The ultra-secretive showrunners of Westworld are finally ready tell us a little about Park 2. EW spoke exclusively to writer-producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about the HBO sci-fi hit’s new world based on feudal Japan. The park’s existence was first teased in the drama’s debut season finale 16 months ago, and ever since has been a source of considerable fan excitement and speculation. Until recently, however, nobody even knew what this land filled with lethal katana-swinging androids was even called.
With Westworld set to return to HBO for its second season on April 22 (trailer here), we asked Nolan and Joy a few of our biggest burning questions about the introduction of Shogun World.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Michael Crichton’s original 1973 film showed a Medieval World and Roman World in addition to the Western theme park. What made you go a very different direction and introduce Shogun World instead?
JONATHAN NOLAN: Part of the reason we’re going to Shogun World instead of to Roman World or Medieval World is, yes, you saw those in the original film. But also if you’re doing a theme park, you wouldn’t limit it to the Western European or North American experience. You’d try to reach a global audience. So the idea is you have a texture here that’s totally different.
And selfishly, it comes down to being obsessed with Japanese cinema as a kid and earnestly wanting to make an homage to Akira Kurosawa and the other films I grew up watching. My older brothers and I watched Sergio Leone Westerns and Kurosawa’s classic samurai films and were fascinated to discover they had the same plot. You had this wonderful call and response between these two genres — with the gunslinger and the ronin. They have identical tropes but are set within different cultures. Frankly, this was just a great excuse to go and make a samurai movie with all the trimmings.
LISA JOY: For me, it’s also personal. I grew up in Asia, and I remember as a little kid being in Taiwan watching films there and being so awed by these new worlds of entertainment. You saw new talents with the actors, new fighting styles, new types of wardrobe. It was exhilarating to me. So we looked to all our [department heads] to make sure we had the full thrill of exploring Shogun World … researching hair and production design and costume, working with choreographers who were skilled at fighting styles we haven’t seen before, and of course working with incredible talent, from Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi, and the other actors that we cast and the extras filling it out. It was wonderful to see that world come alive.
You’ve announced Shogun World is based on the Edo period (1603-1867) but, like with Westworld, I assume you’re not too strict about that because it is, after all, a theme park?
NOLAN: This is a world that’s a composite — just as Westworld is a composite with the early-19th-century open range of Red River and the immediate post-Civil War era of The Searchers, but it also has trains. We felt free to have a composite with Shogun World and pick and choose. This is basically the Edo period, but with artifacts from across 300 years.
The social media tease has suggested Shogun World is a level up and even more violent than Westworld. What can you tell us about that?
NOLAN: In addition to Kurosawa films, which are plenty bloody, I grew up watching the Sonny Chiba films — those are the ones Tarantino is riffing on in his films with the superfluidity of gore and mayhem; this sense of an alternately brutal and beautiful world that raises the volume on what the guests might be looking for. It wasn’t just about gore, it’s also about being immersive. We wanted to feel like our story dropped into a totally different world. Basically, we have a whole episode in Japanese.
JOY: It’s not our world. It’s their world, and it’s thrilling to walk through.
Do each of you have a favorite classic or neo-classic Asian cinema title?
JOY: Jonah will name some beautiful classic, and I have a soft spot for the films I watched as a kid in Taiwan. They were kung fu films about the Monkey King based on these classic Chinese novels. The English version is called Journey to the West. It’s about the tale of the Monkey King going after these Buddhist scrolls.
NOLAN: I would be torn between The Seven Samurai, which is the greatest film ever. I also loved Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy, which also starred Toshiro Mifune — who is my favorite movie star of all time — and details the life of the most famous Japanese swordsman, who’s sort of a King Arthur-like figure. There’s quite a lot from those movies woven through Shogun World. Hiroyuki’s character is based in honor of [Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy character Musashi], and some of our set decoration choices and costumes were in homage to Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island, which is the most f—ing rad duel in any movie ever. But as with the Western, there are pieces from all over the place.
JOY: We definitely have a lot of cool Japanese weaponry cluttering up our offices now.
What do you want to say about how much we’ll see of Shogun World this season?
NOLAN: We want to try and gently temper expectations. Most of our season is spent in Westworld — the eponymous Westworld. But we do get a chance to glimpse some of the other worlds. And we have a couple of episodes that are spent in Shogun World with one of our storylines, while our other storylines continue elsewhere. So I say we’re trying to temper expectations, except to say that I think the stuff we did for Shogun World is spectacular.
Westworld returns to HBO on April 22.