Hiroyuki Sanada MBE (真田 広之, Sanada Hiroyuki, born 12 October 1960) is a Japanese actor and martial artist. He is best known to international audiences for his roles as Genbu in Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, Ryuji Takayama in Ring, Seibei Iguchi in The Twilight Samurai, Ujio in The Last Samurai, Kenji in Rush Hour 3, and Scorpion in Mortal Kombat. His role as ‘The Fool’ in the Shakespeare play King Lear also gave him notable theatrical notice in the United Kingdom. In Japan, Sanada is also known for songs he recorded for movies he was in as well as songs he has performed for the public.
He made his first major Hollywood appearance portraying Ujio in The Last Samurai, later appearing in such films as Speed Racer, The Wolverine, 47 Ronin, Life, Avengers: Endgame and Army of the Dead. He also had a recurring role on the HBO series Westworld from 2018 to 2020.
Early Life and Career
Born in Tokyo, he was scouted by an entertainer while playing with the son of the actor Kokichi Takada who lived in the same condominium, and after working as a model for a magazine for young children, he joined the Himawari Theatre Group at the age of five. He made his film debut in 1966 in the ninkyo yakuza film Game of Chance (浪曲子守唄) starring Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, reprising his role as Chiba’s character’s son in 2 sequels released the following year.
Originally planning to be an action movie star, he studied Shorinji Kempo and later took up Kyokushin kaikan karate. He began training at the age of 11 with Chiba’s Japan Action Club, where he developed good all-around martial arts ability and soon became Chiba’s protégé. After entering high school, following Chiba’s advice, he decided to devote himself to his studies and withdrew from performing arts activities. In 1978, he resumed his performing arts activities in earnest after passing the audition for the movie Shogun’s Samurai (柳生一族の陰謀). It was at this point that he changed his surname from Shimozawa (下澤) to Sanada (真田).
Sanada’s martial arts film career introduced him to Hong Kong action cinema, portraying the ninja Genbu in Ninja in the Dragon’s Den (1982), then working with Michelle Yeoh, with whom he co-starred in Royal Warriors (1986), and then later starring in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. He has a long-standing friendship with Jackie Chan. Outside of Japan, Sanada was often credited in his younger days as Henry Sanada, Harry Sanada, or Duke Sanada.
Sanada received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Nihon University. From 1980 to 1991, Sanada released a series of albums and singles in Japan as a singer; several of these were tied to films, TV shows, or stage productions he was starring in. In 2010 and 2011, compilations were released covering his songs for movies and pop hits respectively.
Sanada has established himself as a character actor who is adept at playing a variety of roles. He was first noticed as a serious actor in the movie Mahjong Hourouki directed by Makoto Wada. Since then he has acted in Wada’s movies—works filled with humour and nostalgia for classic films.
In 1999 and 2000, he performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in their production of King Lear, for which he was awarded as an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2002, citing his “contribution to spreading British culture in Japan through his performance in a joint Shakespeare production.” Some media reports erroneously stated that Sanada received the honour for being the first Japanese actor to perform with the RSC, but Togo Igawa had joined the troupe much earlier, in 1986.
Some of Sanada’s more famous movies are Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai), Ring, Kaitō Ruby, and The Last Samurai. Sanada played Matsuda (the Japanese imperialist who befriends Ralph Fiennes’ character Todd Jackson) in the 2005 film The White Countess directed by James Ivory. He starred in the Chinese film The Promise directed by Chen Kaige as General Guangming. Sanada has appeared in Rush Hour 3 in 2007 with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, and in The City of Your Final Destination in 2009 in which he plays the younger lover of Anthony Hopkins’ character Adam Gund.
Sanada joined the cast of the ABC TV series Lost in 2010 during its sixth and final season. He portrayed Dogen, a high-ranking member of “The Others”. In 2013, he appears in 47 Ronin (the first English-language adaptation of the Chushingura legend, Japan’s most famous tale of samurai loyalty and revenge) alongside Keanu Reeves, and as Shingen Yashida in The Wolverine opposite Hugh Jackman.
Sanada was a guest star as Takehaya, a former Japanese Navy officer and legendary pirate captain in post-plague Asia, in the apocalyptic drama series The Last Ship. He also starred in the 2017 movie Life with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, and played the minor role of Akihiko in the 2019 film Avengers: Endgame. In August 2019, Sanada was cast in the Mortal Kombat reboot as Scorpion.
In 2021, Sanada was announced as part of the cast of the FX limited series Shogun, adapted from the James Clavell novel, playing the part of Lord Toranaga.
Wife and Children
In 1990, Sanada married a well-known Japanese actress Satomi Tezuka. She was born on June 7, 1961, in Tokyo. This couple met during their filming days.
Hiroyuki Sanada was once a married man and had two children with ex-wife Satomi Tezuka. He reportedly Had a few girlfriends after his split.
Hiroyuki Sanada’s net worth as of 2022 is estimated at around $7 million – $15 million.
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