A year and a half after first teasing a glimpse in the season one finale, last night’s Westworld finally welcomed viewers onto the highly anticipated grounds of Shogun World, the titular park’s feudal Japan-inspired counterpart. While its plot lines, characters, and even its architectural layout purposefully mirror that of Westworld, this new park still retains its own distinct and authentic feel. Recreating a fully functioning and convincingly Edo Period village was no easy task, but, lucky for the Westworld producers, the man they hired to play their badass ronin samurai doubled as the production’s Japanese culture expert.
Speaking with Joanna Robinson from Vanity Fair on their Still Watching: Westworld podcast, Simon Quarterman—who plays the park’s head story writer and the show’s main exposition dumper, Lee Sizemore—said that veteran Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada was a “secret weapon” when it came to accurately representing the centuries-old Japanese town. Not only did Sanada take on the task of portraying the tea-house-robbing, dual-sword-wielding Musashi, but he would also offer advice to set designers when the fold of a kimono or the angle of a sword wasn’t quite right. He took his responsibilities so seriously that Sanada even came to set on days he wasn’t shooting just to offer his input.
“Sometimes I switched the position of the props because it’s a very specific, important culture for my country,” Sanada told Vanity Fair before adding that other small inaccuracies, like the leather lining on his character’s kimono, were left on purpose. After all, Shogun World isn’t a real village from Japan’s Edo Period, but rather a western tech company’s interpretation of said village. Westworld producers were forced to walk the line between being culturally sensitive and not over-exoticizing Eastern culture, and also telling a story about a theme park that essentially specializes in cultural appropriation.
“I know this is a theme park, but some points have to be correct,” Sanada said in an interview with Esquire. Having worked previously on Lost, The Last Samurai, and The Wolverine, Sanada has always seen it as his duty to be both actor and cultural ambassador for his country. “When I came to L.A. a long time ago, I wanted to introduce our culture correctly. That was one of my missions.” That mission may become more difficult as the hosts of Shogun World continue to diverge from their plot lines, but we’re sure Sanada will keep the producers in check. Somebody has to.
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