If you’re going to have a Snake Eyes origin movie, it would be really hard to do so without including the world’s second-coolest ninja, Storm Shadow, portrayed this time around by Andrew Koji (Warrior) in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, which opens in theaters tomorrow.
Snake and Storm Shadow have been pacing each other in the coolest ninja race ever since the earliest days of Larry Hama’s formative G.I. Joe A Real American Hero comic run, their collective cool fate sealed forever in G.I. Joe #26 and #27, "Snake-Eyes: The Origin, Part I" and "Part II." While Paramount’s new film uses the basics of Hama’s seminal storyline, it takes both character’s comeuppance in decidedly new directions.
The film stars Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding as Snake Eyes, a revenge-seeking wanderer at the beginning of the movie, who wanders into the legacy-laden realm of Andrew Koji’s Thomas S. Arashikage, who’s still a ways away from becoming Storm Shadow. When Snake helps Tommy out of a jam, Tommy takes Snake with him to Japan to meet the fam, who just happen to be the keepers of 600 years' worth of badass ninja secrets. While much of the action centers around whether or not Snake is Arashikage Clan material, a good portion of the film also revolves around Tommy, and if he’s fit to take over the family ninja business.
For fans of the franchise, the most important question is likely whether or not the new film pays service to the source material. On behalf of Storm Shadow, Koji assures that it does.
“So much of my portrayal of Storm Shadow was informed by the fans… the emotional core of Storm Shadow… who he is and was,” Koji tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. “A lot of what is in the film is what the fans are speaking to.”
Koji says the movie — and his take on Storm Shadow — was also heavily influenced by Japanese film and culture, explaining that director Robert Schwentke is a “huge Japanese film fanatic.” And Bushido, the chivalrous code ethic samurai were supposed to adhere to, was a massive inspiration for the Arikashe Clan.
“A lot of it was grounding it into this — obviously it’s fictional, the Ariskashe code — but you can substitute that easily for Bushido code,” Koji explains, adding that his character struggles with the code throughout the movie. ”This is the origin of Storm Shadow too, so for a bunch of the film, he’s not the Storm Shadow that people know him to be once he joins Cobra. This is him in his early days, and I think the thing was for him to be Tomisaburo Arashikage before he’s [Storm Shadow]. And I think that all the research into Japanese culture and the homage and all that stuff, was all part of creating this one.”
When you’re playing in the G.I. Joe sandbox, researching Japanese culture inevitably takes you to ninjas, a major part of the franchise since the Real American Hero days. But, believe it or not, G.I. Joe alone isn’t always a great source for historical accuracy.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about them, and they really are covert operators in the Shogun, samurai era. And they did deviate from the Bushido code, the honorable way to fight,” Koji says. “The large Western, and actually Eastern, perception, is that [ninjas] are ... kind of evil… but no, they were samurai. Not all of them, but a lot of them were samurai who fought covertly for the government. And so some of them did have honor. Some of them did have certain codes.”
So, Koji dug into sources beyond the comics. When asked why ninjas are so cool, Koji immediately brought up one of his go-to reference books, The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai by Antony Cummins and Yoshie Minami, which translates a ninja named Fujibayashi’s 1676 collection of historical ninja accounts into basically a user’s manual covering the arts of the ninja, and the complexity of what makes them so fascinating.
“I think they were more nuanced and more detailed [than they are in public perception],” Koji says. “There’s just so much more in-depth things you can go [into]. From the film I hope that [audiences] get that, that [ninjas] do have a code and all that.”
While that perhaps sounds a bit heavy, Koji also says that first and foremost, the film is supposed to be entertaining on a grand scale, something to take folks away from the present world’s tough times.
“I hope that it’s two hours of fun, of enjoyment, of something they can escape with, and enjoy and be taken into a different world,” he says. “Because we need more of that. We need some of that. And I hope it can bring some people together.”
You can get together with all your ninja-loving friends (and cosplay masks!) this weekend when Snake Eyes opens in theaters everywhere on July 23.