Tadanobu Asano on His Favorite ‘Shogun’ Scene and Yabushige’s ‘Fundamental Connection’ with the Anjin

Welcome to My Favorite Scene! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together. 

In “Shōgun,” Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) is a man playing both sides and one side at once. The wily lord swears his allegiance to two masters: lords Ishido (Takehiro Hira) and Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), the feuding members of Japan’s council of regents. When it appears the odds favor Ishido, Yabushige sides with him. When the tide turns back to Toranaga, Yabushige is happy to let the current sweep him away. So really, when it comes down to it, the Lord of Izu is only loyal to a single person: himself.

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It’s fitting then, when asked for his favorite scene in “Shōgun,” that the actor bringing Yabushige to such shifty, spirited life zeroes in on a moment that reflects his character’s self-interests. Bridging the end of Episode 8, “The Abyss of Life,” and the start of Episode 9, “Crimson Sky,” Asano’s savored scenes are when Yabushige and Blackthorn (Cosmo Jarvis) form their “fundamental connection.” The Anjin, as Blackthorn is called by most of his Japanese friends (and enemies), comes to Yabushige with a proposal: Now that it appears Toranaga’s defeat is assured, let the Anjin serve Yabushige as a sailor and navigator. At first, Yabushige refuses, but events soon reinforce the Anjin’s belief that their Lord is, in fact, defeated, and the two men sail off together to Osaka.

“Episode 8 is when [Yabushige] really realizes his true connection with Anjin, and that’s where his unbalance happens,” Asano said, via his translator Junko Goda, in an interview with IndieWire. “He doesn’t know the rest of the world, in a bigger sense. So he’s kind of stuck thinking, ‘OK, I have this true relationship with Anjin, but I don’t know how to handle it and I don’t know what to do.'”

Bringing the Anjin along serves as a safety net for Yabushige. The English pilot has seen more of the world than his Japanese partner, but he could also make a fitting apology present to Lord Ishido, in case the regent is still upset with Yabushige. Soon, the latter option seems the most helpful to Yabushige… until Ishido shoots down his offering.

“By Episode 9, for Yabushige, that was a point where there’s a lot going on, and he’s trying to shift to whatever is coming at him,” Asano said. “The whole process of dressing up Anjin in the nice kimono and instructing him how to bow properly, I felt that Yabushige was going through a lot of complex [emotions]. It’s also the beginning of when there’s a relationship forming between Anjin and Yabushige — it’s just starting. So I really remember that scene. It was just really interesting and fun to navigate all that.”

It’s no coincidence that this is the moment in which Yabushige first takes notice of the Anjin. While Yabushige has long been operating in his own best interests, Blackthorn only begins to look out for No. 1 in Episode 8. When he offers himself to Yabushige, he’s abandoning Toranaga. He tells Yabushige he now knows he doesn’t belong in Japan, and yet he feels like a stranger to his own people. He “has no choice but to make his own fate,” a sentiment Yabushige can identify with, even as Mariko (Anna Sawai) emphasizes to them both that they always have a choice.

“Fundamentally, Yabushige should be drawn to Anjin because Anjin helps him and things like that,” Asano said. “But he doesn’t really realize that, because Yabushige keeps bouncing back between Toranaga and Ishido, trying to figure out how to survive. So he ends up brushing Anjin off, like, ‘Ah, you foreigner.’ But in reality, he should really realize that there is a fundamental connection with him and Anjin.”

'SHOGUN' stars Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, shown here sitting in front of samurai armor
Tadanobu Asano in ‘Shogun’Courtesy of Katie Yu / FX

Asano said he and Cosmo Jarvis would receive new scripts at different times. Sometimes it was a few weeks in advance, and other times only a few days. But they were always ready to contribute to their characters’ journeys, as well as their shared connection.

“Oftentimes we would have the opportunity to get [our] ideas written into the scripts,” Asano said. “And even when we were shooting the scenes, I would sometimes improvise and Cosmo just hits the ball right back. Justin [Marks], our E.P., he would really like that. We definitely had the script as the guide,B but thinking back, perhaps we did deviate — only with the blessing of the E.Ps.”

Asano also relied on his cast and crew to gauge the effectiveness of his own performance. He said he tries not to think about how an audience might react to his choices on set, but those very choices are the ones that tell him whether what he’s doing is working as intended.

“There were times onset when some of the crew might be like, ‘Was that OK? Are you OK?'” Asano said about some of his bigger, more emotional scenes. “In my experience set, those are the moments that do connect with the audience.”

[Editor’s Note: The following portion of the interview contains spoilers for “Shōgun” Episode 10, the finale.]

Because “Shōgun” makes a point of finding meaning not only in people’s lives, but in their deaths as well, Asano was happy to share what he thought might be gleaned from Yabushige’s ending.

“With Yabushige’s death, I’m not sure if there would be any influence on Toranaga or Ishido — on those above him — but with people like Omi [Yabushige’s nephew and successor, played by Hiroto Kinai] and the other vassals, I think there was meaning to them. Yabushige is a very curious but very straightforward character. Those around him — like Omi and the villagers — would see Yabushige and say, ‘I don’t want to be like that person,’ or, ‘What can I do differently to not turn out like him?’ And with Omi, hopefully he would eventually rise to power and would have learned a lot from Yabushige to be a good leader in his own way.”

Even as Yabushige spent his life looking out for himself, his death finds a way to help others. What a character — and what a performance.

“Shōgun” is available on Hulu. FX is in the process of developing Seasons 2 and 3, but that news broke after this interview took place.

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