At the age of 20, living in Los Angeles as an international student, Shin Koyamada had just won the coveted martial arts national championships.
For a young man from Japan learning English, his try at an audition online for an upcoming production by Disney World was just but a trial that stood little chance in the cut-throat competition for roles in Hollywood.
He was at a friend’s house trying to put up a website when he received a call asking him to actually turn up for the audition.
The panel of producers was instantly impressed with the young man’s artistic rendition of the assigned scene and immediately hired him for a role in The Last Samurai after auditioning more than 100,000 people for the role.
Unknown to him, he was going to be co-starring with one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors, Tom Cruise.
“It was a humbling moment, when we were invited for the cast and crew dinner, where I was introduced to Cruise,” says the soft-spoken Shin who was in Nairobi last week for the International Population and Development (ICPD 25) summit.
Shin recalls how, on location in New Zealand, actor Cruise would let the production hold and pull him aside for a chat, to the surprise of both crew and cast.
“He is an amazing guy who reminisced how his story mirrored mine. He was also a martial artist before becoming an actor and he predicted I had a great future ahead,” he narrates.
Well, when The Last Samurai was finally released some 15 years ago, it broke Box Office ceilings, selling at that time $500 million upon release.
As Nabutada, Shin had brought more than just physical action to the set, retaining his good natured ways and friendly persona in a movie that was shot for an unusual eight months.
The blockbuster Warner Brothers flick depicted Captain Nathan Algerin, who is hired to train the Japanese army to fight back a Samurai rebellion.
But as fate would have it, he is consumed by the Samurai spirit, embracing the culture he had been assigned to destroy in the most popular legendary movie of all time in the past 100 years. And thus marked the beginning of a new life for Shin, whose parents back home were pleasantly surprised that he could land such a major role in Hollywood.
The Japanese-American has since featured in several productions, including starting his own production house, Sinca Corporation, which is keen on producing comic and superhero stories.
Together with his wife, he started The Shin Koyamada Foundation, aimed at empowering the vulnerable and strengthening cultures across the globe.
“Part of the reason I am here in Kenya is to start a new chapter of my foundation in Kenya and I am already having a team led by Jared Ogolla that will steer popular programmes in the country,” says Shin, who believes that the world calls for all the people to intervene for the weak.
He says the foundation focuses on a number areas including fostering youth leadership, empowering women, assisting in disaster relief, building people-to-people exchange, ending poverty and advancing sustainable development.
Kenya joins Togo, Ghana, Japan, the US, Brazil, Columbia and Europe as part of the growing number of national chapters of the foundation.
“We work with the US Embassy Kenya and today went to see Boxing Girls, who teach boxing to underprivileged girls and that was an amazing first collaboration programme with us,” he recalls, adding he was also at the Mount Kenya University to deliver an inspirational talk.
Shin is keen to work with Kenyans and would love to produce a film based on Kenyan stories.
“Bring on those Kenyan stories and I will be glad to have a look at them and see if we can make a film,” he says.
Shin’s works include Disney World’s Homecoming Warrior (2006), The Disney Channel Games (2008) with his independent company producing Good Soil (2007), The Nia Lyte Show (2010) and over six comic books.