Sushi Ninja owners Sophie and Ken Kurota are hosting a Samurai Summer Reunion to reminisce about when Taranaki became Hollywood in 2003. Photo Simon O'Connor/stuff

Sushi Ninja owners Sophie and Ken Kurota are hosting a Samurai Summer Reunion to reminisce about when Taranaki became Hollywood in 2003. Photo Simon O'Connor/stuff

Last Samurai reunion organisers on the hunt for the girl Tom Cruise helped

Taranaki Daily News/stuff.co.nz

05 Aug 2019

[The reunion] came about when they heard the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery was this month holding an exhibition by Yuichiro Tamura, called Milky Mountain, about the unexpected ties between New Plymouth and Mishima and Japan.

By Brianna McIlraith / Taranaki Daily News / stuff.co.nz

A Taranaki couple are hoping the star of The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise, can make it to their restaurant next week. If not, they want the girl he helped.

New Plymouth couple Sophie and Ken Kurota are hosting a Samurai Summer Reunion on August 11 and are looking for anyone with memories of when the Hollywood blockbuster came to Taranaki to come along. 

"There was an article about a girl who had a flat tyre or something and Tom Cruise happened to be the one that pulled over and helped. That girl, we want to find that girl and get her to come and talk to us," Sophie said. 

She's already asked Cruise, over Instagram, but has yet to hear back from the global superstar.

The couple moved to New Plymouth in 2003 when they heard about The Last Samurai being filmed here. 

"There were no Japanese restaurants at the time," Sophie said. 

So knowing they could cater to a large number of Japanese cast they packed up their life in Auckland to sell sushi from a caravan under the Wind Wand. 

The movie, featuring Cruise, comedian Billy Connolly and Japanese superstar Ken Watanabe, was filmed in locations throughout Taranaki, including Uruti Valley, Port Taranaki and Pukekura Park.

The production 1400 jobs to the region and in Taranaki the period is still referred to as the Samurai summer. 

Ken and Sophie fell in love with the area and decided to stay once filming stopped. They opened their own shop, Sushi Ninja, on Devon St East in 2007, and will be hosting the reunion there. 

It came about when they heard the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery was this month holding an exhibition by Yuichiro Tamura, called Milky Mountain, about the unexpected ties between New Plymouth and Mishima and Japan.

"We've always been wanting to do some kind of get together with all the people who were directly or indirectly involved with the movie," she said. 

The Len Lye Centre Cinema is also screening The Last Samurai, in association with the exhibition. 

The couple said when they finally got the opportunity to watch the movie they had to watch it three times before they finally paid attention to the plot. 

"For us I think it's just the personal thing because we go 'oh we know that guy and that guy'," she said. 

On Wednesday it was reported that Cruise was apparently looking for a rental home in the South Island as he considers a move to New Zealand. 

"There might be a Last Samurai 2. Who knows," Sophie said. 




A replica 19th century Japanese village was built in the Uruti Valley 50kms north of New Plymouth for the movie. Photo Maarten Holl/Taranaki Daily News

A replica 19th century Japanese village was built in the Uruti Valley 50kms north of New Plymouth for the movie. Photo Maarten Holl/Taranaki Daily News

Actor Tom Cruise on the set of the film at New Plymouth's Pukekura Park in 2003. Photo Adrian Malloch/Taranaki Daily News

Actor Tom Cruise on the set of the film at New Plymouth's Pukekura Park in 2003. Photo Adrian Malloch/Taranaki Daily News

Film set of a Japanese village at Port Taranaki. Photo Maarten Holl/Taranaki Daily News

Film set of a Japanese village at Port Taranaki. Photo Maarten Holl/Taranaki Daily News