Making a Scene: ‘Shogun’ Star Anna Sawai and Creators Break Down Mariko’s Climactic Castle Gate Fight Scene

The epic FX series “Shōgun” lives and dies in the smallest moments and details. The series thrives due to its painstaking approach to telling authentic stories with heavily researched, period-accurate costumes, sets, wigs and even plot narratives. Each crew member labored over every single wig, sword, choreographed step and or piece of dialogue while adapting James Clavell’s novel of the same name.

So it’s no real surprise when “Shogun’s” climatic fight between main character Toda Mariko (played by the brilliant Anna Sawai) and a bevy of guards isn’t a wire-work piece of spectacle, but rather, a guttural painful act of defiance and desperation for our hero. In fact, the very premise of this fight sequence is (on the surface) quite simple: a woman tries to leave.

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“There is such a surprising component of that when it comes to how we as Westerners approach action sequences: the character walks into a seat and they’re going to fight with a bunch of people and they’re going to win,” Co-showrunner Justin Marks explained. “Mariko has no intention of winning this fight, she simply wants to make an expression of her will and demonstrate it to everyone who’s watching what it is that she’s trying to do in order to expose the resolve of her enemies.”

The cast and crew of “Shōgun,” peel back the many layers that went into creating Mariko’s act of defiance for Variety’s Making A Scene.

“There was a unique opportunity in the setting of it because the walls of the castle were claustrophobic, and they were incredibly high,” said episode director Frederick E. O. Toye. “It feels like a funnel, it feels like a trap being led into. To me, it’s like having this specific point of view of knowing that it’s Mariko’s journey. I’m taking her through this, and here’s the progression.”

E. O. Toye continued, “When drawing storyboards, it became very clear that a view from above would show you claustrophobia of the walls, it would show you how surrounded she could possibly be. And if I’m careful to put her in the center of that frame without anything around her, you would feel that sense of total and complete entrapment.”

Lauro Chartrand-DelValle, the second unit director and stunt coordinator, said he had a “no bulls—t rule” when it came to safety on set.

“I constantly barked at them about this, because there’s a lot of fight scenes that go on and other shows that are very entertaining. And that’s what people are looking at them for is entertainment. So a lot of times it happens in a fight that they have what I call filler—they are clacking the swords over their head. So they’ll they’ll block it up here. ‘Why are you doing that? Just let it go by and slice the guy and kill him.’ Because that was what we were about: efficiency, killing, now, quick.”

Ultimately, the action proves deadly to Mariko’s men and futile for her, culminating in her public decision to take her own life at sunset.

“The reason why I think this scene is so important is because I don’t think Mariko wants to die,” co-showrunner Rachel Kondo explains. “I think she wants to stand for something. I think she wants her life to add up to something, and to mean something. I think that in her world, and in her time, the act of seppuku and the act of dying, was a way to highlight exactly how you want to live and what you want, what convictions you stand by.”

Sawai, who plays Mariko, dissected what was going through her character’s mind while making this harrowing decision. “While she has gone through so much with the fighting and is feeling distraught and a little shameful about not being allowed to leave, she knew this was happening. She knew that this was going to happen, that they were not going to let her leave. By going back and by sunset, taking her own life, she was going to make an even more powerful statement. This is all part of the plan. It’s not a surprise that this is happening. At a certain point, you will see her come back to herself and forget all the tears and everything that she was going through emotionally, it’s like, ‘Now I’m back to my plan,’ and there’s a strength in that.”

Watch the full episode above.

Variety’s “Making a Scene” is presented by HBO.

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