Seduction & Betrayal: Past & Present
Surrounding Logan in his journey to Japan is a cast of characters whose motives are initially unclear but whose codes of honor are new and intriguing to him. In casting the film, as with all the other elements of the production, James Mangold looked to underscore the film's grounding in realism.
To play the vital role of Shingen Yashida, the leading industrialist who is not only the leader of a vast criminal empire but the father of Wolverine's new love Mariko, he fittingly chose a man who is himself a legend of Japanese film. Taking the part is Hiroyuki Sanada, who started acting as a child in the 1960s and went on to become an action hero, an acclaimed dramatic actor, the first Japanese man to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the star of dozens of Japanese and Hollywood films including Twilight Samurai, Ring, The Last Samurai, Danny Boyle's Sunshine, Rush Hour 3 and Speed Racer.
Sanada's well-honed skills in the Samurai fighting style also benefited other cast members as he shared his broad knowledge of martial arts action, including with first-time actor Rila Fukushima, who plays Yukio. "I had a sword fighting scene at the beginning of filming and Hiro helped me so much. I mean if he wasn't there, I can't really imagine like how I would have done it," says Fukushima. "He's amazing to watch and we were all really honored to work with him."
Although The Wolverine takes place away from the X-Men team, there are key appearances from figures in Logan's past, including Jean Grey, the telekinetic mutant and Logan's lost love, portrayed once again by Famke Janssen.
Janssen embraced the opportunity to return to the X-Men universe and, especially, the chance to reunite with Jackman. "Hugh and I have a wonderful history playing these characters," says the actress. "We've worked together on three previous movies, in which there was a flirtation between Logan and Jean, and I think a lot of 'X-Men' fans had hoped to see them together again."
A bonus was the nature of their joint scenes in The Wolverine. "Our scenes are dream-like, beautiful, intimate, and perhaps a little disturbing," Janssen hints.
"Jean Grey is central to this journey Logan is on to battle the demons of his past," adds Hutch Parker. "Jean and Wolverine had a complex relationship, and now Jean is a kind of guide who challenges him. It really helps to connect the unique experience of this story to the rest of the X-Men mythology."
Logan's journey through Japan also involves two other powerful women, each of whom has her own light or dark fascination with him. Tao Okamoto plays out Mariko's complicated love story with Logan, and Rila Fukushima, takes on the role of the fiery, sword-wielding bodyguard Yukio. Both were cast from auditions that won over the filmmakers with their naturalism.
"Tao and Rila are both natural actresses and they're both amazing looking in their roles as well," says Mangold. "Both women are incredibly beautiful, and each has tremendously palpable energy, and yet they couldn't be more different."
Okamoto was drawn to the background of her character as the daughter of a powerful industrialist who was never there for her, and has arranged a marriage for her to a man she does not love. "Mariko could never be a normal woman," Okamoto observes. "But all along, she was hiding her dreams. At the start of the story, she is someone very desperate. Then she meets Logan, and she starts to realize what she wants in life, and she begins to change. That transformation was very interesting to me."
Jackman was impressed with how organically Okamoto took to the character. "She has that ability to let the camera go deep within her. When Wolverine gets to Japan, he doesn't want to be involved with anyone or anything -- but in Tao's performance you see how he could not help but be drawn into her vortex."
Tokyo native Rila Fukushima says it was Yukio's colorful intensity that intrigued her. "What interested me were her physicality and her ruthless nature," she muses. "I was really excited to have the chance to do such strong action sequences -- but I also saw great potential for humor with her."
Fukushima threw herself into the high spirit and trials of the role. "It was an amazing, challenging journey for me," she says. "I trained with our terrific stunt team, learned all the physical stuff, including sword work, kick-boxing and fighting, and also did lots of weight training. I'd never done anything like this before, but it was great fun."
Another powerful and complex woman is brought to life by Svetlana Khodchenkova, who takes on the green-eyed Viper, a cunning and treacherous mutant. Khodchenkova, who hails from Russia, is best known in the West for her recent breakout role in the acclaimed spy story Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,as the Soviet operative Irina.
Taking the role of Shingen Yashida's father, Lord Yashida, who tries to make a shocking bargain with Logan, is Japanese actor Haruhiko -- who could not resist the larger-than-life character. "Lord Yashida is such a big character he made me think of Shakespeare," he says.
Yamanouchi drew on the history and personalities of real Japanese industrialists to get to the heart of Yashida's ambition. "He's one of the engines of the Japanese economy and I think such people have both a strong sense of responsibility and a strong identification with the destiny of Japan," he explains.
Rounding out the principal cast is American-based actor Will Yun Lee as the Black Hand ninja, Harada. Lee, who is known for his roles on TNT's "Witchblade" and as the villain in the James Bond film Die Another Day,was drawn to Mangold's approach. "I've always been a fan of this genre, but knowing James Mangold's movies, I knew he was going to bring an interesting twist to this," says Lee. "And then when I read the script, I loved the way Harada is written as such a mysterious character."
His character's twisting background as the illegitimate son of Shingen Yashida led Lee to the core of his character's ultimate dilemma. "Harada was basically raised by Yashida and he later led what's called The Black Clan, a centuries old cadre of ninjas whose sole mission is to protect the House of Yashida," Lee explains. "But in the course of the movie, Harada realizes that what is happening around him doesn't seem to line up with his warrior code. So he has to make some crucial decisions towards the end of the movie on whether or not he chooses to live by that coda.
To bring his fight scenes to life, Lee devoted himself to training. "Having to learn skills that go beyond martial arts was my biggest challenge," he says, "and they really put me through the ringer. I was training for three hours a day every day, but it paid off."
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