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Monday August 20th 2018

The Last Samurai | 2003

The Last Samurai location: Sho-sha-zan Engyo-ji Temple in Himeji City, Japan
The Last Samurai location: Katsumoto’s temple: Sho-sha-zan Engyo-ji Temple in Himeji City, Japan | Photograph: Japan National Tourist Organisation

Edward Zwick’s account of the passing of the Bushido code with the Western opening-up of Japan is predictable, but he brings the emotional epic sweep of his previous Glory to this blending of Kagemusha and The Wild Bunch.

Katsumoto’s temple is Sho-sha-zan Engyo-ji Temple in Himeji City, about 30 miles west of Kobe. The temple is atop Mount Shosa. There’s a 20-minute bus ride from Himeji, a short cable car ride and a 15-minute (uphill) walk.

Incidentally, if you're visiting, don't miss the 17th century Himeji Castle, known as the White Heron Castle, which appears in Bond movie You Only Live Twice as well as in Akira Kurosawa’s epics Kagemusha and Ran.

The Last Samurai location: Sho-sha-zan Engyo-ji Temple in Himeji City, Japan
The Last Samurai location: The ‘Imperial Palace’ of the emperor Meiji in ‘Tokyo’: Chion-In Temple, Kyoto Japan | Photograph: Japan National Tourist Organisation

The ‘Imperial Palace’ of the emperor Meiji in ‘Tokyo’ is the 400-year-old Chion-In Temple, in Kyoto, where you can see the imposing flight of steps.

Much of the filming was in New Zealand, on the hillsides of the Uruti Valley, northern Taranaki, on the west of the North Island around 100 miles south of Auckland. The Japanese village was constructed here, with Mount Taranaki standing in for ‘Mount Fuji‘.

The port where the dissipated Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) arrives in ‘Japan’ is a set built at nearby New Plymouth, and the parade ground, where the Japanese troops are trained, and where Algren invites a young recruit to shoot him, is the Pukekura Sports Ground, in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. The ’battle in the fog’ filmed in Mangamahoe Forest, around Mangamahoe Lake, ten minutes' drive south of the city.

The Last Samurai location: Sho-sha-zan Engyo-ji Temple in Himeji City, Japan
The Last Samurai location: Katsumoto’s temple: the restaurant: the Moorish Room, Castle Green, South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena | Photograph: Castle Green, Pasadena

The restaurant, in which Nathan Algren is introduced to the Japanese gentlemen is closer to Hollywood. It’s the Moorish Room of the amazing Castle Green, 99 South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena. Check for times of guided tours. You can see more of cg in The Sting and Steve Martin comedy The Man With Two Brains, and glimpse its extraordinary exterior as 'Cuba' in Warren Beatty's Bugsy.

There was more filming on the Warner Bros backlot in Burbank. If you want to see how the sophistication of CGI is making location spotting difficult, look at the scene set in ‘San Francisco’ at the opening, when Algren walks past the cable cars. This was filmed on the ‘New York Street’ of the Warner Bros Burbank lot, with the view of the Bay added digitally.