Slated for release on Netflix in America on October 25, Blade of the 47 Ronin is the sequel to the 2013 Keanu Reeves-led fantasy action flick 47 Ronin. While the latter was accused of whitewashing and reinforcing old Hollywood tropes, the follow-up, set 300 years later in a modern-day cyberpunk world, focuses on Asian fantasy heroes. It also has a more female-centric narrative. Shot in Budapest, a city on the civilizational fault line between East and West, the movie centers around a meeting of the five samurai clans and features some onna bugeisha (female warriors) trained in self-defense and offensive maneuvers. Among them is Mai, played by trilingual Chinese-Japanese actor Luna Fujimoto. An up-and-coming performer who’s featured in high-profile films in China, Fujimoto makes her Hollywood debut in the film.
“The American film industry’s becoming more diverse, which means opportunities are opening up,” Fujimoto tells TW. “I don’t think you’d have seen a Hollywood movie like this, with an all-Asian cast and female warriors, 10 years ago. Growing up, I watched Asian women fighting in action films in Hong Kong and China, but nothing from the States. The only thing that springs to mind is Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. Now you have this kind of movie with Asian women at the front and center. It’s very encouraging.”
Securing the Role
Reading the script about the female fighters gave Fujimoto extra determination to get cast in the film. “I put everything into that audition but didn’t hear back for around five months,” she says. “I assumed that was it. Then stunt coordinator Brett Chan sent my action reel to the director and he reached out to me. It was an unusual way to get the part, but I guess destiny was on my side.”
Fujimoto flew out to Hungary last October to join cast members such as Teresa Ting (Orange is the New Black), Mark Dacascos (John Wick 3, Warrior), Mike Moh (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Ghosted), Anna Akana (Ant-Man), Dustin Nguyen (This Is Us), Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians) and Chikako Fukuyama (Terrace House) as well as director Ron Yuan, who previously appeared in dramas like Prison Break and CSI: NY as well as Disney’s live-action adaptation of animated film Mulan. The atmosphere on set, explains Fujimoto, was different from anything she’d experienced in China or Japan.
“There was a more family-like atmosphere,” she says. “It was my first time working with American actors, so I was nervous. I’d lived in the States during my school days and didn’t fit in because I was too shy. I thought it might be the same again. Thankfully, it was anything but. Everyone was warm and welcoming. It felt like there were no barriers, and that goes for the director too. Having worked as an actor, he was incredibly supportive. Also, as he’s an expert in martial arts and stunt choreography, you could trust him to get the acting and action scenes right.”
A Skilled Martial Artist
It was Fujimoto’s skills in martial arts that most likely led to Yuan choosing her for the role of Mai. Inspired by the fighting styles of female Asian actors like China’s Zhang Ziyi and Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh, Fujimoto decided to take up Wing Chun while at university in Beijing. An ancient southern style of Chinese kung fu, it utilizes both striking and grappling while specializing in close-range combat. Fujimoto combines these skills with ballet when performing.
“Using only Wing Chun, the movement’s too fast and small, making it difficult to catch on screen,” opines Fujimoto. “Mixing it with ballet, which I’ve done since childhood, makes it more visually appealing. I actually grew up wanting to be a ballerina until I saw Tomb Raider. Angelina Jolie’s badass performance blew me away. I continued practicing ballet, and still do to this day, but my dream had shifted: I wanted to be an actor instead.”
More specifically, she wanted to be an actor in America and subsequently left Japan for New York at the age of 14. After three years at junior high school, she was accepted into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts made famous by television show Fame. Notable alumni include Jennifer Aniston (Friends), Adam Grenier (Entourage) and Timothée Chalamet (Dune).
Taking the Plunge
“I auditioned for the dance program because I felt my English wasn’t good enough for the drama one,” recalls Fujimoto. “I initially didn’t have enough confidence, but my friends eventually persuaded me. I didn’t want it to be something I’d regret not doing later. That’s when I learned to put myself out there. I suffered from anxiety during my school years in the States. I wasn’t sociable and felt isolated. I didn’t speak any English at first and experienced some racism in my third year of junior high. It was tough, but it made me stronger.”
From America, Fujimoto moved to China, where she enrolled in the drama department at the famed Beijing Film Academy. She went on to make her acting debut as a princess in Monster Hunt 2, a family-friendly adventure movie that earned a record $190 million in its first three days to top the China box office over the Chinese New Year in 2018. She followed that up by appearing in Bao Bei’er’s comedy Fat Buddies and the romantic television series Perfect Partner.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Fujimoto returned to Japan for what she thought would be a short visit. With China’s borders closed, however, she stayed on and eventually signed with talent agency Sky Corporation. Since then, she’s landed English-speaking roles in two films: Blade of the 47 Ronin and Takeshi Sone’s 1446: An Eternal Minute, starring rapper Awich. With Fujimoto having flown out to America for another English-speaking part at the end of September, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.