'Shōgun' Breakout Star Tadanobu Asano Is Ready for a Call From Hollywood

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What's Next for Shōgun's Tadanobu AsanoKatie Yu/FX
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Major spoilers ahead for the entirety of Shōgun. If you haven't watched the finale, you've been warned!

Tadanobu Asano didn't expect Shōgun audiences to fall in love with Kashigi Yabushige.

In the critically acclaimed miniseries, which is almost guaranteed to be an Emmy frontrunner, the seasoned Japanese actor plays the scheming, sadistic, and duplicitous Lord of Izu. Over the ten episodes, Yabushige oscillates in his loyalty to Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and ultimately betrays him, leading to the death of Mariko (Anna Sawai). In the final episode, he suffers a mental breakdown, and asks the Anjin, a.k.a. John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) to bring him to England, but ultimately is forced to return to Toranaga's side in Izu, where he is ordered to commit seppuku for his treachery. In his final scene, Yabushige asks Toranaga about his plans—and if he always intended to be Shōgun. "How does it feel to shape the wind to your will?" Yabushige asks. Toranaga replies, "I don't control the wind. I only study it."

It's a testament to Asano's skills as an actor that the unlikeable Yabushige became a fan-favorite, but the audience reaction is a turn of events that still surprises him. "Looking back at my career, I'm in my fifties now, but I have been really astounded by not only Japanese fans, American fans, but internationally," he tells Town & Country over Zoom. "I thought I would just be a quiet actor in my fifties, doing my thing, but I never thought at this point in my career, and my age, that I'd get this much attention."

Speaking through translator Junko Goda, Asano opened up about why fans are obsessed with Yabushige, his character's curiosity around death, and why he's waiting for a call from Hollywood (and Nicholas Cage).

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Asano is a movie star in Japan, but Shōgun has been a huge breakthrough moment for him in the States.Katie Yu/FX

How do you feel about the reaction to Shōgun?

Surprised, really! I was catching up with Hiroyuki Sanada last night; we were just talking about how surprised we are. During filming, we were doing our best—the best of the best that we could do—but we never thought it would be this lauded. I myself, I live in Japan so I've been surprised by the reception from the U.S. audience and people really liking the Yabushige character, too.

Yabushige became such a fan favorite character over the course of the ten episodes. Why do you think audiences reacted so positively to him?

I actually want to ask everyone why! [laughing] As an actor, I was just making the choices that I thought were right for Yabushige and the story. I didn't think it would connect with the audience this much. So I'm actually the one who wants to ask the audience members what they connected with.

Since wrapping, [the reaction] validated that I was on the right path as far as creating him. especially now that the show is over, everyone's seen it all, it helped validate how I develop these characters in my work. Making those choices in those moments, it validated that I was on the right path because so many fans have accepted Yabushige and they really love him.

Have you seen the memes about Yabushige online? There’s one where people share the still of “I don’t have time for this Christian nonsense.”

I am filled with wonderment that there's so many Yabushige memes, that even the fans in Japan are surprised by how many memes are coming out of the English-speaking audience. There's folks who edited together Yabushige scenes on YouTube! It's been fun, and wonderful.

One of my favorite scenes in the show was Yabushige’s final meeting with Toranaga on the cliff, where he asks Toranaga about his plan. What was it like filming that moment between the two men?

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"Everything Yabushige does throughout the ten episodes comes back to him," Asano says.Katie Yu/FX

That scene is only a scene that Hiro Sanada and I could do. [In 2013,] we were in 47 Ronin, Keanu Reeves was the lead. In that movie, my character commits seppuku and then Sanada-san cut my head. Over a decade later, because we have that working relationship, and we've known each other for such a long time, that led to that energy, and that vibe in the scene. I'm really glad that people saw that and experienced it.

He is fascinated with death, and wants a better death than seppuku—like being eaten alive by fish. Why do you think he’s fixated on the end of his life?

It's Yabushige's curiosity, and the ultimate unimaginable thing is death to him. He can witness death; he can experiment with death on others; but you can't really experiment death on yourself—it's one and done. It's Yabushige's continuous curiosity about that ultimate unimaginable step, that makes him so caught up in death.

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The long working relationship between Sanada and Asano shaped the dynamic between Toranaga and Yabushige.Katie Yu/FX

He’s so different from the other lords and samurai we meet—in terms of his expressiveness, his humor. Why do you think he’s more free-spirited?

To summarize, it's because of his curiosity, because he'll look at those around him, he'll question, directly to them or himself: Why is this person speaking that way? Why is this person tied down to these actions? Why does everyone look the same, do the same things? So, his curiosity leads to, well, what if I didn't do the same thing? That's his appeal—that curiosity has led him to the Yabushige we see.

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"Yabushige, historically, was based on someone, but I didnKatie Yu/FX

How did you ensure Yabushige's character would come across even if the viewer didn't understand Japanese?

There's a saying in Japan that the eye can express more than the words. Especially in acting, I wanted to see if that works. Can ideas be communicated without language? Of course, Shōgun has subtitles and you can listen to the voiceover version and things like that, but that was the real question for me on Shōgun. Even if I work with other directors outside of Japan, I'll say something in Japanese, they don't know what I'm saying, but people will say, 'Oh, that's interesting. The communication is interesting.' Shōgun definitely proved that just that I can communicate beyond words, and express things beyond words.

The dynamic between Yabushige and Blackthrone is one where they don't communicate with words—Justin Marks, one of the co-creators, said he could do seven seasons with you and Cosmo and your characters. What do you make of their relationship? Why do you think people are so interested in their dynamic?

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Jarvis and Asano in a scene from the penultimate episode of Shōgun.Katie Yu/FX

They're both like animals running on instinct. Yabushige, he sees something and he just goes for it, while Blackthorne gets swept up in it too, he goes along. With just Yabushige and Blackthorne, there are no brakes. The car just keeps going. When you have Toranaga or Omi, those two are the brakes for Yabushige. In that way, Yabushige and Anjin are almost similar as well. They end up being this unstoppable vehicle if they are left to their own devices.

What’s next for you after the success of the show?

We were shooting in 2022, and at that time, I had specific things I wanted to do. Even now in 2024, I feel that you whatever I want to do in 2024, that it would be the right path.

You know, I haven't gotten any calls or offers based on folks watching Yabushige yet, but I think that the U.S. audience, the English speaking audience, they see me and they want me, and want to see more of my work, that's what I'm hoping will be the next thing. It'd be really interesting to be working in the U.S. as a Japanese actor. We're in a different age of filmmaking where I don't have to speak perfect English or anything. The experiences I gain working in the U.S. would then feed into my work [in Japan] as well. So I'm really hoping the next project could connect like that.

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Asano at the Los Angeles premiere for Shōgun earlier this year.Michael Tran - Getty Images

Do you have a dream role, or a dream person you'd like to work with?

It'd be great to be in something with Nicholas Cage! I think that'd be really fun.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

I recently had a new atelier built, I've actually been thinking about the landscaping of it and that's been fun to think about.

All ten episodes of Shōgun are now streaming on FX on Hulu. Shop Now


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