victor: Does succeed posthumously in convincing the Emperor of the value of Bushido.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: At the beginning of the film, Katsumoto dreams of a white tiger in a misty forest, surrounded by samurai attackers but continuing to fight. When he then sees Algren during the battle, surrounded but continuing to fight, Katsumoto notices the spear Algren is fighting with has a banner with a white tiger attached to it and is reminded of the dream, motivating him to spare Algren's life.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: In the final battle.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: He's an expy of Saigō Takamori, leader of The Satsuma Rebellion, a revolt of ex-samurai against the Meiji government from January 29 to September 24, 1877, 9 years into the Meiji Era. Historically, the reason why the Satsuma Rebellion was so dangerous was because it was an important manufacturing center for cannons. Paintings depicting the revolt show that Takamori's forces had plenty of guns while the well-uniformed Imperial forces mostly only had swords!
- Honor Before Reason: He Does Not Like Guns since he considers them dishonorably for one thing. But in real life, most, if not all the samurai ended up using guns later on. He's also clings to the past.
- The Leader
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Katsumoto is a fictional counterpart to Saigo Takamori, who led the Satsuma Rebellion, and is generally thought of as the "last true Samurai". Of course, the real Saigo wore a Western-style military uniform into battle...
- Not Afraid to Die: As was typical of all samurai.
- Only a Flesh Wound: In the final battle.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Shows himself to be a firm, but kind leader to his people.
- Samurai: Naturally — the head samurai of his region.
- Undying Loyalty: To the Emperor.
- Worthy Opponent: The reason which prompts him to spare Algren's life.
Played by: Shin Koyamada
- Archer Archetype: Composed, independent (within the boundaries of Bushido). On the other hand, his attitude towards Algren is one of the friendlier among the samurai.
- Catch Phrase: "Jolly good."
- Dual Wielding: Draws both his katana and wakizashi and attempts to charge the guards during his Heroic Sacrifice.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Goes down in a lopsided battle to hold off Omura's men and buy time for his allies to escape."Father, let me stay. My time has come".
- Not Afraid to Die: Meets death with dignity.
- Samurai: As Katsumoto's son, he owns the samurai village depicted in the movie.
- Samurai Ponytail: For most of the movie, anyways.
- Traumatic Haircut: When the government passes laws restricting the rights of the Samurai, he is subjected to a very undignified and humiliating public haircut by the emperor's guards.
- You Shall Not Pass: After being mortally wounded, holds off Omura's soldiers while the rest of the samurai make their escape.
Played by: Koyuki
- Action Girl: Kills one of the ninjas during the attack on the village.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: Algren falls for her after she nurses him through his "cold turkey" phase when he first arrives at the village.
- Love Interest: Of Algren.
- Oba-san: To Nobutada, who she gently reminds that although it's his village, he needs to respect her wishes when in her house.
- Opposites Attract: With Algren.
- Widow Woman: Algren killed her husband.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: A perfect example — an elegant aristocrat who is at once softly spoken, but firm in her conviction. Her actress, Koyuki, is also an example of the Japanese aesthetic "ideal" in terms of classic female beauty.
The Silent Samurai ("Bob")
Played by: Seizō Fukumoto
- Affectionate Nickname: Algren names him "Bob".
- Badass Grandpa: Noticeably older than almost all the other samurai.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: In the final battle.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Taking the Bullet
- Not Afraid to Die: Fearlessly charges forward to save Algren from a bullet.
- No Name Given/Only Known By His Nickname: His real name is never revealed and he is only referred to by Algren's nickname of "Bob".
- Old Soldier: He's at least 60.
- Samurai: One of the older warriors depicted in the movie.
- The Voiceless: He speaks only a single word in the entire movie.
Played by: Hiroyuki Sanada
- Badass: He's definitely the most dangerous samurai in the film.
- The Berserker: He ignores injuries and little inconveniences like having to leap off a dying horse or being shot in the back to just keep attacking the enemy.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While initially hostile and dismissive of Algren, as the film progresses, Ujio develops a grudging respect for his warrior skill and determination.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: In the final battle. Wears one during the cavalry charge, but loses it almost immediately.
- I Can Still Fight: In the final battle, he gets shot and falls. Two younger samurai come to aid him, but he pushes them back, spits out some blood and stands up by himself.
- The Lancer: Of Katsumoto.
- Master Swordsman: The best fighter in the village.
- Not Afraid to Die
- Only a Flesh Wound: In the final battle.
- Samurai: A classically gruff example.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Algren impales him through his throat with a broken flag pole as he was about to deliver the Coup de Grâce.
- Law of Chromatic Superiority: He was one of Katsumoto's best warriors and wears a red armor accordingly.
Played by: Timothy Spall
- Brutal Honesty: Claims he lost his original job with a British trading mission because of his "unfortunate tendency to tell the truth in a country where no-one ever says what they mean".
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Effectively lampshaded in the epilogue; while Graham doesn't know Algren's fate for certain, he (correctly) believes that he's "may have found some small measure of peace, that we all seek, and few of us ever find".
- Gentleman and a Scholar: A scholar who makes his living translating the lies of Japanese who never quite tell the full truth.
- I Should Write a Book About This: Graham states that he's long wanted to write a book about the Samurai for years, but their insular nature made it impossible. Algren leaves Graham the journals he wrote in captivity just before the final battle, stating his hope that perhaps they'll help with Graham's book.
- Nightmare Fetishist: "I've always had a dread fascination with scalping."
- Oh Crap!: When he realises his interest in scalping has slammed down Algren's Berserk Button.
- Plucky Comic Relief: To an extent.
- Quintessential British Gentleman: Though he's more lively than the stereotypical British scholar, a typical trait of whom is generally not a fascination with execution and torture. That said, Algren's vivid description of the process of scalping does seem to scare him straight.
- Refuge in Audacity: Claiming Algren is President of the United States to bluff his way past the Omura-paid guards guarding Katsumoto.
- Stock British Phrases: "Jolly good"
- Tagalong Reporter: Follows Algren into some really dangerous places.
Played by: Masato Harada
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: He's so confident in the superiority of his forces during the final battle that he brushes off the advice of his paid military advisor and forgets how the samurai destroyed the Emperor's army during the Battle in the Fog and orders a Zerg Rush style attack. It didn't go well for the poor soldiers who tried to carry out the orders.
- Big Bad: The movie's lead villain.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lining the Omura family's pockets is his main goal, even if it means slaughtering many of his fellow countrymen.
- Dirty Coward: When Omura angrily protests the Emperor stripping his family of its wealth as a gift to the people, the Emperor offers him Katsumoto's sword to commit seppuku if the dishonor is too great. Omura doesn't even have the courage for that.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: He's completely unable to fathom Katsumoto's determination to die fighting the good fight, apparently having counted on Katsumoto to commit Seppuku and avoid the shame of defeat if the battle became unwinnable for Katsumoto.
- Faux Affably Evil: He comes across as modest and diplomatic when he first appears. Later scenes reveal him to be a Machiavellian tyrant willing to crush anyone or anything who stands in the way of his ambitions.
- Genre Savvy: Recognises Algren's time with the Samurai has brought him round to their side and orders his minions to kill Algren if he goes anywhere near Katsumoto.
- Hired Guns: Algren guesses Omura was the one who sent the ninjas to kill Katsumoto.
- Hollywood Tactics: It turns out that ordering a human wave style attack on an enemy you couldn't see and not caring about what sort of battle plan the other side might have is a bad thing. Who knew?
- Insult Backfire: Gets one to the American Ambassador Swanbeck, who is complaining that Omura isn't expediting the arms trade deal as fast as he would like, and that perhaps the Americans might speak to some other Japanese official to get what they want. Omura retorts that if that's the case, he can easily negotiate a deal with the French or British to supply Japan's army.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Notwithstanding his greed and hunger for power, he is astute in recognizing Japan's need for modernization and industralization in the context of the expansionism and imperialism of the westerns nations in the Nineteen Century.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: His character seems loosely based on Okubo Toshimichi, a preeminent Japanese statesman responsible for removing the Samuraii's privileged status in Japanese society who (for better or worse) is considered by many to be the founding father of modern Japan.
- Pride: He and Bagley are far too confident in their firearms and derisive of the Samurai's fighting abilities - after nearly 300 years of peace - early on in the film. Bagley appears to learn the error of his ways, suggesting sending in skirmishers rather than a main attack force at the start of the final battle with the samurai. Omura has definitely not learned a thing, overriding Bagley and sending his men to the slaughter rather than listening to his paid military adviser.
- Smug Snake: Significantly overestimates his own capabilities, and those of his men, and is shown to frequently disregard useful advice, even if it's advice he paid for.
- Suit with Vested Interests: Omura's interest in Japan's modernization has less to do with any interest in the country's well-being and more to do with the businesses that he owns. This also influences several disastrous tactical decisions he makes with the army.
- Underestimating Badassery: Is more dismissive of the samurai than any other character in the film. Even when Bagley starts realising what a threat they are, Omura insists on a full attack.
- Villainous Breakdown: Omura starts losing his smug cool when the Samurai prove to be more of a threat than he thought, and then he finally snaps entirely in impotent rage when the Emperor disowns him.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: He genuinely wants to modernize Japan in order to defend and advance the nation's interest on the world stage. However, he has little regard for the suffering and bloodshed that has to occur to bring it about. Possibly subverted in that Omura is shown to have business interests that would likely flourish in a more trade-receptive Japan, so his motives for modernization are likely not entirely altruistic.
Played by: Tony Goldwyn
- Affably Evil: Despite being a slaughterer of women and children (and incredibly racist), Bagley is actually rather polite and makes some effort to be friendly with Algren before he's ultimately (rightfully) rebuffed.
- Ask a Stupid Question.../Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:Bagley: Algren, what is it about your own people you hate so much?
- Colonel Badass: An evil one.
- The Dragon: To Omura — he's the hired Western muscle.
- Expy: Reviews have noticed Bagley bears a striking resemblance to Custer himself (who is mentioned in the movie), sporting the same sort of hair-style and facial hair, having served in the the 7th Cavalry, participating in the slaughter of Indians and being incredibly arrogant and racist.
- Hollywood Tactics: Superior firepower and a larger force does not guarantee victory. To give him credit, he shows much more respect for the samurai the second time around, and councils a cautious and tactically sensible approach when the samurai feign retreat, but the overconfident Omura overrules him.
- I Did What I Had to Do: "I did what I was ordered to do, and I have no remorse", in reference to slaughtering the women and children of a village that raided his and Algren's forces.
- Jerkass: Bagley is a man of the times who believes in his own cultural and racial superiority and has no qualms about massacring "lesser" peoples, inclusive women and children.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: A man who considers Native-Americans and Japanese to be subhuman species certainly qualifies.
- Smug Snake: Is extremely dismissive of "lesser" cultures and individuals, the samurai in particular.
- Underestimating Badassery: Woefully underestimates the samurai, believing them to be no more than "savages, with bows and arrows." and that the army's guns will be enough to secure victory. Seems to have learned his lesson by the time of the rematch.Bagley: The rebels don't have a single rifle. They're savages with bows and arrows.Algren: Whose sole occupation for the last one thousand years has been war.
- Villainous Valor: Is clearly at least brave, placing himself in harm's way when the samurai charge his troops at the end of the movie. Used to underline his boss Omura's relative cowardice, who remains on the hill and visibly panics at the prospect of the samurai getting anywhere near his position.
Sergeant Zebulon Gant
Played by: Billy Connolly
- Badass Grandpa: He's an older man who should be retired, but is still a formidable and brave soldier.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: His method of instilling some sense of order into the new Japanese recruits is bellowing at them in a language they probably don't understand.Gant: [to the new recruits] Right, you little bastards! You will stand up straight or I will personally shit kick every Far Eastern buttock that appears before my eyes! [the recruits immediately come to attention]
- Last Stand: Like Algren, likely realises that the first fight against the samurai is going to be a Curb-Stomp Battle, and not in the way they were hoping. Yet when Algren orders him to withdraw with the rest of the noncombatants and advisers, Gant cheerfully responds, "No offence sir, but, shove it up your ass."
- Living Emotional Crutch: To Algren, to an extent. Tends to run interference for him when Algren is drunk or when other characters are unknowingly pressing Nathan's Berserk Button.
- Mauve Shirt: Technically those who get him aren't the villains of the story, but at this point Algren (who is a witness) doesn't yet know about that.
- Old Soldier: Has been retired for quite some time.
- Retirony: He could have well enjoyed his retirement from the army but opted to serve in Japan. He perishes in his first engagement against the samurai.
- Underestimating Badassery: Has a good laugh when he realises the samurai still wear armour. He seems to take them seriously enough in battle, though.
- Undying Loyalty: To Algren. He refuses a direct order to move to the back line to fight with his old comrade.
- Weapon of Choice: Good old Winchester Model 1873.
Emperor Mutsuhito (posthumous name Meiji)
Played by: Shichinosuke Nakamura
- The Emperor: Of Imperial Japan.
- The Good King: Katsumoto believes him to be this, until he realizes that the emperor puts his trust in Omura. Truly becomes this after Algren brings him Katsumoto's saber, when he realizes the value of Bushido.
- Historical-Domain Character
- Leave Behind a Pistol:Emperor: [to a stuttering Omura] "If your shame is too great, I offer you this sword."
- My God, What Have I Done?: Has this reaction (though doesn't speak the trope aloud) when he sees what his attempts at 'modernizing' Japan have cost his people, prompting him to call off the trade agreement with the Americans.Emperor Meiji: I dreamed of a unified Japan. Of a country strong and independent and modern... Now we have railroads and cannon, Western clothing, but we cannot forget who we are or where we come from.