I actually remember the call for extras when this movie was being made. Then I remembered the critisism by some Japanese Americans who felt that an Asian actor should play opposite Cruise since it was an American picture.
Truth be told, I would love to see Asian-Americans play Asian-Americans rather than Asian-Asian actors playing Asian-Americans. But this movie was about the transition of Japan from the Shogunate government to a Constitutional Monarchy - so to have Japanese actors play Japanese-Japanese was no big deal to me.
As for the movie - I liked it a lot, despite the inaccurate and the unbelievable.
The main inaccuracy was that the final battle scene was that the Imperial Army fought with modern weapons and the rebels only used swords and arrows. In reality, whether it was the Boshin War, or the skirmishes between the new government and old Shogunate diehards after the war, both sides fought with guns and cannons and other modern weapons.
Then there was the unbelievable. Tom Cruise, during those few months of captivity, can handle a katana to duel Hiroyuki Sanada, who has trained all his life, to a draw.
Then there was Tom Cruise surviving the final battle - but that was a given - you need Cruise's character to tie up the loose ends. But this was kind of worse because before going off to battle, the movie lies to the viewer - but it was the quality of the acting that made it so, too. I knew Tom Cruise would survive the battle, but for a moment, before they went off, I thought he was going to die - the send off was really poignant.
All movies have unbelievable parts, so in that respect its no different - the sign of a good movie is that it can pull off those unbelievable, illogical moments - and this one did - I liked the action - the ninja invasion was as well choreographed as any chambara movies made in the seventies. Not only that, but the swords used by the ninja and samurai were accurate - ninjas used the staright blade with the square swordguard and the samurai used the curved blades with the round swordguard. The chemistry betwen the actors was good also.
I saw the film three times at the theatre, and three or four times on tv since. I really do enjoy the movie, but I wouldn't show it to a class on Japanese history as a truthful depiction of that period of transition.