On September 24, 1877, Saigō Takamori, one of Japan's most loyal and honored samurai, died in the bloodiest conflict Japan had seen in over two hundred years -- a battle led by Saigō and his band of loyal students. Now, more than 125 years after his death, Saigō still remains a legendary yet enigmatic figure in Japan. Why would Japan's greatest warrior, whose sole purpose was to serve his country, set in motion a civil war and lead a group of rebel soldiers to overthrow the government that he had personally helped to restore? The Last Samurai sets forth to demystify Saigō's life, his machinations, and the dramatic historical events that shaped the life and death of Japan's favorite samurai. Exiled for misconduct, Saigō was pardoned in 1864 and called back to the mainland to train a group of Satsuma warriors. Their mission was to seize control of the imperial palace and restore the imperial house to its former glory. Saigō's coup was successful, and in 1867 he led the drive to destroy the shogunate and to create a powerful new state. But with Saigō's victory came a crushing defeat: in his drive to modernize Japan, the Meiji emperor, whom Saigō had helped bring to power, abolished all samurai privileges, including their ancient right to carry swords. Now an acting member of a modernizing Meiji government, Saigō was given command of the newly formed Imperial Guard, Japan's first national army in nearly a millennium. Saigō supported many of the government's Western-style reforms, but he was torn by the sense that he was betraying his most stalwart supporters. Deeply ambivalent about the government he had helped create, Saigō sought to end his career with a final dramatic gesture: he sought to go as imperial envoy to Korea, where he would insist that the Korean king recognize the Meiji emperor. When his plan was denounced as reckless, Saigō resigned from government, returned to his native Satsuma, and opened a military academy for former samurai warriors. His group of disgruntled students resented the rapid modernization of Japan even more than did Saigō. They set forth to slow the hand of change with their swords, making Saigō the reluctant leader of their uprising. Old Japan and New Japan met in battle and old Japan lost. Saigō died in battle from a bullet wound, but legend still has it instead that he died by his own sword, upholding samurai honor to the end.