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Nelson actor becomes ruthless warlord in new Disney Shōgun series

Hiromoto Ida plays a feudal lord of 17th century Japanese samurai culture
Nelson actor Hiromoto Ida plays Lord Kiyama in the Disney+ series Shogun. “One hundred people on the set and suddenly totally quiet, on this beautiful Japanese set, just sitting the Japanese way with beautiful kimonos … that makes me very calm and I enjoy it, like I was here and lived this time before.” Photo: Katie Yu/FX

Hiromoto Ida decided to start with the basics — his underwear.

For the Nelson actor’s supporting role as Lord Kiyama, a 17th century feudal warlord in the Disney+ series Shōgun, he wore beautiful classical Japanese clothing.

But to better portray the samurai mindset of the time, Ida decided to go deeper.

“We wore those beautiful costumes, designed, handmade. And then I was thinking, to become a man in the samurai era, I have to start from my underwear.”

Fundoshi is traditional Japanese underwear, a kind of loincloth, a strip of fabric that is wrapped and tied on the body. Ida says no one on the set knew he was doing this, but wearing traditional underwear while performing somehow gave him the confidence to embody the life of a samurai for whom the possibility of death — killing or being killed — is present in each moment.

With the underwear, he felt he could be a samurai right down to the skin.

“It made me feel, OK, today I’m being killed or I am going to kill someone.”

Still, Ida wondered if he was ruthless enough to play such a man.

“Where is the aggressiveness?” he asked himself. “Where is the violence and competitiveness inside me?”

He looked at the other actors on the Shōgun set, many of them famous actors from Japan, and decided to secretly compete with them.

In his mind, he told them (silently) that he was a better actor and was going to destroy them. He never stated this, of course, but he felt it, and he allowed this feeling to create his character’s physical bearing, attitude and tone of voice.

Shōgun, produced by the American television channel FX, is now streaming on Disney+ in Canada. It’s the story of a European ship wrecked in the early 1600s on the shores of Japan. Its English pilot, despite thoroughly bewildering cultural differences, becomes involved with Japanese political society. Shōgun is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by James Clavell, which was previously adapted into a 1980 miniseries.

Ida plays one of the five regents who ruled Japan at the time.

The intention was to make the series in Japan but COVID-19 intervened, and instead the shooting was done in a massive replica of a medieval Japanese village constructed in a studio on Burnaby.

Ida, who moved to Canada from Japan 30 years ago, is a Nelson dancer and actor who has created several unique productions in the city including Homecoming (2020) and Birthday Present for Myself (2021). He was named Nelson’s cultural ambassador in 2012.

He also has a film career outside the Kootenays. The American film database IMDb gives him 13 movie credits as an actor from from 1994 to the present.

Hiromoto Ida, in addition to his theatre activities in Nelson, has appeared in more than a dozen movies internationally. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Mosquito and bootcamp

Another of Ida’s techniques for embodying a ruthless man was to envision a mosquito flying around his head in the middle of the night when he is trying to sleep for an early morning meeting. He tries many times to swat it away, but eventually loses his temper, turns on the light, jumps out of bed, and pursues the mosquito with murderous focus.

“That intensity, you take that intensity and make it bigger, so you could kill people,” he says.

Most members of the cast of hundreds are Japanese and the dialogue is mostly in Japanese with subtitles. Ida says the habit in Hollywood has been to find anyone Asian-looking — Korean, Filipino, Chinese — to play Japanese people if none were handy, so he is happy with this authenticity.

The Japanese actors were not necessarily familiar with the details of the history and culture that is depicted in the series, so Ida attended bootcamps with them to learn how to do everyday things like walking, eating, and speaking in a way that was historically accurate.

Ida says there was no socializing between the actors, and the whole experience was lonely. The cast stayed in hotels, often separate ones, and on the set there were hours of waiting, along with endless makeup, costuming and hairdressing.

“And then they take me to the set. Then the cameras. You do your job for 20 times repeating and repeating. And then after that, OK, you’re done.”

Nelson actor Hiromoto Ida (right) plays Lord Kiyama in the Disney+ series Shogun. Photo: Katie Yu/FX

Calm in the tornado

All the lead-up to speaking his lines — auditioning, contracting, scheduling with his family life, travelling back and forth to the set in Burnaby, hotels, costuming, and lots of waiting — was like a tornado, Ida says.

But at the centre of the tornado there was calm. That’s when the set went quiet for the shooting to start.

“I love it. One hundred people on the set and suddenly totally quiet, on this beautiful Japanese set, just sitting the Japanese way with beautiful kimonos … that makes me very calm and I enjoy it, like I was here and lived this time before.”

Ida is known in Nelson for creating original pieces that are a mix of theatre and dance, many of which have been staged at the Capitol Theatre over the years.

“Theater is very good to make because it is like analog, not digital. You have to make it from zero. It’s more like handmade. But a movie, it’s like being in a Mcdonald’s or Starbucks chain. You are part of the chain.”

As a movie actor, especially one in a supporting role, he says he is interchangeable: if he can’t do the part, they will find someone else. But in his self-written local theatre productions he is unique and only he can play the part.

Ida says his Nelson pieces are intended to be a gift to the community. He tried to replicate this attitude on the set of Shōgun.

“I’m trying to give you a gift, just like when I’m making my show in Nelson.”


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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