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One To watch: Hiroyuki Sanada

Hiroyuki Sanada’s Career in Pictures

Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada has been a film actor since age five, racked up an impressive 88 credits, and won 17 major awards including two Japanese Academy Awards. This Friday, Hiroyuki makes his way onto British cinema screens playing the role of Takashi Nagase in The Railway Man, alongside Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Well known and respected in Asia as a staple of Japanese cinema, Hiroyuki has more recently been taking parts in American and European productions. To mark his latest role we’ve decided to take a look at ten important roles in Hiroyuki’s career thus far.

Executioner (Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken) – 1974


Hiroyuki made his film debut playing alongside legendary Japanese actor and martial artist Sonny Chiba in this karate film about three men hired to take out a Tokyo drug dealer. Hiroyuki trained at Sonny’s club, and became his protégé.

Legend of Eight Samurai (Satomi hakken-den) – 1983


Achieving him his first nomination for best actor from the Japanese Academy, Legend of Eight Samurai saw Sanada playing Inue Shinbei Masashi, a vagabond who finds a princess on the run in this most successful Japanese film (domestically) of 1984. Again, Hiroyuki stars alongside his teacher Sonny Chiba. Hiroyuki was nominated for best actor in two other films at the year’s awards.

Ring (Ringu) – 1998


Flash forward to 1998 and we find Hiroyuki take his place in Ring, the J-horror film that started a franchise in Japan, and spawned a very popular US remake and sequel. Hiroyuki plays Ryûji Takayama, ex-husband of Reiko Asakawa – both determined to get to the bottom of the deadliest of video nasties. Ryûji watches the video…


The Last Samurai – 2003


Hiroyuki’s first big Hollywood movie had him starring alongside Tom Cruise and fellow Japanese acting heavyweight Ken Watanabe in Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai. Hiroyuki is memorable as Ujio, a master swordsman sworn to protect his samurai Lord Katsumoto (Watanabe).


Sunshine – 2007


From Hollywood to the heart of our solar system (via Three Mills Studios in Bow), Hiroyuki teamed up with favourite British director Danny Boyle for high-concept sci-fi Sunshine. Hiroyuki plays Kaneda, Captain of Icarus-II, a starship tasked with reigniting the dying Sun and saving all life on Earth. Heavy stuff in a great film.


Speed Racer – 2008


Back to Hollywood, 2008 saw Hiroyuki join the Wachowski’s bright and bold Speed Racer feature as Mr. Musha, president and CEO of Musha motors. The film may not have been the commercial success that Joel Silver hoped for, but at least we got to enjoy the acting talents of Hiroyuki and Roger Allam as captains of futuristic industry.


Lost – 2010


One of the most popular TV shows of the last decade, J.J. Abrams thrilling series featured Hiroyuki as Dogen in a four episode arc. Dogen was one of the leaders of The Others, and came to Island after nearly killing his son in a drunken car accident. Lost fans hate spoilers, so we’ll say no more!


The Wolverine – 2013


Continuing his Hollywood rise, Hiroyuki took the role of Shingen opposite Hugh Jackman’s Logan in last year’s second X-Men Wolverine spin-off. Shingen is the overlooked son of a Japanese officer that Logan saved during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki – he holds a grudge against his father that leads to a showdown with the Wolverine himself.


47 Ronin – 2014


Returning to his martial arts and samurai roots once again, Hiroyuki plays Ôishi alongside Keanu Reeves’ Kai in recent slice-em-up epic 47 Ronin. Ôishi is the leader of a group of masterless samurai (ronin) out to avenge the murder of their master. The ronin were real, but this story is not, and despite best efforts of the stellar cast, the film has failed to excite audiences or critics.


The Railway Man – 2014


As well known in Japan for his character roles as his martial arts ones, Hiroyuki has used the opportunity of The Railway Man to show western audiences his serious side. The Railway Man stars Jeremy Irvine and Colin Firth as Eric Lomax, the real WWII POW who suffered enormously at the hands of Takashi Nagase in a prison camp at the construction of the Thai-Burma ‘Death’ Railway. Hiroyuki plays Nagase as an older man – a man who repents and truley atones for his part in Eric’s torment. Eric, however, has tracked Nagase down, and sees paying his former captor a visit the only way to possibly aleviate the pain that has followed him for decades. The resulting meeting is one of heightened emotion, tension, and offers a real chance for reconciliation.

The Railway Man opens Friday.





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