Rinko Kikuchi Westworld
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Source: HBO

Westworld's Rinko Kikuchi talks Shogun World's bloody debut

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May 20, 2018, 10:48 PM EDT (Updated)

On Sunday night, we finally visited the much anticipated Shogun World, and met Westworld’s Edo period counterparts (since Lee Sizemore plagiarized himself and pretty much copied over a lot of the characters and narrative). Hector Escaton the bandit has an equivalent in Musashi the ronin (a nod to Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy), snake-tattooed Armistice in Musashi’s right-hand woman and dragon-tattooed Hanaryo, and Maeve the madam in Akane the geisha.

Played by Oscar-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi, Akane is especially protective of her protégé Sakura, risking her life and livelihood to protect and avenge her, in a form of maternal instinct. Kikuchi chatted with SYFY WIRE (with the aid of translator Lena-Grace Suda) about Westworld’s deadliest geisha who doesn’t (yet) realize she’s a robot.

Was it a relief to do the episode in Japanese?

Kikuchi: [Laughs] It was great! It was amazing. Japanese is something I’m comfortable with, but it was really tough for Thandie Newton, because Japanese isn’t her first language. Whenever it’s an English-language movie or show, other people would help me with my English, so in the same way, I helped the non-Japanese cast members here. It wasn’t particular words or phrases that would trip them up, but the inflections, or the tone, when speaking or saying a line, because if you make one slight mistake with the inflection, a statement could become a question, or vice versa. The inflection was very important.

What did you think about Shogun World, and its anachronistic take on the Edo period? Were you able to detect some of the influences from chanbara/samurai films? Jonathan Nolan said that some of the set decorations and costumes were in homage to those films, such as Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island?

Kikuchi: It was really fun! The Japanese set was perfect. I felt like there were more influences from Akira Kurosawa movies, more so than chanbara. But there were some specific references that everyone discussed along with Akira Kurosawa movies, and it was fun and unique.

What was it like for Akane to meet her double-bot? Do you think she had an instant recognition, the way Armistice had with her equivalent, or Hector with his?  

Kikuchi: I thought it was pretty interesting. It doesn’t matter what era or place you’re from – Akane’s able to feel the surprise, the human element that the hosts have, and to discover that she has the same spirit as Maeve, through the words and the behavior that both of the characters have. They both carry a motherly instinct. But it was more of a slow, gradual connection between Akane and Maeve. They started to recognize each other in a slow, but good, way.

How “awake” is Akane? She makes several improvised changes outside of her narrative loop – to kill the shogun’s emissary, to hire a ronin warrior, to impersonate the Chinese ambassador’s wife, to kill the shogun himself. But she also rejects Maeve’s offer for the truth…

Kikuchi: I don’t know exactly, but Akane thinks she’s human. Akane thinks she’s one hundred percent human, in her own mind. Meeting Maeve doesn’t make Akane realize she’s a robot. But more than having a realization that she’s a robot, Akane thinks what links them together is the motherly instinct, or the need to protect their children. That’s what really brought them together. But of course she’s surprised at the uncanny connections, and also feels a little spooked. But she doesn’t yet understand that the things happening around her are programmed, or created by humans. She thinks it’s real, in a sense.

What was it like to shoot the dance/murder sequence?

Kikuchi: The choreography, that was something I excelled at, because I’ve had experience with swordplay. And the combination of dance mixed with action was really interesting! I’d like to do more of that. This was a traditional Japanese dance, so that was really fun. I haven’t watched the episode yet, but I got to hear some of the music when we were rehearsing the dance, and it was a really interesting mixture of modern music and Japanese music, and it was easy for me to translate my feelings in that scene thanks to the music.

Which of the two kills was your favorite?

Kikuchi: [Laughs] Killing the shogun. It was fun to take on a role of a samurai as the dancing progressed. I feel lucky to be able to do a brutal scene like that, because there’s more blood splatter, so it’s more impactful. It leaves a really strong impression on the viewer. Yes, it’s shocking, but it’s also beautiful, in a way.

We don’t know what’s going to happen yet in future episodes, but most of the actors who play hosts end up doing a fair amount of nudity. You’ve done nudity before, in Babel. If it were called for here, would you be open to that?

Kikuchi: Yeah, I might! If I need to.

Before I go, have you heard of the Mako Mori test?

The Mako Mori test? It’s my role, right? That’s the character I played in Pacific Rim.

Yes, and there’s a variation of the Bechdel Test named after her. A movie or TV show passes the Mako Mori test if the movie has at least one female character who gets her own narrative arc which is not about supporting a man’s story.

Oh! Wow! That’s interesting! So that’s a general criterion for movies, right? Pacific Rim passes the Mako Mori test, right? I didn’t know about this. Wow. That’s great. Awesome!

(This interview has been edited to accommodate translation)