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The Last Samurai - Preview



Preview by: Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD’S filmmakers appear to be going the way of the Samurai, with a glut of new films due to pay homage to the fighting prowess of that ancient culture.

The Matrix sequels, for example, boasts a lengthy Samurai sword fight sequence, while Quentin Tarantino’s return, Kill Bill, features Uma Thurman’s Bride laying waste to a room full of 80 villains, with only a sword, in a scene to be choreographed by the Crouching Tiger guy.

Well, Tom Cruise appears to be going one step better, appearing as Captain Nathan Algren in director, Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai, which has been scheduled for a worldwide release in early 2004.

According to Variety, the Mission Impossible star will play a colonial swordsman who arrives in Japan to train the emperor’s troops in the art of modern warfare, thereby eradicating the samurai warriors who have traditionally been paid to protect the territories of their feudal lords.

As the country dishonours and then systematically wipes out the samurai, however, Cruise’s protagonist gets to witness close-up the honour and contradictions of the warriors and is forced to make some tough choices.

The project has been described as a ‘dream-come-true thing’ by Cruise, who claims to have long held a deep respect and a strong feeling for ‘this culture of Japanese people’, as well as ‘the elegance and the beauty of the Samurai spirit’.

As a result, his character will become impressed and influenced by their ancient code, even as he is charged with ridding Japan of their practises.

For Zwick, whose other credits include the Oscar-winning Glory, as well as Courage Under Fire and The Siege, the film marked ‘the best birthday present that anyone could ever have’, given that the director turned 50 on the day marketing began, near Osaka.

The ensuing shoot will have taken the crew from Japan to New Zealand and America before it wraps in time for its 2004 release.

The Last Samurai will co-star Japanese actor, Hiroyuki Sanada, as Algren's fencing master, and the likes of Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall. Sanada's past acting credits include playing the fool in King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1999, while Spall has previously teamed up with Cruise to admirable effect in Vanilla Sky.

It is the film’s intention to ‘pay homage to the samurai spirit’, according to Cruise, and to ‘celebrate the beauty and elegance of that portion of your [Japanese] culture’.

With that in mind, however, the film has already run into controversy during the New Zealand part of the shoot, as sections of the Maori community claimed sacred sites had been desecrated during filming.

Others feel they should be paid compensation for the use of images of their sacred mountain, Mount Taranaki, which will feature prominently. The New Zealand film industry body, howeve,r has simply referred to the dispute as ‘a storm in a teacup’.

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