A primary function of white supremacy is the “otherization” of cultures that do not fit within its defining parameters of superiority. The more pervasive and normalized the otherization, the easier it becomes for individuals of those cultures to be deemed inferior and, well, history and reality offer a plethora of examples as to the varied consequences that follow.
Orientalism is such a function and as time has gone on, the memory of the usage of the term has shifted markedly in the Western imagination. While modern references to the slur “oriental” as primarily referencing peoples from Eastern Asia and China, the slur has been used as a reference point for peoples from the Middle East to South Asia to Japan. The slur is the foundational reasoning for the stereotypes of the submissive and exotic Asian women-identifying individuals and the meek and docile Asian men-identifying individuals.
Wildly popular as a reference point in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, orientalism was pervasive in its usage as a tool to justify Western imperialism. It portrayed Eastern societies from the Ottoman Empire onwards as being lazy, exotic, and drowning in the sea of hedonism. That prevalent depiction in paintings and other forms of artistic and popular culture helped spread an attitude of the “Exotic East” and well, surely the industrious West could step in and save the “barbarians” from a life of indulgence in sin. It is this thinking that would lead to the creation of Shogun World, an “exotic” park that would offer thrills and danger for those who found Westworld to be “too tame.”
It is no mistake that in keeping with this season’s emphasis on colonialism that Shogun World takes place during the Edo period of Japanese history, which officially comes to an end with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The Edo period, established by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603, is often characterized by the official Japanese policy isolation. It is in this period that that isolationism is broken with the fateful arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry and his infamous “black ships” armada.
Shogun World was first teased in the season one finale “The Bicameral Mind” and its brief appearance at the end of “Virtù e Fortuna” raised the excitement bar even higher. Its appearance in “Akane No Mai” does not disappoint. Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, along with actors Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Thandie Newton, all spoke about the importance of respecting Japanese culture with the reality of Shogun World being created by white people.
It is no mistake that, in a fairly clever little bit of plotting, that Lee (Simon Quarterman) unsurprisingly displays the lack of care that is so often prevalent in the depiction of various Asian societies. He simply copies a lot of what he wrote for Sweetwater and imparts it upon a Japanese setting. The resulting balance displayed in the production and costume design is impeccable, a balance that is designed to provide our hosts with a clash between the familiar and an awe at the new.
In a self-plagiarizing move forever to be dubbed “Classic Lee,” Lee copied storylines and characters from Sweetwater into Shogun World, hoping that the locale and a few lazy ninja stereotypes would be enough to overcome the narrative similarities. Our host characters notice, however, that there are indeed significant similarities with characters inside Shogun World and that there are parallel characters with whom they can form bonds and discover new things about themselves.
Musashi (played by the indomitable Hiroyuki Sanada) is the mirror to Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). Hector has an immediately tense reaction towards the former Captain of the Shogun’s (Taishi Mizuno) armed forces, which is perhaps the result of his own insecurities and fears about himself coming to the forefront. Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto) form an instant bond over violence and tattoos. The most important relationship, however, forms between Maeve (Thandie Netwon) and Akane (Rinko Kikuchi), who transcend the doppelgänger nature inherent to their meeting and bond over their mutual embraces of motherhood.
As Maeve and Akane’s relationship blossoms, back in Westworld we see Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden) off on a side quest of their own. If the audience surmised that she was disappointed in Teddy not executing the Confederados in “Virtù e Fortuna,” that disappointment rears its ugly head this week. Dolores recounts an episode in which her father had to burn the diseased and old cows so the flies carrying the blue tongue blight would dwindle. Teddy’s empathy makes him uniquely unsuited for Dolores’s revolution and she has his entire code rewritten to make him smarter, more ruthless, and ensures that his loyalty is just right below maximum.
Dolores’s ideas of converting Teddy is contrasted nicely with Maeve’s individual approaches, such as the moment when she realizes that Akane is not ready to meet her threshold of consciousness. The Shogun World storyline itself kicks nicely into gear when Akane, instead of acquiescing to the shogun’s demand for her daughter Sakura (Kiki Sukezane), murders the shogun’s messenger instead. When Lee is unable to understand why they were risking their lives to save Sakura, Maeve retorts that he cannot write stories about them loving people and then become upset when they indeed follow the pathway of said love. As a mother, she was willing to risk her life to ensure another mother and daughter were reunited.
The shogun’s price for returning Sakura to Akane was that the latter would perform one of her legendary geisha dances. Akane, seeing no other pathway out of her predicament, agrees. The shogun, being a man of his dishonorable word, murders Sakura right in front of Akane and then demands that she dance for him regardless. Kikuchi’s performance is astounding as she moves with a thrilling combination of grace and grief, culminating in her stabbing the villainous shogun and sawing his head right off. Maeve is in awe of Akane’s devotion to her motherhood and her ferocity in defending it.
The most critical development in “Akane No Mai” is Maeve unlocking a new voice, a new depth of consciousness that was probably unlocked after her connection to Akane. Seeing a mirror of her own self forming relationships and choosing her own pathway was a powerful connection for Maeve. Now she can direct commands without saying a single word out loud, instead using the power of her mind and connecting telepathically to other hosts. Lee has no idea how she is doing it, nor does it appear that anyone else does. But Maeve, while not knowing exactly what is happening, knows that she has a new voice and is more than willing to use it.
- What does it mean for a third of the recovered hosts to not have had any data within them?
- So the Delos team is aware that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a host, right? Or was that a classic misdirect via editing?
- I have no idea why Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) is still alive. That man is beyond obnoxious.
- “I’m from Hong Kong, a**hole.”
- The proper note that a geisha cannot be touched by a man without her express permission was a nice touch.
- So, Maeve and Akane spinoff, anyone?
- Clementine’s (Angela Sarafyan) sadness at seeing her replacement was one of the most touching moments of the series. It was quiet and perfect in its tragedy.
- The usage of traditional Japanese was a welcome one.
- Rinko Kikuchi’s “Arigato, Maeve” was incredibly powerful.
- Ramin Djawadi’s “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Paint it Black” covers are available on YouTube and Spotify.
What did you like about the episode? What did you not like? What are your new theories? Chime in below!
– Akash J. Saran