I’ve been given a link to the TLS script, so for anyone who might want to read it, e-mail me. I’m not responsible for the spoilers, because it’s your choice to read it.
And now, enjoy a preview of The Last Samurai
Tom Cruise gets to swing his samurai sword in this historical epic set in 1870s Japan. But can he cut it as a kendo warrior and look good in a kimono?
After the back-to-back popcorn thrillers of Minority Report, Mission Impossible II and Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise gets serious again with this historical epic set against the backdrop of Japan’s rapid transition from feudal society to a modern nation. He plays Woodrow Algren, an American Civil War veteran turned spokesman for the Winchester gun company. He is hired by Emperor Meiji to come to Japan and train a new imperial army in modern warfare. Meiji’s aim is to wipe out the samurai, the last remnants of the old guard. But when rebel warrior Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) captures Algren, he begins to learn about the way of the samurai and is forced to reassess where his loyalties lie.
There are definite shades of Dances With Wolves here, as well as obligatory references to the films of Akira Kurosawa, and Warner Bros will be keen to keep these associations foremost in people’s minds come the award season. The $100 million film is scheduled for a prestigious end-of-year American release and director Edward Zwick has a good track record at the Oscars, having made Civil War drama Glory, and redeemed himself after directing misfires like Courage Under Fire and The Siege by producing Shakespeare In Love and Traffic.
Cruise, for one, seems to have confidence in the project. Choosing this over Anthony Minghella’s forthcoming Civil War epic Cold Mountain, the star (who is also on producing duties alongside partner Paula Wagner) reportedly gave up his normally huge up-front salary to keep costs down. Given that every effort has been made to be respectful to Japanese history and culture – Cruise even learned some Japanese for the role – it’s safe to say that The Last Samurai won’t be relying on his winning smile to succeed. Indeed, Cruise aside, most of the cast have been assembled on acting prowess, rather than star wattage, with notable parts for British thesps including Timothy Spall as a translator and Billy Connolly as a Algren’s long-serving comrade-in-arms.
Filmed mainly on location near New Plymouth on the North Island of New Zealand between January and May 2003, the film did run in to a little controversy over its use of Mt Taranaki as a stand in for Mt Fuji. A sacred site for local Maori tribes, some groups claimed they should be compensated for using images of the mountain in the film, even though the production had already made an “undisclosed” donation to a tribe to bless the film’s locations. The New Zealand film industry body Film NZ dismissed the furore as a “storm in a tea cup”.
After The Lord Of The Rings, though, we can confidently assume these locations will provide The Last Samurai with suitably dramatic settings and, with a trailer hinting at some epic battle scenes, expect plenty of samurai slicing and dicing as well. Cruise trained for eight months with fight co-ordinator John Powell (Gladiator, Braveheart) to master kendo and karate, and practised his sword style for a couple of hours each day on set before shooting started. His Japanese co-stars even gave him respect for looking good in a kimono.
Lastly, me being nice, and Marta being absolutely wonderful for sending me this, here are some pictures of Tom , Penelope and his kids in New York