Lately, it seems that Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada is everywhere, mainly because his latest project, Shogun, is available on four different streaming platforms and one television channel. It also doesn’t hurt that Sanada is one of the undisputed highlights of the historical drama, absolutely crushing it — “it” meaning his political enemies — as the warlord Toranaga, based on Tokugawa Ieyasu. That’s not really surprising considering that the 63-year-old actor has been performing since he was 5 and today boasts a massive filmography that can come off as a little intimidating for fans wanting to get more of Sanada but not knowing where to start. If you have the right streaming subscriptions, though, here are our suggestions.

1. Ring (1998)

Available on: Prime Video

One of the first times Western audiences—or at least horror cinema buffs—heard the name “Hiroyuki Sanada” was in the classic 1998 film Ring. A great and terrifying way to understand Japanese fear flicks, Ring co-stars Sanada as Ryuji, a university professor investigating the now-famous haunted VHS with his ex-wife. It would have been funnier if he had been a radio personality, but that might’ve taken away from the preemptive-diaper-considering terror of the movie. Also, The Buggles might have sued. Despite Sanada’s character also being psychic, he brought a real down-to-earth humanity to the role that did a reverse-Sadako and sucked you into the movie, helping it become a horror classic.

2. The Twilight Samurai (2002)

Available on: U-Next, Prime Video (including a fee)

Twilight Samurai is a gripping Sanada vehicle sometimes called the greatest samurai movie of the 21st century. It tells the story of a disheveled samurai widower devoting himself to his family instead of his social-class peers, earning their derision and setting the story apart from the conventional, romanticized portrayal of the samurai as honorable warriors. With a lesser focus on fights and an emphasis on big but realistic human drama and historical accuracy, The Twilight Samurai can be best described as a quiet epic and a must-see for any fan of Sanada and Japanese cinema.

3. The Dagger of Kamui (1985)

Available on: U-Next, Prime Video (with additional channel subscription)

A truly varied Sanada cinematic sampler would not be complete without a look at his (admittedly sporadic) work as a voice actor. It was a choice between his brief portrayal of Dumo the Sumo in Minions (2015), or his starring role in the 1985 ninja action anime The Dagger of Kamui. We ultimately went with the latter. Animated by Madhouse, the studio that later gave us Ninja Scroll, among others, the film focuses on Jiro, voiced by Sanada, a young boy trying to solve the mystery of where he came from as well as the murder of his adoptive family. While firmly in the fiction category, the anime is built on a solid foundation of historical fact, including a lot of insights into Ainu culture and the shogunate’s real-life Secret Service.

4. Minamata (2021)

Available on: Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu

A British-American co-production, Minamata was hardly Sanada’s first appearance in an overseas production (he got that out of the way back in 1982 in the Hong Kong martial arts film Ninja in the Dragon’s Den). But there’s a case to be made that Minamata is the best foreign movie he’s ever been in. Admittedly more of a Johnny Depp vehicle, this biopic about Life photojournalist W. Eugene Smith documenting the illegal chemical dumping in Kumamoto Prefecture’s Minamata Bay by Chisso Corporation, is completely stolen by Sanada whenever the camera is on him. Portraying one of the leaders of a local protest group against the company poisoning his friends and family, Sanada gifts us with a powerhouse performance as a man brimming with righteous anger and conviction who saves this real-life story from being reduced to a “white savior” tale.

5. 47 Ronin (2013)

Available on: Prime Video, U-Next

If you want to get an honest gist of an actor’s career, you’ll also have to check out some of their less-acclaimed movies. At least 47 Ronin has Keanu Reeves and some fun fight scenes in it. A fictionalized retelling of the revenge of the forty-seven ronin who banded together in 1703 to avenge the death of their master, the 2013 film casts Sanada as the leader of the lordless warriors who go up against shapeshifting fox spirits, golems, tengu and other mythical creatures during their vendetta. Definitely not the best movie that Sanada has ever made, but a true testament to his star power considering that Hollywood was willing to let him co-star in a $200-million production.

6. Succession (1992)

Available on: U-Next, Prime Video (including a fee)

There’s little chance that anyone ever mistakenly watched the 1992 comedy Succession (original title: Keisho Sakazuki) thinking it was the famous HBO drama. But if they had, they’d get to enjoy a showcase of Sanada’s comedy chops, so it wouldn’t have been a complete waste. In Succession, the actor plays a stockbroker turned ineffective yakuza who has to babysit a retiring and permanently sauced mafioso and get him on time to a big succession ceremony that he also has to emcee. A sharp and witty takedown of sentimental yakuza films, Succession also thankfully relies heavily on visual and slapstick humor, making it very accessible for Western audiences.

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