‘Shogun’: Anna Sawai on Her Character’s Final Transformation

This interview includes spoilers for the ninth episode of “Shogun.”

Her character on “Shogun” has just died, but Anna Sawai doesn’t seem to mind much. If anything, she’s glad we’ve hit the sweeping period drama’s high point. “The last two episodes are very special,” she said, smiling, during a video chat earlier this week. “The men have been physically fighting. The women are fighting their own battles.” Sawai’s character, Lady Mariko, has just fought her last.

As a vassal of the powerful Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), Lady Mariko serves as the translator for Toranaga’s unlikely ally, the shipwrecked English navigator John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). But her reputation has been in tatters ever since her father violated Japanese feudal law and slew the tyrant he was sworn to serve.

When she is held captive by the scheming Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira), Lady Mariko threatens ritual suicide — demanded by tradition, yet an anathema for a devout Catholic such as herself — until her release is granted. When assassins intervene, she makes one last defiant protest, calling herself by her father’s name and blocking a door rigged with explosives. It’s the moment to which the series, and Mariko’s entire life, has built.

This explains Sawai’s fondness for such a dark moment. “We get to see Mariko transform,” said the actor, who also currently stars in the generational family drama “Pachinko” and the Godzilla spinoff series “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.” “She really makes a difference.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

In her dying declaration, Lady Mariko refers to herself using her father’s surname, Akechi, for the first time in the series. Why was now the moment?

In the book, it was “Toda Mariko” — Toda is [her husband] Buntaro’s last name — but we really wanted to feel the presence of her father in why she was doing this. She’d learned that her father wanted her to continue the journey he could not live to do. Until then, she doesn’t really realize what that is.

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