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International Casting
"We made a leap of faith in the writing stage that we would find Japanese actors to play so many principal roles," says Herskovitz, no novice when it comes to casting. "Whenever you find the right actor it's miraculous, but when you find several right actors, it's even more so. Ken Watanabe is incredibly captivating; you see in his face power, compassion, humor and sadness. Koyuki, who plays Katsumoto's sister Taka, came in with the gravitas necessary to portray the sense of responsibility and the dilemma her character faces. Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays Ujio, is a major star in Japan. In lesser hands his part would just be seen as a simple antagonist but it has become so much more nuanced because of his performance. It's like we found the Dream Team."

For Cruise, interacting with the Japanese cast helped bring to life some of the texts he had been studying. "When you talk with people about their culture and they bring you into it, give you their own personal insights into the history," he acknowledges, "it goes beyond anything you can read in a book."

Cruise's unflagging esprit de corps set the tone for the production, and was the first thing that Ken Watanabe noticed about the American star in their initial meeting. "We had our first rehearsals in Los Angeles and it might have been overwhelming for me, but Ed and Marshall and Tom made it easy," recalls Watanabe. "It was a theatrical kind of rehearsal; we improvised a lot, explored how Katsumoto and Algren lived and the evolution of their relationship. I come from the theater, so it was a very reassuring way to begin. Also, it's not often in Japanese films that I could help develop the character in that kind of creative atmosphere." Regarding his high-profile colleague, Watanabe says warmly, "What a nice guy! He came to those early rehearsals in jeans and a t-shirt and helped set the tone for a very open, relaxed setting. His attitude was, ‘let's make a great film together.'"

The bond that soon grew between Watanabe and Cruise proved helpful in later scenes where, as Zwick points out, "They had to trust each other because they were swinging swords within inches of each other's faces – real aluminum swords." As Watanabe jokingly puts it, "The timing had to be perfect; one miss and that would be the end of the movie."

Commenting on the give-and-take the two actors developed, both physically and mentally, Zwick remarks on how important it was to the story for Katsumoto to prove a formidable match for Algren, "to be his rival and equal in every aspect. Without that balance, the movie would have faltered and tripped."

Herskovitz agrees, saying that, "If you don't have a great Katsumoto, you don't have a movie. As powerful as Tom is as Captain Algren, he must have someone to play against. We felt some trepidation over casting the role initially and did a fair amount of searching before we came upon Ken Watanabe. When we met him we knew instantly that he was the one. It wasn't just his look, but his manner, his bearing and charisma."

Watanabe particularly enjoyed the confluence of East and West that the production fostered, both on and off camera. "It was interesting," he says, "the juxtaposition of Japan and the West getting involved historically and also literally, in terms of this film – an American director and actors with Japanese actors and crew. We all learned from each other."

Indeed, highly skilled and impressively credentialed Japanese professionals filled key positions behind the camera. "There are people on the crew who have devoted their whole lives to the presentation and celebration of the Samurai culture," says Zwick. &qu

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