John Wick: Chapter 4 is a massive action epic that has allowed its titular character some breathing room and a vast supporting cast after the breathless two-week period of the initial trilogy. Time has passed, John has recovered, and a veritable cornucopia of friends and (mostly) foes are featured, not to mention the entire structural system of the High Table itself. The fourth John Wick is nearly three-hours-long, and it needs every minute of it to honor these unique new additions.
Two of the extremely fun new characters are The Tracker (played by Shamier Anderson) and Koji Shimazu (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), and they’re surprisingly complex ones for the action genre. One is a loyal friend who is asked to let his entire life fall apart for John Wick, while the other is a mysterious foe who reconsiders his objective along the way. They’re given a lot of room to explore their characters, along with ample time to flex their muscles in some of the film’s best action scenes. Anderson and Sanada spoke with MovieWeb about John Wick: Chapter 4, their characters, and the franchise as a whole.
Hiroyuki Sanada Goes from John Wick’s Foe to Friend
Sanada has been a mainstay in Japanese cinema for decades, but the 20 years have found him working with Hollywood greats in films like Sunshine, Speed Racer, The Wolverine, Mortal Kombat, and Bullet Train. Though they’ve known each other longer, he co-starred with Keanu Reeves in the 2013 film 47 Ronin, and the two developed great mutual admiration and a friendship that blossoms beautifully into John Wick: Chapter 4.
Sanada’s character, Koji Shimazu, is perhaps more emotionally close and undeniably loyal to Wick than any other in the film, which makes sense. “I hoped we could use that chemistry easily. 47 Ronin took us a long time, more than two years, so we were a great team,” said Sanada. “It’s been 20 years of knowing each other deeply, so that’s why it was easy to create it with Keanu this time.”
Shimazu runs the Osaka branch of the Continental Hotel with his daughter but chooses to side with Wick against the massive, malicious machine that is the High Table, which Wick wages war against in the film. This means that he and his entire staff must fight off the goons and enforcers that the High Table sends, leading to a lengthy and bombastic set piece. It’s a battle of bullets for some, but for Shimazu and others on his team, it’s a symphony of swordplay, a beautifully balletic half hour.
Before playing Wick’s ally, Sanada was actually supposed to play his antagonist in the third film. “At that time, Chad [Stahelski] called me, and I read the script and said let’s do it,” explained Sanada. “But during the training, my own self-training, I got injured. I was almost there, but I had to retire, and then I called Chad — sorry, Chad, sorry, Keanu. I was shocked by myself. But Chad remembered me and gave me another chance, so it feels like it was revenge for me. I’m happy to be back.”
Action Becomes Drama as Sanada Fights Donnie Yen
The scenes and set pieces of John Wick: Chapter 4 are labyrinthine behemoths of action, which means that even if a character is only in one scene, it could very well last 30 minutes. This is the case with Sanada, whose performance in the first act is crucial. “For me, my role of Koji Shimazu is very important for the beginning of the movie. So there was a little pressure,” said Sanada. “Of course, I was a fan of one, two, and three, and thought, ‘What’s going on in four?’ I just really enjoyed collaborating with Chad and Keanu.”
“The most challenging thing was the fight scene between Donnie and I,” explained Sanada, who is referring to Donnie Yen, a truly brilliant action performer and a completely magnetic actor. Yen, who is perhaps most famous for the titular lead in the Ip Man films but who is incredibly prolific outside them, has a wonderful little fight scene with Sanada, though the actors have trained in different martial arts.
For legends like Sanada and Yen, excellent action sequences come much easier than most; they’ve had five decades to perfect that. For Sanada, the only pressure and true challenge of an action sequence is ensuring that it’s a manifestation of the drama and the emotions the characters are feeling. “We have different backgrounds,” continued Sanada, “but collaborated together to put the ideas together. Don’t go ‘Showtime!’ This is a part of drama. The fighting is just the essence of it. That was our feeling. Fighting itself is not hard, but creating good choreography is that puts it all back to the drama and the emotion and the continuity.”
Shamier Anderson Is John Wick’s Tracker
From that first act and beyond, the film introduces us to The Tracker, a roving enigma who introduces himself as “Mr. Nobody.” He’s a man on the move, adorned in the kind of ‘unsheltered chic’ worn by the Bowery King (played by Laurence Fishburne) and his intricate web of street-dwellers. The bearded Tracker wants the bounty on Wick’s head, but it’s not big enough for him to warrant the effort yet; in an immensely clever move, he helps Wick survive long enough for the bounty to grow into something more lucrative for him to claim.
Like Wick, he has immense affection for his dog, who is used as a collaborator in battles similar to Halle Berry’s character in the third John Wick. The dog, or perhaps ‘the dog’ as an archetype, is one of many reasons why Anderson thinks the John Wick franchise has become so huge.
“I think the cast is a big part of why people love these films, and of course teaming Laurence and Keanu back up again. There’s obviously a current of that relationship from their previous work on The Matrix. I think some of the most ambitious action sequences from action movie history [is another reason],” said Anderson. “I also think the puppy — who doesn’t love a dog? Knowing that that’s his beacon, his north star, why John Wick is essentially back for revenge, it’s his puppy. And then in this film, I get to have my own puppy, a Belgian Malinois.” It’s a beautiful dog, and a great relationship
Anderson Turns Mr. Nobody Into a Somebody
Anderson plays The Tracker with an immense amount of charm and mystery, obfuscating his motivations with an artifice of confidence and charisma. His excellent work in the beloved Wynonna Earp and Invasion, in particular, seemed to pave the way for this, and he excels at the balancing act a great character must achieve in John Wick — immense personality that won’t be diluted by the excess of dynamic action bona fides.
Anderson immersed himself in the role, as he is wont to do; the actor is known for serious prep work. For instance, he nonchalantly told The Hollywood Reporter that for the film City of Lies, “I worked with a guy named Chico, who I love dearly, and he had done a lot of time, upwards of 16 years. I also shaved my head bald […] I also got tattoos and spent some time in prison.” For John Wick: Chapter 4, most of the preparation was physical training and intense choreography, but Anderson has a great deal of emotional intuition about his characters and studies the cracks in their facades. The actor elaborated:
The Tracker had a lot of interesting things about him. One of them is the notebook that you would see in the movie. I took the notebook home and kind of put my own DNA into it, writing, drawing, things like that. I spent a lot of time with the dogs; I wasn’t asked to, I just wanted to be with them and walk with them. I just wanted to build as much of a backstory as I could for this transient individual who is considered Mr. Nobody, which was really cool.
It’s one “really cool” part of an extremely cool whole, one of the most extravagant action movies in history. From Summit Entertainment, Thunder Road Pictures, and 87Eleven Productions, Lionsgate will be releasing John Wick: Chapter 4 on March 24 in theaters, where it deserves to be seen.