(Spoiler alert: Please do not read ahead unless you’ve seen Sunday’s episode of “Westworld” Season 2, “Akane No Mai.”)
Did Sunday’s “Westworld” feel a little too familiar to you? OK, so Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s hit HBO series may have cribbed a bit from itself for “Akane No Mai” — the fifth episode of Season 2 aka “the Shogun World one.” But the self-plagiarism was all in good fun, series regular Thandie Newton and guest star Rinko Kikuchi told TheWrap.
Tonight’s long-awaited dive into Delos Destinations’ Samurai-centric location delivered a plot that — thanks to the laziness of head story writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) — was very similar to what we’ve seen in the titular theme park, beginning with a Geisha house robbery that’s almost a shot-for-shot remake of the Mariposa Saloon heist from Season 1.
Except this one focuses on a standoff between new host characters Akane (Kikuchi), the head geisha, and Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a former member of the Shogun’s army. They are the Japanese doppelgängers of our beloved Maeve (Newton) and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), who watch this surreal copycat storyline play out before them after being taken prisoner in the fake foreign land.
“Yeah, that was so fun,” Newton laughed, as she told TheWrap of shooting the scene. “I didn’t really get to appreciate that ’til I saw it, because a lot of it has to do with Rodrigo — or rather Hiro, and those guys outside. But yeah, when I saw it, I just loved the similarity of shots and the slow-mo and how it harks back to what we did in Season 1. I just loved that laugh and the thrill of it.”
“I think that it really enhances, not only what we did in the first season … but just calling back to those moments is even richer now because of everything we know that it meant,” Newton added. “That this was just a program. That these characters were programmed. And to see that it’s happening in a completely different landscape, with a different language. Obviously, it’s just incredibly cool for our show to be doing that.”
(TheWrap cutting in here to add that the “incredibly cool” scene is set to a reimagined version of the Rolling Stone’s “Paint It, Black” by “Westworld” composer Ramin Djawadi — the same song the OG sequence is backed by in Season 1. However, this iteration was made using Japanese instruments like the shamisen, koto, various taiko drums and shakuhachi flutes — not a player piano.)
Japanese native and Oscar nominee Kikuchi told TheWrap in an interview through interpreter Lena-Grace Suda that acting out those shots meant even more to her as a fan of Season 1 and a fan of Newton.
“That scene really resonated with her also, because Maeve was a character that she really, really loved from the first season,” Suda told TheWrap on Kikuchi’s behalf. “It was really amazing to have her stand right in front of her. And throughout filming the whole sequence she felt like Maeve had an influence on her as a fan. And also as an actor — who, this is her career — she felt as though it was a great experience.”
“She feels honored to have been able to play Akane, who plays a counterpart, sharing the same spirit or identity [with Maeve],” Suda said. “And also, Rinko herself just recently became a mother so for her it was really easy for her to translate those experiences onto Akane, her character.”
Newton told TheWrap her part in preparing for the episode was to “really focus on traditional Japanese culture and the way a woman stands, and sits, and holds her body, and the language, and try to speak as fluent conversational Japanese as I could.”
“So I worked long and hard for weeks to make it seem like I had enough of a handle on the language that it would make me seem fluent,” Newton added. “And then me with that and Rinko with studying the character of Maeve in the first season we definitely met in the middle.”
See a clip of the original sequence from “Westworld” Season 1 above.
“Westworld” airs Sundays at 9/8 c on HBO.