‘Shōgun’ Star Anna Sawai Dissects Mariko’s Devastating Move in Episode 9

“It felt very liberating to finally be able to release all those emotions,” the FX star tells TheWrap

Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in "Shogun" (Photo Credit: Katie Yu/FX)

Note: This story contains spoilers from “Shōgun” Episode 9.

Even in the brutal world of “Shōgun,” there is little to prepare viewers for the FX series’ penultimate episode. After nine hours spent following the quiet, noble Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai), the heart of this war epic gave her life to the ones she valued most — a glorious ending to her character.

“I think it’s the best way that she could have gone,” Sawai told TheWrap.

Going into Episode 9, there were no big conversations between Sawai and showrunners Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks about Mariko’s death. They weren’t needed. By that point, Kondo and Marks “understood” that Sawai had lived in Mariko’s shoes for close to 10 months and fully knew the character.

“I felt like they were letting me do whatever I had to go through. Episode 9 really allows her to express everything that she had kept in because she had to. Now she’s getting permission from her Lord to openly rebel,” Sawai said. “For me, as an actor, it felt very liberating to finally be able to release all those emotions I had to hide in all the other episodes.”

“Crimson Sky” followed the action during a stalemate between Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira) and the seemingly defeated Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada). Following the death of his son, Toranaga and his clan were given 49 days to grieve the loss, meaning that for 49 days Toranaga doesn’t have to surrender himself to the council that wants him dead. It’s during this period that Mariko asked to leave Ishido’s castle in Osaka so that she can escort Toranaga’s consorts to him.

As she tried to leave, Ishido and his men prevent her, a gory battle that resulted in the loss of Mariko’s guard. That’s when she took a naginata into her own hands and attempted to escape.

“I loved it,” Sawai said of the action sequence. “I have been very careful not to be labeled as ‘the Asian girl who does action,’ but I’m pretty good at doing it. I memorize choreography pretty quickly.”

Sawai was less concerned with the logistics of this scene than she was with channeling where Mariko was emotionally during the episode. That’s because after Mariko failed to fight her way out of Osaka, she and Toranaga play their ultimate hand. Unable to complete her Lord’s request, Mariko vowed to commit seppuku at sunset, thereby putting Ishido in an impossible position. If he forced a great lady like Mariko to stay in Osaka and she died, he would risk losing the loyalty of the top noble families in Japan, proving that his kingdom is indeed a prison. But if he allowed her to leave, others may leave Osaka as well.

Though she knew that Mariko would survive it, the seppuku scene was “very emotional” for the star. “I went in thinking that could be the last moments of her life, in order to play her as realistically as possible,” Sawai explained. “I was going in like, ‘I’m seeing my son in the corner. I can’t believe that I’m showing him this. But in order to be a dutiful samurai I have to do this.’”

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne and Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in “Shogun” (Photo Credit: Katie Yu/FX)

Though her seppuku attempt was stopped at the last minute by Ishido granting her passage, Mariko eventually did give her life by the episode’s end. While fleeing an army of shinobi sent by Ishido, Mariko, John (Cosmo Jarvis), Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) and Toranaga’s consorts lock themselves in a storage room. To protect them all from the mercenaries’ blast, Mariko positioned herself in front of the doorway.

In this moment, she finally got the death she’s asked to experience for years. But rather than it being one tinged with shame over her late father’s actions, her last moments were full of familial pride. Sawai pointed out that this scene is the first time her character uses her father’s last name, harkening back to the man who assassinated Lord Goroda.

“It’s the first time she says Akechi Mariko instead of Toda Mariko,” Sawai said.

Ultimately, the actor called Mariko’s reclamation of her family “empowering.” “She’s not precious about living a long life. It’s more about living a very purposeful, meaningful life,” Sawai said. “She’s answering to the Lord’s needs. She’s also avenging her family, and she’s also choosing the life that she always wanted.”

The final episode of “Shōgun” premieres Tuesday, April 23, on Hulu and at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.


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