Cruise upsets Maoris over holy volcano

Maori elders have told the makers of a £70 million film starring Tom Cruise that they cannot film a New Zealand volcano crucial to the script because it is sacred.

The production company that is shooting The Last Samurai for Warner Brothers chose locations around the city of New Plymouth specifically because nearby Mount Taranaki was similar in appearance to Japan's Mount Fuji.

Workmen spent months constructing a replica ancient Japanese village for filming, which also upset Maoris, who claim the upheaval destroyed an ancient battlefield.

A charm offensive by Cruise is likely to follow in an effort to placate those offended, with visits by the star to maraes, or traditional meeting halls. Filming is due to start today.

Spokesmen for several of the region's Maori tribes have complained that "there has been no financial recognition of their interest in the mountain".

Paul Rangipunga, a spokesman for the Parihaka tribe, which still commemorates a bloody encounter with British soldiers in the 19th century, said his people had been "trodden on by colonial troops in the past - the movie producers have to take care that their Samurai warriors do not do the same".

The Parihaka claim they had received an assurance that Mount Taranaki - a dormant volcano regarded as a god-like figure in Maori mythology - would not appear in the film. Samurai Pictures denies giving such an assurance.

The production company is reported to have rejected a request by the leader of another tribe for a £2,000 greenhouse in return for his blessing of a "sacred" site where much of the filming is to be done.

The 8,260ft Mount Taranaki, an almost symmetrical cone, was named Mount Egmont by Cook when he first sighted it in 1769, but has since been given back its Maori name as part of a settlement to resolve traditional land grievances.

Wharehoka Wano, Maori liaison officer with Film Venture Taranaki, which was set up to facilitate the production, said: "There's been sensitivity that Taranaki Maoris don't actually get any commercial gain. When suddenly there's a big project that's got quite a big budget, there seems to be a pressure from people wanting money to settle their transgressions."

The row comes soon after a tribe in the neighbouring Waikato region forced a new motorway to be diverted after complaining that the route would disturb a swamp monster.