Hi my name is Charlie Harrington, Location scout and manager for the last Samurai in New Zealand. I live with my family in Boston but I am very busy and as you can imagine I do not get to see too much of my real home.
For 18 months, however, Taranaki New Zealand became my home while we filmed The Last Samurai.
I would like to take you to some of the locations that I discovered for the movie and tell you why I found New Plymouth and Taranaki a fabulous place to shoot a movie in.
This site in the Uruti valley north Taranaki became our village location and the first major location for the film. The production designer and I studied period Japanese engravings of mountain villages and we consequently discovered the best place to find it was not Japan, but New Zealand. The added attraction was that here you can swing the camera 360 degrees which is really useful when making a movie of this scale.
We worked for 6 months building the village which was complete with its own water wheel and crops.
The only problem was that we had to be able to conceal not only our access way but our entire production base camp.
Some of the exotic and dramatic looks can be seen in these location stills.
Mangamahoe forest is beside a beautiful lake 10 minutes drive from the centre of New Plymouth. This is the place where we created the fog battle where Tom Cruise aka Captain Algren gets caught by the Samurai.
We cleaned out the undergrowth to provide sure footing for the horses and left a tracking road that we created as a community asset for future films. Every film needs a forest shot!
The final battle scene location took us a solid month to find, it needed to have the east west sunlight orientation so that the cinematographer John Toll [Braveheart, Legends of the Fall], could create the wonderful battle scenes that you see in the film, and with so many extras it needed to be close enough to our hotels in New Plymouth.
Eventually we located it just 35 mins drive at the back of a farm overlooking the Kaitake ranges next to Mt Egmont.[ Mt Taranaki].
Pukekura Park right in the centre of New Plymouth became the parade ground. Because it is a famous cricket ground in New Zealand and we wanted to march an army on top of it I had to learn a bit about the sport. Well its sort of like base ball but not as exciting and a test match can take up to 5 days!
Our Yokohama harbour set was created at the port. The designer and art director found the local carpenters and crew really terrific people to work with. The results speak for themselves.
For the Indian village at the start of the film, we initially were looking for a location to look like North Carolina for a civil war recreation. That scene was dropped but we decided that it would suit the Indian village instead. It is an example of how easily you can get different looks within a small area in this country.
One of my favourite locations which was dropped from the movie was the 3 sisters at Tonagaparutu. The Taranaki coastline along the Tasman sea is dramatic and always changing and because it is on the West coast it has these spectacular sunsets.
Here is a shot taken from my house that I rented right on the waterfront in Oakura 15 minutes from New Plymouth. For me it was a dream to be able to live at such a place right on the water and play music with the guys in our garage band. When my family joined me our kids went to the local schools, none of us wanted to go back to the States.
During my time here I saw a lot of the country and I am really excited about the possibilities that this terrain offers filmmakers. I made many friends here and would have no hesitation to bring another production down to Taranaki if I have the opportunity.