With a career spanning six decades (his first on-screen appearance came when he was five years old), Hiroyuki Sanada is one of those actors you’ve almost certainly seen in something - usually as “the Japanese guy” or, in cases where more specificity is warranted, perhaps “the sword guy” or “the badass guy”. And although he’s long been a star in Japan, he didn’t really come to the attention of American audiences until 2003’s The Last Samurai, where he played Ujio, or as he was more accurately known, “the badass Japanese sword guy who beat up Tom Cruise until eventually they come to a begrudging respect for one another because remember it’s Tom’s movie, no not Ken Watanabe, the other one”.
So why am I here for Hiroyuki Sanada? I mean, besides that header photo?
Okay, besides both of those photos?
How about that Sanada takes his job as a cultural ambassador seriously? So seriously that he kept showing up on the Westworld set on his off days because he wanted to ensure that Shogun World was as authentic as it could be?
How about that he was only the second Japanese actor in history to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was awarded an honorary MBE for his work?
How about that he understands that to much of the entertainment industry, one Asian is as good as another, and in his privileged position of success, he turns down jobs that ask him to play other (non-Japanese) Asians, because he doesn’t want to portray a culture he’s unfamiliar with?
All reasons that I’m a fan of Hiroyuki Sanada.
But wait… there’s more!
He looks great when he’s the scruffy resident Asian in space, like he was in Life:
He can rock the mysterious, ominous science fiction character look from the jungles of Lost…
…to the labs of Helix…
And then of course, there’s a career’s worth of fight and stunt work, which, as a life-long martial artist, Sanada has always performed himself.
He’s an action star. A cultural ambassador. Damon Lindelof supposedly called him “the Japanese Harrison Ford”, and I’m inclined to agree. He can carry movies, shows, and magazine trailers (which I didn’t know were a thing until five minutes ago, but if they’re like this I’m all for them):
Hiroyuki Sanada for Pajiba 10.