| Tom Cruise with Penelope Cruz at the US premiere of the film The Last Samurai in Los Angeles on Monday. (Reuters)
He is the great-great-grandson of a samurai warrior named Wakaji. His own name is a derivation of Saigo Takamori, a famous 19th century samurai who is considered a tragic hero in Japan.
So does Moritaka Yoshida see it as providence that he was cast as a samurai in the new Tom Cruise epic, The Last Samurai '
“Nothing is an accident,” Yoshida replies. “My great-great-grandfather was a samurai leader,” he explains.
“He actually fought a lot of battles. After he survived, his group went to Hokkaido, where he cultivated land. The government said, ‘No more swords (for samurai),’ but he kept his because he had to protect his own people from gangs and all that stuff.”
In the film, Yoshida portrays one of four “ronin,” or samurai mercenaries, who attack Cruise with swords.
“The rehearsal lasted a long, long time,” Yoshida recalled, “because it would be very dangerous. We actually use metal swords, not plastic ones. Although there is no edge on (the swords), if you don’t take the right timing and distance, you can poke someone’s eye out or break someone’s finger.”
As it was, the 33-year-old martial arts expert said, he accidentally hit Cruise’s finger, causing it to bleed.
“Nobody can explain why, but it just happened,” Yoshida recalled.
“He was so kind about it. He pulled me outside the camera and said, ‘I’m OK.’ He had a conversation with me. He took care of my emotions because he didn’t want to create pressure.”
Directed by Edward Zwick, who co-wrote the screenplay with John Logan and Marshall Herskovitz, The Last Samurai tells the story of an American cavalry officer (Cruise) who searches for redemption amid the upheaval of late-19th century Japan, where feudal samurai confront the encroaching modern Western world.
Born and raised in Chiba, near Tokyo, Yoshida studied martial arts and later put that expertise to work in films, TV and commercials.
He played the red ranger in the popular children’s television series Power Rangers and also choreographed the Power Rangers live show world tour.
A resident of Culver City, California, Yoshida is looking to land other movie roles.
“I am already talking to other producers and directors,” he said, noting that he prefers films where the humanity of the characters comes through as strongly as the action.