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Locations And Sets
To help infuse a sense of tradition and Japanese culture into the project, Zwick began production in a small Japanese town called Himeji.

The Last Samurai is the first film to shoot in Himeji, but the village boasts a much more impressive landmark in the form of the Engyoji Temple and Monastery, the production's first shooting location, which served as the country residence for Katsumoto and his loyal followers. A sprawling complex of graceful hand-hewn wooden buildings nestled high in the mountainside and graced by a forest of bamboo, Chinese elm and cypress trees, it was a unique and breathtaking spot.

"The Engyoji Monastery was built around the year 900," says Zwick. "It's a sacred place, first built to train monks and now a shrine where the Japanese make pilgrimages. The monks were enormously kind and gracious in allowing us to photograph it and them. Since the film tries to address the more spiritual aspects of the Samurai, it was a special place to begin production and really clarified the heart of the film for everyone. There is no way we could ever replicate something like this. You feel the past in every piece of wood, in the scent, the way the light hits, the way the stones have been polished from thousands of years of people walking on them and praying here. I think it was important to have endowed the film with the spirit of this extraordinary place."

"Making that initial, physical connection with such an impressive historic site really helped everyone on the crew, Japanese and American alike," offers Herskovitz, "to better understand what we were trying to achieve."

Filming at the monastery posed an unusual challenge for the company. Because of its location atop Mount Shosha, cast and crew traveled up the wooded mountainside via suspended gondola, which was the only alternative to a well-worn footpath.

Being especially careful to avoid damaging or altering the ancient structures in any way while shooting interiors, the production used full-sized opaque screens to serve as "walls" if they needed to change the dimensions of a room.

Following their shooting schedule in Japan, the production used additional sets and locations in New Zealand and on the Warner Bros. Studios lot in Burbank, always striving to recreate the look and atmosphere of late-1870s Japan as authentically as possible. Research was extensive. Starting months before filming began, production designer Lilly Kilvert and her team logged hundreds of hours poring over books, photos and documents about the Meiji and prior periods, as well as consulting with experts about fabric, building materials and even about what kinds of foliage would be likely to adorn a Samurai home's front yard.

Nearly every item and set in the film was made from scratch by the production, from the thatched-roof homes of a rural Samurai village to a congested, modern Tokyo thoroughfare; from silk-shaded lamps and rice paper window screens to period flags. They even made their own trees

Used primarily in the garden of Katsumoto's Tokyo home, in the Temple courtyard of his country residence, and to augment a natural forest bordering the great battlefield, more than 150 individual cherry trees were built by the production. Constructed as wooden trunks on portable stands, each tree had sets of removable "seasonal" branches so it could be dressed for spring, winter, summer or fall – often changing within a single day of shooting.

Kilvert, an Oscar nominee for her art direction on Legends of the Fall, adapted an existing set on the Warner Bros. Studios backlot in Burbank perhaps best known as Waltons' pond, from the 1970s television series The Waltons, and

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