Westworld Season 2’s fifth episode brought the much-anticipated dive into Shogun World, the Japanese equivalent of the android-filled wild American west theme park gone awry.
Madame turned mother on a mission Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her allies quickly find themselves kidnapped by a group of wandering samurai and discover that their captors’ stories, personalities with the sets and weapons being swapped with Japanese versions. There’s even a shot-for-shot recreation of the heist scene from Westworld’s first episode with a Japanified version of the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black.
We’re also told that Shogun World is meant for guests who want even more violence and action than they would get in Westworld.
Previously, the only major Asian character on the show had been body and livestock technician Felix Lutz (Leonard Nam), who helps Maeve achieve higher sentience at the cost of his job and coworkers’ lives. There’s a sassy moment where fellow technician and survivor Sylvester offensively assumes that Felix can reason with the samurai kidnapping them because of his Asian heritage, and Felix responds with “I’m from Hong Kong, asshole!”
With “Akane no Mai,” the show more than quadruples its supporting Asian cast. There’s PACIFIC RIM’s Rinko Kikuchi as Akane, Maeve’s geisha counterpart, Kiki Sukezane as Sakura, her surrogate daughter, geisha employee, and counterpart to Westworld sex worker Clementine, Hiroyuki Sanada as ronin outlaw Musashi, and Tao Okamoto as ruthless lady archer Hanaryo, Shogun World’s version of Armistice.
The episode features numerous epic battle sequences involving samurai and ninja. In order to do Japanese culture justice and properly recreate the Edo period, actor Hiroyuki Sanada also acted as a cultural consultant.
In his words:
[The production staff] came to me to ask if this was correct or what do I think for the costumes or the props or the hair and makeup. I gave them some ideas and suggestions as a Japanese-born actor as much as I could. I respect their work, because they did a great job. But of course in the show it’s a theme park in western country and it’s created by western scientists, so we didn’t have to be 100 percent authentically Japanese. It’s a balance between authenticity and entertainment.
Speaking of his Shogun World persona, Sanada said:
My role Musashi is the same name as a legendary sword master in Japan. He’s a real person. My character is just named after him, but he’s a sword master. He was a Samurai and he worked for the Shogun before. Now he is a Ronin, which means he’s a masterless Samurai. He’s a hostile of Shogun World.
Sanada, who is a trained martial artist and stage combatant, admits that he chose to omit Musashi’s trademark pineapple knot hairstyle because it was “too much.” He also closely studied his West World counterpart Hector’s movements and fighting style in Season One. Additionally, wore his short sword on his back, a cultural inaccuracy, in order to more properly mirror West World’s Hector.
When he watched his role in the Season Two Episode 5 Screener, Sanada recalls thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the Westworld!’”
Via Vanity Fair