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George Takei On The Classic Japanese Movies That Inspired Paws Of Fury - Exclusive

"Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank," the new animated movie starring the voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, Samuel L. Jackson, George Takei, and others, is largely a family-friendly remake of — of all things — Mel Brooks' ribald, extremely politically incorrect 1974 comedy "Blazing Saddles." In fact, not only does Brooks play a role in this film, but he and his collaborators on the script for his classic spoof of Westerns are also given credit on the "Paws" screenplay alongside its writers, Ed Stone and Nate Hopper.

In Brooks' film, a dastardly official named Hedley Lamarr plans to bring down the small frontier town of Rock Ridge so that a railroad can run through the area and he can collect millions as a result. To do this, he appoints a Black railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little) as sheriff — but being that this is 1874, the townspeople don't take kindly to this, which is precisely what Lamarr wants.

"Paws of Fury" takes the action out of the American Old West and into a Japanese village populated by cats, which local land baron Ika Chu (Gervais) can't stand because the town blocks the view from his palace. Obsessed with leveling the village, Gervais gets a hapless dog named Hank (Cera) appointed samurai to protect the town — with the villagers responding pretty much like the town of Rock Ridge did.

Despite the clear connection to "Blazing Saddles" — right down to specific (if cleaned up) scenes and dialogue — cast member George Takei, who plays Ika Chu's henchman Ohga, also says there's another influence at play. "They're legendary," he told Looper about the films he thinks "Paws" draws inspiration from.

The impact of a legendary Japanese filmmaker can be felt on Paws of Fury

While "Paws of Fury" is based on "Blazing Saddles" and is also an animated family film starring a bunch of talking cats and dogs, George Takei suggests that the work of renowned Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is also an influence on the movie, particularly several of his films in which a lone warrior or small band of ronin must protect a village from outlaws or crime bosses.

"[It's] more like the Kurosawa movies," said Takei. "Akira Kurosawa's samurai films are classics, they're legendary." It's true: Akira Kurosawa is regarded as not just a great director, but one of the most important filmmakers of all time. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and more have all hailed him as an influence, while many of his films feature the same mentor-student relationships, codes of honor, and acts of heroism that can be found in "Paws of Fury."

"Two of [Kurosawa's films], 'Yojimbo' and 'Seven Samurai,' are the real inspiration for 'Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,'" Takei asserted, "because it's the opposites coming together, where there's a lot of suffering, and the opposites learning from each other. To put the whole story in a nutshell, the problems are resolved and people live happily ever after."

People didn't always live happily ever after, nor were all the problems always resolved, in Kurosawa's movies, but remember that "Paws of Fury" is in the end an animated film for children. However, any movie that can somehow combine the best of Mel Brooks and Akira Kurosawa — even a children's picture — has got to be some kind of achievement in its own right.

"Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is now playing exclusively in theaters.