Japanese actor and “King of Indies” Tadanobu Asano has appeared on the screen in diverse roles for over thirty years. His latest role in FX’s blockbuster series Shōgun was one of the largest productions of Asano’s career and gave the chameleon star and Emmy favorite a chance to reflect on the choices he makes within a scene.

Shōgun is based on James Clavell’s 1975 novel of the same name and achieved a record 9 million views when it premiered on Hulu. The 10-episode series is created for television by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks and is set in Japan in the 1600s, at the dawn of a century-defining civil war. Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Producer Hiroyuki Sanada) is fighting enemies on the council of regents when a European Ship carrying an English pilot, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), is found. Their fates become interconnected after Toanaga enlists a Christian noblewoman, Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), as their translator. 

Asano plays Kashigi Yubushige, a charismatic and brutal Lord who peddles his treachery to get ahead and changes his loyalty based on the most attractive offer. His standout performance has become a series highlight, with Yabushige’s cool gruffness and dark humor superseding his penchant for death. As Yabushige, who serves Toranaga as he contends with more enticing offers from council members, the versatile actor is a fan-favorite, making the character relatable while brutally unsympathetic. The Mortal Combat star, whose resume includes Shinya Tsukamoto’s Gemini and Martin Scorcese’s Silence, continues to study his performances and reflect on how he could’ve performed differently.

 “Even if I did not perform in a certain way, and I think I could have done better, I’m actually able to move past what I’ve done and learn from it,” shares Asano. “It may be something that’s trivial, but I was thinking that if I were to have to kick the basket again, I should be able to do it with so much more strength.” 

Awards Focus spoke with Asano about what drew him to the role of Yabushige, the role he would’ve liked to have played in the series, his impressions on what happened to Yabushige in the finale, and what he takes from his experience on the show. 

“SHOGUN” — “Crimson Sky” — Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (L-R): Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne. CR: Katie Yu/FX

Awards Focus: How did the scale of production of Shōgun compare to other projects you’ve worked on?

Tadanobu Asano: Most Japanese period pieces would be produced in Japan first. This time, with the show being outside Japan in the US and all the story’s details being shown on a large scale, it was wonderful.

AF: Was there something unique about Yabushige that drew you to the role?

Asano: I have played an evil character before, but not with such a power as Yabushige. I found it interesting because I had Toranaga and Ishido above me in the ranks, so it was somewhat unique and different from playing other evil characters in my career. 

AF: How familiar were you with the source material before being cast, and was there another role you were also interested in playing?

Asano: I found Blackthorne’s character to be fascinating because if you were to imagine, he just landed in this unknown, foreign country, where he is unfamiliar with just about everything, and it would be a dynamic character to play.

AF: I enjoyed the relationship between the two characters, Blackthorne and Yabushige, particularly when Yabushige teaches Blackthorne to fight with a sword. Did you go through training in preparation for these sword-fighting scenes?

Asano: We would only be able to spend a little bit of time on choreography and movement. There was a specialist who knew exactly how the sword would’ve been held, as well as how we should be moving to have a proper movement of the Samurai.

AF: What was it like on set between takes, and how were you and the cast able to rest when filming wrapped?

Asano: There were some quite intense scenes for the other actors. Also, Covid had yet to go completely and there were many aspects where people would have to constantly pay attention. But, for me, it was different because I was playing the role of Yabushige, and she was not like any other character. I didn’t feel that I had to be constantly on the alert or nervous for those scenes and felt I could be quite different from the others between takes and relax. 

AF: It’s a lucky position to be in since the last few episodes featured some tense council scenes.

Asano: [laughs] Yes, it’s true. 

“SHOGUN” — “A Dream of a Dream” — Episode 10 (Airs April 23) Pictured (L-R): Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga, Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige. CR: Katie Yu/FX

AF: Yabushige has an intense fascination with death. Can you talk a bit about filming Yabushige’s passage to death?

Asano: I thought about this idea a number of times, that there are so many ways to die. For example, being boiled in the big pot or being left somewhere in the middle of nowhere for the dog to eat you. Then there is the possibility of Yabushige dying without anyone finding out about it at all. 

These are perhaps the possible ideas of death that Yabushige might have thought of, but that’s not happening in reality. In the end, he would face his death, but I think, possibly, that his spirit still exists. From that perspective, maybe that was not really the true ending of his life because even though the body was dead, his spirit could go on. 

AF: As a revered actor for several decades, what will you take away from your experience playing Yabushige on Shogun?

Asano: It might be something trivial because I was actually thinking about one episode where Yabushige tells [Kashigi] Omi to find the spy in the village. [Kashigi] Omi wasn’t able to find the spy, so Yabushige got really upset and kicked this basket. Looking back, I feel like I should have kicked it harder, and I should’ve been able to do it with so much more strength. 

Those are the kinds of details that could be more evolved and turn into something much more important, something that’s maybe bigger because I see how I kick the basket from the audience’s perspective. That in itself can be one element to make the character look a little differently or in a better way. They’re elements that accumulate into creating another part of the character I’m trying to perform.  

AF: Does that make it hard for you to watch your performances in previous projects, that reflection on the choices you made and what you might’ve done differently?

Asano: For me, it’s not a burden to watch my previous performances. I love watching them, and I actually enjoy them. If I have learned something I could do better, I can fully utilize that skill or experience in my next project. 

About The Author

Partner, Deputy Awards Editor

Matthew Koss is the Deputy Awards Editor at Awards Focus and a Senior Film and TV coverage Partner.

He is the host and creator of the weekly YouTube series The Wandering Screen with Matt Koss, which features dynamic reviews of all the latest film and TV releases. His writing has also appeared in The Movie Buff, Voyage LA, and ScreenRant, and he is a moderator for post-screening Q&As.

Since joining Awards Focus in 2020, Matthew has interviewed A-list talent, including Academy Award nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emmy winner Alex Borstein, and Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors, across film and TV. He also appears on red carpets for major studios and film festivals, most recently with Netflix's The Crown and Hulu’s The Bear.

After moving from Melbourne, Australia, to Los Angeles in 2014, Matthew has worked in various areas of the entertainment industry, including talent and literary representation, film/TV development as a Creative Executive, and at film festivals as a Regional Manager. Matthew is also a screenwriting consultant, most recently partnering with Roadmap Writers, where he conducted private, multi-week mentorship consultations, roundtables, and monthly coaching programs.

Matthew is also a producer, and he recently appeared at the Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival with his film Chimera, directed by Justin Hughes.

He continues to work with entertainment companies such as Warner Bros. Discovery, Zero Gravity Management, Sundance Institute, and MGMT Entertainment.

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