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THE LAST SAMURAI

Director Zwick Realizes Lifelong Dream
Although principal photography on The Last Samurai officially began in October of 2002, director Edward Zwick has long been fascinated by Japanese culture and Japanese films. In a sense, he has been imagining The Last Samurai since he was a teenager.

"I first saw Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai when I was 17 and since then I've 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 dramatizing a theme. After seeing it, I set out to study every one of his films. Although I couldn't 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. The end of the rule by the old Shogunate led to Japan's first significant encounter with the West after a self-imposed isolation of 200 years.

"Most of all," he says, "it was a time of transition. 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."

Zwick, whose Shakespeare in Love earned a Best Picture Oscar, is no stranger to stories from this period. His films Glory and Legends of the Fall were set at the end of the 19th century. "I am drawn back, again and again, to this historical moment," he says. "There's something moving, even hypnotic about observing a character going through a personal transformation at a time when the whole culture around him is likewise in turmoil."

Multiple Oscar-nominee Tom Cruise, cast as the haunted Captain Algren, shares Zwick's interest in and admiration for the Japanese ethos, specifically that of the Samurai. Like Zwick, he discovered Kurosawa and the Japanese oeuvre as a teenager, and acknowledges always having had "a deep respect and strong feeling for the Japanese culture and people, the elegance and beauty of the Samurai, their spirit of Bushido that teaches strength, compassion, fierce loyalty, their commitment to honoring their word and a willingness to give their lives for what they know is right. It's essentially about taking responsibility for what you do and say, whatever the repercussions. More than a code for Samurai warriors, it's a strong way to live a life – any life. It was something I could not resist. When Ed first sat down with me to discuss it, I just knew I had to make this picture. I have a very strong connection to its theme, as well as to the characters in the story."

Also a producer on The Last Samurai, Cruise says that the epic nature of the story, in addition to Algren's emotional and philosophical arc and the opportunity to work with Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, were all enticing incentives. "This film is a full course meal," he says. "The adventure and journey of the character, the world he enters and the people he meets – it's a rich, challenging and truly fascinating story. From a production point of view, it has the broadest scope of anything I've done in my career: it's physical, it's dramatic, it's romantic and it's philosophical."

"Frankly," he continues, "what also attracted me was that we all three shared such enthusiasm for the subject. When I first started talking with Ed, he was so passionate and excited about it; he was like a 15-year-old boy, jumping around the room, pain

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