‘Shogun’ Star Anna Sawai on What’s Next for Lady Mariko


Japanese actress Anna Sawai’s profession was already on a gradual ascent in recent times, however FX’s epic samurai sequence Shōgun has undoubtedly turn into her breakthrough. 

Since showing in Common’s F9 (2021) in an ass-kicking supporting half, Sawai has co-starred in a string of big-budget sequence, together with Apple TV+’s Pachinko (2022-) and the Godzilla spinoff Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (2023). Now, Shōgun has been hailed as each her largest hit and most dynamic dramatic efficiency thus far. The primary episode of the lavish interval epic racked up 9 million streaming views globally on Disney+ and Hulu when it premiered final month, topping the most recent season premieres of The Bear and Fargo — and the thrill has solely grown since. 

A second TV adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 best-selling historic novel of the identical title — following the favored 1980 miniseries model starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune — Shōgun‘s story follows the intertwined plights of three principal characters, all loosely primarily based on actual figures from Japanese historical past: John Blackthorne (performed by Cosmo Jarvis), an adventure-seeking English sailor who finds himself marooned in “the Japans”; Lord Yoshii Toranaga (the revered Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada), a strong feudal lord whose place is beneath menace by political rivals; and Woman Mariko (Sawai), an aristocratic younger lady from a disgraced household who’s tasked with serving because the translator for Lord Tornaga and the “barbarian” Englishman.

Sawai, who was born in New Zealand, is the only real member of the starring solid who speaks extensively in each interval Japanese and English (a stand-in for the Portuguese spoken on this planet of the story). Shōgun additionally required her to study to experience a horse, sword combat, and carry out the intricate physique language and kimono-wearing customs of conventional Japanese ladies of the previous. 

Sawai says Shōgun is the undertaking she’s “most pleased with” in her profession — which in Japan additionally contains her former life as a lead singer within the in style J-pop lady group Faky.

The Hollywood Reporter related with Sawai to debate her deep immersion into the character and world of Woman Mariko — and her ideas on how Shōgun might probably get a second season.


What initially appealed to you about Toda Mariko as a personality?

First off, I favored that she’s not only a sub-character — not simply the love curiosity. She turns into a love curiosity, however that’s in no way the entire of who she is or the purpose of her character. She has an even bigger objective. As a Japanese particular person watching Western initiatives, I usually didn’t really feel I used to be being seen. The characters had been often very flat. However with Mariko, you had been seeing the entire struggles and the distinctive cultural impression that Japanese society has on ladies. That was the principle motive I wished to play her. 

And what had been among the particulars that had been necessary to you as you had been placing the efficiency collectively?

I feel crucial factor for me was simply monitoring her journey — her historical past and all of the methods it has formed her. I learn the novel and I researched Hosokawa Gracia, [the historical woman Mariko is based on]. All of that was necessary. I additionally had a lot of conversations with Rachel Kondo, the manager producer and co-writer of this. She’s half-Japanese and her grandmother impressed how she dealt with Mariko and why the character was necessary to her. Listening to all that basically knowledgeable me, and I stored it to the core of enjoying her. 

By round episode 4, Mariko is rising as a way more layered and shocking character than she initially appeared. I think about that the evolution, or gradual reveal, of her character was one thing you place numerous thought into? 

Yeah, Japanese ladies weren’t actually allowed to specific an excessive amount of in that point. So for the primary three episodes, I feel you actually really feel this wall and that you just’re not absolutely understanding her. It’s solely the moments that she shares with Blackthorn the place she opens up a bit and first provides some hints about her household background and what she’s been by. All the things is kind of unstated initially, however round him, she begins to elucidate and let her guard down. In a while, you’ll see extra scenes the place she’s compelled to speak about her household, in addition to flashbacks to when she was youthful.

It’s fascinating what you stated about Blackthorn being form of a automobile to disclose her character. Since he’s an outsider, I suppose she’s much less guarded round him and will be candid in a manner she by no means would in a Japanese context?

Completely. I like that you just stated that. As a result of that’s form of what I used to be feeling could be the rationale why she does find yourself changing into nearer to him. He doesn’t know the Japanese societal guidelines and she or he doesn’t should act a sure manner in entrance of him — as a result of he’s not her folks. So, surprisingly, that form of permits her to only be herself. To start with, it’s nearly like she doesn’t even care what he thinks and doesn’t have any respect to point out him. However then, surprisingly, this evolves into her realizing that he’s really accepting her and seeing her as a human being, versus only a lady who has to behave a sure manner. 

Anna Sawai with Cosmo Jarvis in Shōgun


Was the present shot chronologically? 

Sure. We did it block by block. So typically it was two episodes collectively. However for essentially the most half, it was chronological. I already had an excellent understanding of the character stepping into, however dwelling in her for therefore lengthy — and in the identical order because the viewers experiences her — was positively useful to me. 

Are you able to share a bit extra concerning the belongings you needed to research and apply to get the interval particulars of your efficiency, proper? Rising up partially in Japan, I think about you had worn a kimono earlier than, however most likely not such formal ones and for therefore lengthy?  

Oh yeah, I can rely the occasions on my hand that I had worn a kimono earlier than the present. I had no concept the place to even begin. So, the day after I received the function, they put me in a category. We began with carrying a kimono and the correct strategy to stroll in it. I did numerous these courses. Clearly, I practiced sword combating, too — you see that on display screen — however I additionally did kyūdō [the traditional Japanese martial art of archery], regardless that she by no means actually does that on the present. They simply thought it will be useful for me to attempt these actions and to grasp that mechanism. I additionally put numerous work into studying easy methods to communicate interval Japanese. This was my first Jidaigeki [Japanese period drama, usually set during the Edo period of 1603 to 1868], and every little thing was so completely different.

What else did your kimono courses entail? 

They borrowed a small Minka [a traditional Japanese home] with two small rooms with tatami flooring and shoji doorways. And I’d simply go there and they might assist me costume within the kimono. I did ultimately discover ways to form of put it on myself in order that I might apply at dwelling. However historically, you’ve gotten two folks dressing you and also you simply stand there till it’s all in place. Simply getting used to and understanding the construction of a kimono was useful. It has so many layers. I don’t know if it was taboo to point out your curves again then or simply thought of unattractive, however the objective in kimono is to be flat. So that they put a small cushion round my waist in order that I used to be completely flat. They taught me how folks didn’t actually have underwear again then, so that you needed to have your armpits closed always, in any other case folks might see up the big sleeves. Ladies weren’t allowed to point out their fingers, so you need to type of cling to the within of the sleeve as you progress your arms. Turning round is a complete factor — I needed to form of circle my Uchikake [a highly formal variety of kimono] in a really cautious manner. It was nearly like studying a dance There have been so many intricate particulars — I really feel like I’ve already forgotten loads. 

We had many lecturers on set, however the lady who first began instructing me in kimono was Akiko Kobayashi, who performs my woman in ready on the present. You’ll usually see her sitting on one facet behind Mariko. They’d her be my trainer as a result of they knew it was my first jidaigeki, so every time I received one thing flawed in a scene, she might simply slap me in a short time and proper me (laughs). 

Sawai in Shōgun


Did you watch the Eighties Shōgun miniseries? 

I used to be very near watching it, however I used to be instructed to not. I feel they only wished me to have a really contemporary take. However Kurosawa’s movies had been very useful to me.

Have been there any basic Japanese samurai movies you appeared to for inspiration as a substitute? 

I watched numerous Akira Kurosawa’s films. There’s a really sturdy feminine warrior in certainly one of his movies — [Princess Yuki in The Hidden Fortress] — who was a giant inspiration. They’re such completely different characters, in that Mariko has extra struggling and feels extra actual to me, however Princess Yuki left a really large impression on me as she was one of many solely ladies with energy I’d seen in films from again then. She’s very fierce amongst the boys. I wished Mariko to have an analogous impression in her personal manner. 

You talked about earlier how enjoying Mariko appealed to you as a result of Japanese ladies haven’t been portrayed with a lot depth within the Hollywood films and TV exhibits of the previous. I think about enjoying a personality like Mariko additionally may need been interesting to you from the Japanese trade perspective. Basic Japanese cinema is wealthy, various and influential; nevertheless it’s additionally true that the feminine characters in most basic interval movies are likely to have it tough. There are exceptions, in fact, however the ladies in these tales hardly ever have a lot company and issues usually finish terribly for them. 

For positive. I feel Japanese ladies simply weren’t allowed that voice. The outdated Japanese films that depict the feudal previous are brutal — however they’re additionally very true. That was the world. Mariko is just not the queen; she doesn’t get her manner with every little thing. However she does have company. We get to see how each battle and each weight impacts her. For [co-showrunner] Justin [Marks], Rachel and the entire FX crew to permit the Japanese ladies characters extra display screen time to share their perspective with the viewers, I feel that was an enormous step. Mariko can be very fragile and damaged, in a manner. She covers that every one up very nicely. And that’s what I wished to point out — that we’re not simply saying sure in these conditions as a result of we’re joyful and submissive. We simply don’t have the ability to say the rest — however that doesn’t imply we’re with out company. We exert it in different methods. 

I not too long ago spoke with Shōgun‘s showrunners, Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo, and one of many issues they talked about was how Hiroyuki Sanada was rather more than simply the present’s co-star. He additionally acted as a cultural adviser of a form within the function of producer. They nearly made it sound like his presence on set was that of a smart, benevolent Lord — very like his character within the present. Was he additionally useful to you?

Sure. Each time I take into consideration Sanada-san, he and his character, Toranaga-sama, actually overlap. The best way I seen him and would go to him, hoping that perhaps I might get some recommendation — if I used to be ever in want of that — was very reflective of the connection between Mariko and Toranaga-sama. He’s not intense in that manner — he was by no means giving me that Lord-type power. However he had solutions to each single factor, and a lot endurance. Plenty of occasions, as a younger actor, you’ll meet folks within the trade who’re onerous to method as a result of they know a lot extra. However with Hiro-san, he was identical to, “let me educate you every little thing you need assistance with — simply ask me.” We had a boot camp for the youthful actors and the background actors, and he would simply pop by and begin educating everybody actually useful issues, regardless that he wasn’t even anticipated to be there. There have been so many moments behind the scenes the place you might really feel how passionate he was and that he simply wished the perfect final result for the present.  

What had been among the issues he taught you? 

He would have very technical ideas. For instance, there’s a scene the place Mariko is holding a sword and, based on custom, the best way she makes use of it needed to be very particular. And regardless that it’s completely different for women and men, Sanada-san knew precisely how she ought to be wielding it — and he talked me by it. 

Then on the weekends, he would do FaceTime calls with me simply to show me the correct strategy to say my strains in basic Japanese — which was amazingly beneficiant, as a result of he simply volunteered to do this. I feel I went as much as him sooner or later to ask him about a few strains, after which it rapidly became like ten strains, and he stated, “Look, if you wish to simply run by the entire subsequent episode with me, simply name me on the weekend.” (Laughs

After which there have been days the place I had scenes with him and I used to be actually struggling. I’d simply form of like give him a glance of “what ought to I do?” And he would inform me, “Don’t drive it. No matter you’re feeling proper now, Mariko might be additionally feeling, however she wants to cover every little thing, so that you don’t have to attempt to specific it — it will likely be there.” He taught me many issues that I’ll positively carry with me onto the following set I step onto. 

Sawai and Hiroyuki Sanada in Shōgun


The present is about in Seventeenth-century feudal Japan, however as you had been making it, did you ever really feel that there have been fascinating parallels with right this moment’s world? Do you suppose that’s a part of the present’s intention? 

Properly, the main points are completely completely different — like, nobody’s committing seppuku with swords these days — however the politics of it are very a lot related. You recognize, there are folks right this moment desperately making an attempt to realize extra energy, after which there are all of us under them who must reply to these folks and stay with the outcomes. So, I didn’t see the story as one thing that’s simply prior to now. In a manner, I feel it’s like an enhanced model of what we’re dwelling by proper now. 

After I talked to Justin and Rachel they had been fairly clear that the present ends the place James Clavell’s ebook ends and that it was all the time meant as a restricted sequence. And I perceive that it was additionally a really difficult and costly manufacturing. So it appeared they weren’t anticipating that there could be a second season. However now that it’s changing into an even bigger and greater hit for Disney, what are you hoping for?

Properly, the story of James Carville’s novel does end with our season one. However the ebook relies calmly on Japanese historical past, so in the event that they wished to proceed it, our historical past retains going. So I’m positive they may attempt to determine one thing. I do form of love the best way season one wraps up. That is essentially the most proud I’ve been of any undertaking that I’ve been part of. So in the event that they wished to do extra, I’d be so excited for that. For now, I simply need everybody to maintain tuning in. Actually, what I’ve been saying to everybody who has watched the primary few episodes, is that if you happen to prefer it now, hold watching, as a result of all of it simply will get higher and higher. 

New episodes of Shōgun launch weekly on Tuesdays and can be found to stream on Hulu and Disney+.


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