Compiled by: Jack Foley
FOR Edward Zwick, The Last Samurai marks the realisation of an
ambition he has held since being a teenager, when he first discovered
his passion for Japanese culture and films.
"I first saw Akira Kurosawas The Seven Samurai when
I was 17 and, since then, Ive seen it more times than I
can remember," he admits.
"In that single film, there is everything a director needs
to learn about storytelling, about the development of character,
about shooting action, about dramatising a theme.
"After seeing it, I set out to study every one of his films.
Although I couldnt know it at the time, it set me on the
course of becoming a filmmaker."
Long a student of history, Zwick found the period known as the
Meiji Restoration particularly compelling, given that it marked
the end of the rule by the old Shogunate and led to Japans
first significant encounter with the West after a self-imposed
isolation of 200 years.
"Most of all, it was a time of transition," he explains.
"In every culture, that moment of change, from the antique
to the modern, is especially poignant and dramatic.
"It is also wondrously visual. Each image, each landscape,
each room tells the story, the juxtaposition of the old and new.
A man in a bowler hat strolls beside a woman wearing a kimono.
A man firing a repeating rifle faces a man wielding a sword."
Zwicks films have often explored the complexities of war
and honour (such as in his Oscar-winning Glory), but the opportunity
to dramatize the differences, as well as common ground between
a Western soldier, and a Samurai warrior, was simply too great
"First in college, and then for years after, I read a great
deal of Japanese history," he recalls. "I was deeply
moved by Ivan Morriss The Nobility of Failure,
which tells the story of Saigo Takamori, one of Japans most
famous figures, who first helped create and then rebelled against
the new government.
"His beautiful and tragic life became the point of departure
for our fictional tale."
The change from feudal Japan to a more modern society meant the
demise of certain archaic customs and values epitomised
by the Samurai.
For many years, they held a highly-respected place in the social
order, rather like Englands knights, protecting the lords,
or, in their case, the Shogunate, to which they had sworn lifelong
In contrast the modern weapons the West began to offer Japan,
however, the Samurai seemed anachronistic to the proponents of
progress and as Japans lust for all things modern grew,
there seemed to be no place for the Samurais fabled swords
and old-fashioned notions of honour, given human form in the movie
by Ken Watanabes last remaining leader, Katsumoto.
"Ive always found the core values of the Samurai culture
to be both admirable and relevant," continues the director.
"In particular, the understanding that violence and compassion
exists side by side, and that poetry, beauty and art are as much
a part of a warriors training as swordsmanship or physical
"Also, Im interested in the unexpected possibility
of spiritual rebirth reaching those lives for whom it seemed impossible,"
he adds, in reference to Tom Cruises character, Captain
"Our story is a romantic adventure in the broadest sense
of the word and, at the same time, a very personal odyssey. The
challenge is to create a story in which the relationships rival
the larger context, the inner landscape resonating against the
It is a challenge which viewers should feel that has realistically
and comprehensively been met.