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Shōgun's Tadanobu Asano Shares What an Emmy Nomination for His Performance as Yabushige Would Mean

The actor also breaks down Yabushige's ranking of deaths, including why being eaten by fish ranks higher than by dogs

Kat Moon

[The following contains spoilers for Shōgun Episode 10, "A Dream of a Dream." Read at your own risk!]

Tadanobu Asano is a modern Renaissance man. When he's not playing music in his band, he is drawing — a quick scroll through his Instagram shows dozens of his pieces, and an exhibition for his art just opened in Tokyo. "Ever since I was maybe three or four, I already started drawing," Asano told TV Guide. But it's a different craft from the 50-year-old star that's now being recognized by millions around the world. In FX's Shōgun, which adapts James Clavell's best-selling novel of the same name, Asano plays Lord Kashigi Yabushige. In a show where characters hide their true feelings behind what Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai) described as the "Eightfold Fence," Yabushige stands out for his clear-as-day intentions. And a major part of that intention is: Do what's best for Yabushige and Yabushige only.

Well, he clearly failed. By the end of Shōgun Season 1, Yabushige is ordered by his lord, Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), to die. The punishment comes after Toranaga learned that Yabushige's betrayal led to Mariko's death. What's even worse to Yabushige is that he must die by seppuku, which is not one of the glorious deaths he had imagined. The lord begs Toranaga for a different form of execution — he wants to be torn apart by cannons or "eaten alive by a school of angry fish," but is denied. Instead, Yabushige commits seppuku with Toranaga as his second.

Asano spoke to TV Guide, via a translator, about where seppuku falls in Yabushige's ranking of deaths and how Yabushige performed the ritual inappropriately. We also asked the actor about a potential Emmy Award nomination — his performance as Yabushige has been gaining buzz for the Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series category.

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Tadanobu Asano, Shōgun

Tadanobu Asano, Shōgun


First, what is Yabushige thinking when he sees that Mariko has died after the explosion?
Tadanobu Asano:
He probably felt like, what am I doing? He is almost becoming a lunatic, he's very confused and I think you could see some of these moments in my acting. And unfortunately, he's not really able to come out of that confusion.

Yabushige says "forgive me" in that scene. Throughout the series, he's harmed and killed many people. Why is this the event that makes him feel repentance? 
I think that's exactly where he senses almost like an animal kind of instinct showing up, and I don't know exactly what makes him that way. But for example, Anjin, [Yabushige] feels like this guy should be alive, because I think he's interesting. And then for Mariko in a different way, not because she's interesting, but I think there is a certain sort of feeling that she should be living, I should not really do anything to harm her. And I think that is the reason why he feels differently about her death versus any other people's death.

We also learn from this conversation that Ishido (Takehiro Hira) promised him a seat on the Council of Regents. What would you say was Yabushige's ultimate goal? Was it to be a part of the Council, or something else?
I don't necessarily think that getting a higher position would be something Yabushige was really looking forward to. Even though I admit at that time, there were many people who very much wanted that position. But I don't think that's what Yabushige was interested in. I think he's more interested in the relationship with other human beings, or maybe he's more interested in doing something he really wanted to do, but not necessarily getting a higher position in that society.

What is the something he really wanted to do?
He wants something interesting happening in his life. For example, seeing in Izu area that all of a sudden Blackthorne came to Toranaga's region, and then he happened to be able to meet those interesting people. And I think that kind of life, that sort of encounter is exactly what he's looking for. He was probably not looking for a boring death. I think if he had to face this boring death, he would much rather go somewhere else and still survive and then continue to enjoy his life. 

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On that note, I have to ask. Yabushige asks for a "good death" after Toranaga told him to slit his belly. We know that he has a notebook ranking deaths, where in the ranking is seppuku? 
I understand that right around that time, seppuku in a certain formality was quite an honor. But that's not at all what he wanted. And you can see that — rather than following the proper formality he just took the sword and then killed himself. Usually, that's not really the proper way of seppuku, it's more ceremonial. But he probably didn't even want to follow the proper seppuku, which shows that seppuku, from his perspective, that's not very high level of priority.

Can you share more about how he did it differently from proper formality?
I think in every step of the way. It's a very formal way of facing death, you would not dare to ask a question to Toranaga, for one thing. And I think even though he was called by him, normally you would have more formal kimono. And the way he sat is probably inappropriate, and the way he presents himself is inappropriate — looking aside to look at the ocean will be another element that you can see this is not at all the formal way of facing the death

I also have to ask, why is eaten alive by fish at the top of his death rankings list, but eaten alive by dogs at the bottom?
This is just my assumption, but I think dogs can be quite close to human beings, whereas fish are not. I think he would much rather choose something that's kind of remote to the human.

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Interesting! I can see that as a possibility. Are you surprised that Yabushige is a fan-favorite character? Or was he also your favorite when you read the script for the first time?
Of course I remember finding Yabushige's character interesting. But then I realized as I read again and again that the balance between him and the other characters are also very interesting. Omi would be one, and Toranaga. So when you think about the other characters around him, I also find those character quite interesting too. A Yabushige-like character in this story makes the other character even more interesting, is what I remember from reading the character. 

Do you feel like through him the other characters reveal more of their animal instincts?
I think it is true. For example, if Toranaga faces Omi or Ishido, he might behave differently or he may calculate a little bit because of their relationship. But then when Toranaga is facing Yabushige. He already knows that Yabushige is such a character so he could possibly be a little bit more animal-like.

I also wanted to ask about something else. There is a lot of praise for your performance both from viewers and from critics. What would being nominated for an Emmy Award mean to you? 
I'm just very, very grateful and happy because the critics must have seen many, many, many films and many TV series and for these people to be able to really recognize my performance, I'm simply very happy. And also the same for the possible nomination for the Emmy Award. I think this is a very big event for my career. 

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All 10 episodes of Shōgun are available to stream on Hulu.