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Story Notes for The Last Samurai

Weeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies! Below is the online version of the Story Notes for The Last Samurai.

Award Notes
Both Tom Cruise and Watanabe were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances.

Ken Watanabe was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this movie.

The Last Samurai was nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction.

The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Sound Mixing.

Costume designer Ngila Dickson was nominated for an Oscar for her work on the movie. Dickson also created costumes for The Lord of the Rings movies and Blood Diamond (2006).

Bio Notes
Cinematographer John Toll won back-to-back Oscars in 1995 and 1996 for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart.

Cruise was very interested in Japanese culture — it’s part of the reason he made the movie.

Director Edward Zwick studied martial arts for a year until he broke three ribs sparring with a black belt.

Director Edward Zwick’s Glory and Legends of the Fall were also set at the end of the 19th century. Zwick: “In every culture, that moment of change from the antique to the modern is especially poignant.”

Hiroyuki Sanada (Ujio) began acting and doing his own stunts when he was 13 years old.

Ken Watanabe’s next big role was leading an army of ninjas in Batman Begins (2005).

Masato Harada’s grandfather’s name was Omura, just like his character.

Seizo Fukumoto (the Silent Samurai) has died in most of the Samurai movies he’s been in.

Tom Cruise and Timothy Spall were both in Vanilla Sky in 2001.

Tom Cruise followed this up with Collateral (2004) and War of the Worlds (2005).

Tom Cruise had two kids at this point in his life — Isabella and Connor. Suri was born three years later.

Tony Goldwyn was very interested in Japanese culture. He studied martial arts for 10 years.

Casting Notes
Katsumoto’s son is played by Shin Koyamada, a martial artist who had never been in a movie.

Koyuki was a model and actress in Japan before this.

Masato Harada (Omura) is a Japanese director who had never acted before.

Scott Wilson (U.S. Ambassador) is Hershel on AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Shichinosuke Nakamura (Emperor) comes from a family of Kabuki performers.

This was Ken Watanabe’s first American movie. He also stars in Inception (2010).

Timothy Spall also stars in the Harry Potter movies and The King’s Speech (2010).

Tony Goldwyn (Colonel Bagley) plays the bad guy, Carl, in Ghost (1990).

William Atherton plays obnoxious guys in both Die Hard (1988) and Ghostbusters (1984).

Tom Cruise was just coming off the sci-fi thriller Minority Report (2002).

Billy Connolly is a Scottish stand-up comedian and actor (The Boondock Saints). Though he appeared in a lot of comedic roles, director Zwick saw his dramatic side in Mrs. Brown (1997).

Seizo Fukumoto (Algren’s guard) postponed retiring from acting to make this movie. He had been acting in Samurai movies since he was 15.

Hiroyuki Sanada has been in over 50 Japanese movies, including Ring (1998). Sanada was also in Rush Hour 3 (2007) and on Lost (2010).

Finance Note
The Last Samurai is Japan’s 11th highest-grossing movie as of 2012.

Health Note
In the movie, Algren experiences delirium tremens, or the DTs, from his sudden alcohol withdrawal.

Historical Notes
“Repeating rifles” like the Winchester ’73 gave settlers a major edge in taking control of the West.

During the real Satsuma Rebellion, the Imperial Army suffered 7,000 casualties.

Early ninjas were considered mercenary foot soldiers — the opposite of the noble samurai.

Emperor Meiji was only 24 years old at the time. He began ruling when he was 14.

Rutherford B. Hayes was president in 1877. He had been elected with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

Scalping was practiced by Middle Eastern nomads, hundreds of years before Native Americans.

The Gatling gun was invented by Dr. Richard Gatling during the Civil War.

The Samurai used weather to their advantage, striking when they were well-hidden.

The law forbidding samurai from carrying swords, called the Hait?rei Edict, was passed in March 1876.

The real Meiji Emperor embraced the ideas of the West but also honored old traditions.

The samurai rebels actually used firearms — they don’t in the movie, to show they embrace old ways.

Location Notes
The Last Samurai was shot in New Zealand, Japan, and Burbank, CA. The harbor is a set built in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

The samurai village was constructed on a cattle and sheep farm in New Plymouth, New Zealand. A 200-member crew worked mostly in pouring rain to build 25 structures.

The soldiers’ boot-camp training took place on a cricket field in New Zealand. The crew would sit up on the bleachers and watch.

Music Note
The film score is composer Hans Zimmer’s 100th score. It earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

Pop-culture Notes
Director Edward Zwick watched The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) to get inspiration.

The American Film Institute named The Last Samurai one of the “Top Ten Movies of 2003.”

The Last Samurai (2003) opened at No. 1 at the box office. It went on to be nominated for four Oscars.

The movie 300 (2007) was based on the Battle of Thermopylae.

Director Edward Zwick was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Zwick first saw the movie at age 17 — it was part of the reason he became a director. Zwick: “In that single film there is everything a director needs to know about storytelling.”

Japan declared October 6th as Tom Cruise Day in 2006. Cruise has visited Japan more times than any other Hollywood star — he’s the first to get his own day.

Press Note
Roger Ebert compared The Last Samurai to Lawrence of Arabia and Dances with Wolves.

Prop Notes
Samurai used katana swords partly because they could be quickly drawn from their sheaths.

Roughly 7,000 arrows and 300-400 swords were used in the movie.

Some of the soldiers’ guns are real weapons from the 1870s.

The props department found Graham’s 19th century camera on eBay.

They used over 700 real firearms in the movie. The rest were rubber.

Quote Notes
Cruise: “The [Samurai] were the artists, the philosophers, the warriors of their time.”

Cruise said he had a, “clearer sense of awareness, of mind over body” after making the movie.

Cruise said the Samurai, “recognized with great power comes a great responsibility.”

Director Edward Zwick: “Algren is condemned to live, whereas Katsumoto can fulfill his destiny and die.”

Zwick: “Koyuki [conveys so much] in her look. It’s almost like a silent movie performance.”

Zwick: “Bagley’s racism is undeniable but it’s unconscious and… appropriate for a man of his time.”

Zwick: “When I’m happiest is communicating without words.”

Tom Cruise: “[This movie] is a rich, challenging, and truly fascinating story. It has the broadest scope of anything I’ve done in my career.”

Cruise: “I have a tremendous affinity for the code of the Samurai. It’s about honor. Compassion. Loyalty. Those things always get me in my life.”

Tony Goldwyn: “Moral ambiguity [fascinates me] and that’s why I find… villains interesting to play.”

Tom Cruise: “I started feeling like Algren in the village. I got a sense of the kind of emotional and physical transformation he was going through.”

Director Zwick: “[Algren has to] confront stillness and confront himself.”

Zwick said that scalping is a trigger that causes Algren’s flashbacks.

Zwick: “[Algren] sees something he hasn’t seen much in his life since he was a child – a family.”

Masato Harada (Omura): “I wanted to do a ‘villain’… but [Zwick] prohibited me [from doing] those facial expressions.”

Critic Roger Ebert: “Beautifully designed… acted with conviction, it’s an uncommonly thoughtful epic.”

Tom Cruise: “This Civil War captain… has become disillusioned and really dishonored himself.”

Tom Cruise: “You don’t do a movie called The Last Samurai to sit around a table and talk. You do it for the carnage!”

Script Notes
Director Zwick wrote backstories for the characters. He said Nathan Algren graduated from West Point.

Katsumoto is loosely based on Saigo Takamori, who led the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877.

The character of Simon Graham is based on Lafcadio Hearn, an American photographer living in Japan at the time.

Set Notes
All the snow is artificial — it is a combination of snow spray, fake snow, and icicles.

Cruise did all his own stunts in the movie.

Cruise rode on a combination of real and mechanical horses.

Cruise usually got to the set two hours before the other actors so he could work on his samurai training.

Cruise worked for eight months to prepare for the role, learning kendo, martial arts, and Japanese.

Director Zwick gave Cruise the Civil War book The Killer Angels to get a better understanding of his character.

Director Zwick was extremely proud that no people or horses were hurt during filming.

During rehearsals, Watanabe and Cruise improvised with each other to help establish their relationship.

If any of the extras playing soldiers made a mistake handling the weapons, they had to do 10 push-ups.

It took 1,800 pounds of bronze to build each one of the cannons.

Ken Watanabe didn’t speak English very well when he was cast. He practiced his English talking with Cruise on set.

Ken Watanabe was thrown from his horse during filming.

Many of the crew members had worked on the epic battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan (1998).

Only two of the actors playing samurai could ride horses before this — the rest had to be trained.

Sanada helped choreograph the kendo and martial arts drills.

Shin Koyamada (Nobutada) trained for seven months under an archery master for the role.

The cast worked with Cruise on getting his Japanese accent right — sometimes it took up to 20 takes.

The extras playing soldiers all went through boot camp for two weeks to train for their roles.

There were 50 horses used in the movie — they had to be trained to work with explosions and gunfire.

The villagers gambling wasn’t in the script — director Zwick came up with the idea on the day of shooting.

They filled pits with soft hay to protect the horses when they fell.

The final battle took 31 days to film.

Director Edward Zwick spent a lot of time researching the Old West and late 19th century Japan. He worked with his partner Marshall Herskovitz to rewrite an original script by John Logan

Zwick based the tactics used by the samurai on The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (c.1654). Musashi is credited with perfecting the technique of fighting with two swords.

Sports Notes
Baseball was first introduced in Japan in 1873, a few years before this takes place.

Trivia Notes
“Godspeed” comes from the Middle English “God speid you,” meaning may God prosper you.

Japanese names start with the surname followed by the given name, the opposite of the U.S. custom.

Japan has the 19th highest rate of rainfall in the world. The U.S. has the 25th highest.

Kabuki is classical Japanese theater that combines drama, dance, and elaborate makeup.

Sake is made from fermented rice. It has the highest alcohol content of any fermented drink.

Samurai live by a code called Bushido, which contains seven virtues. The first is gi, which means justice. Samurai always try to do the right thing.

The second virtue of Bushido is yu, which means bravery or courage.

The third virtue of Bushido is jin, meaning mercy or benevolence. Samurai are kind to those in need.

The fourth virtue of Bushido is rei, meaning respect. Samurai give respect in order to receive it.

The fifth virtue of Bushido is makoto, meaning honesty. Samurai tell the truth, even when it’s difficult.

The sixth virtue of Bushido is meiyo, or honor. The Samurai needs to be respected by others.

The seventh and final virtue of Bushido is chugi, meaning loyalty. Samurai stay devoted until the end.

Tom Cruise was nominated for an Oscar for playing an alcoholic war veteran in another movie: Born on the Fourth of July (1989). Cruise plays Vietnam vet Ron Kovic who speaks out against the war after becoming paralyzed.

The Samurai saw the top knot as a symbol of their status in society.

The U.S. Army began using Samurai techniques to train soldiers in 2009.

There are six ranks between a captain and a general in the U.S. Army.

The samurai are training in kendo, which means “the way of the sword.”

The trip from San Francisco to Japan is over 5,000 miles.

The word ninja comes from the Chinese characters “nin” and “sha” and means “shadow warrior.”

Zen Buddhists practice meditation as part of the pathway to enlightenment.

Wardrobe Notes
An 80-member team worked for 14 months to make more than 2,000 costumes for the movie.

The Imperial family’s clothing consultant gave advice to the costume designer.

Two hundred and fifty sets of Samurai armor were made by hand by the costume department.

Each samurai costume is made of about 300 pieces of metal and fabric. The collars on the armor took 30 hours each to make.

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