HomeAAPI ActorsHiroyuki Sanada talks 'John Wick 4,' martial arts and his career

Hiroyuki Sanada talks ‘John Wick 4,’ martial arts and his career

by Erin Chew, AsAmNews Contributor

The latest installment of John Wick introduces the audiences to new faces and old ones. AsAmNews spoke with Hiroyuki Sanada, a Japanese actor with a lengthy career in film, about his new role in the series’ fourth film.

John Wick: Chapter 4 sees John Wick (Keanu Reeves) as the un-retired hitman uncovering a path to defeating the High Table. Those who have watched John Wick chapters 1-3 know that the High Table is a council of twelve crime lords that governs the underworld’s most powerful organizations. To amp up the pressure on Wick, the High Table has placed a multi-million-dollar bounty on his head for the crime of defiance.

Having more enemies than friends in this world, Wick reaches out to those who still hold loyalty to a friendship forged over years of violence and survival. Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), the manager of the Osaka Continental Hotel is one of those who still see Wick as a friend. Risking his and his daughter’s life Akira (Rina Sawayama), Koji provides advice, passage and an opportunity for Wick to fight for survival in Japan.

A riveting, violent and action packed film – one which is expected of John Wick, the brilliance of the storyline is that where the concept of an assassins underworld worth billions of dollars is unrealistic, the film makes this idea realistic and extremely logical. In addition, like the other three chapters before, this chapter features a very culturally diverse cast. Among the Asian big names of Reeves, Sanada and Sawayama, the film also features Donnie Yen, who plays Caine – a blind High Table assassin and an old friend of Wick.

Sanada, a veteran Japanese actor and well knwon martial artist, has a lifetime of films and TV series under his belt. He is best known for his roles as Genbu in Ninja in the Dragon’s Den (1982), Ryuji Takayama in Ring (1998), Seibei Iguchi in The Twilight Samurai (2002), Ujio in The Last Samurai (2003), Kenji in Rush Hour 3 (2007), and Scorpion in Mortal Kombat (2021).

In his interview with AsAmnews, Sanada said he has huge respect his character Shimazu Koji, considering how loyal he is to Wick at all costs. Sanada mentioned that loyal friends are hard to come by and he hopes that if anything, audiences will see Koji as a loyal person who doesn’t give up on good people.

“Koji is an old friend of John Wick. They grew up together, trained together and helped each other kill off enemies. They have a long and substantial history together, a sort of brotherhood. One thing I hope Koji can teach people watching the film is how important loyalty is- I believe this is the core of all John Wick films,” he said.

In the film, Sanada shares a fight scene with Donnie Yen who plays Caine. Both Sanada and Yen are expert martial artists and that scene doesn’t hold back showing their skills. Two veteran and big name Asian actors in the same scene is very significant for nostalgia and visibility.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick and Donnie Yen as Caine in John Wick 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close for Lionsgate

Sanada said that he didn’t feel like a veteran actor when working with Yen, because he has huge respect for Yen, for his acting and martial arts skills. This scene was the first time they have worked together in a film, and collaborating with Yen was an honor and a learning curve for Sanada.

“I was so happy to work on that scene with Donnie. This is the first time we have worked together on the same film, but oddly we treated each other as though we have been good friends for a long time. We both has similar ideas of how we wanted the scene to look like and we were in sync with the choreography. Donnie also gave me an opportunity to learn more about myself and improve my skills,” Sanada said.

Finally, Sanada discussed his lifetime career in front of the screen. He started out as a child actor at five years old, and has been acting in both TV and film in Japan and Hollywood for almost sixty years. Over that time he has seen immense changes in the industry, particularly the growth and changes in the Japanese entertainment industry. He mentioned that he has been lucky to be able to dabble in both Japan and in Hollywood, and throughout his career, he has been able to show the world his acting and martial arts skills.

“When I was a child actor, everything was still black and white, and things coming out of Japan, wasn’t that well known. I have been in the Japanese entertainment industry at every decade where colors are added to films and feel proud to be part of creating its now expansive industry. Being in Hollywood for decades as well, I am able to see progress of Japan and how its on par pretty much with Hollywood. What a proud time it is”, he said.

John Wick: Chapter 4 will be released in theaters across the USA on March 24, 2023 by Lionsgate.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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