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How ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ Honors Godzilla’s Japanese Roots

«Monarch: Legacy of Monsters» is a family affair.

In the present day, Cate Randa played by Anna Sawai tries to find out the truth about her father’s disappearance along with her newfound half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) and May (Kiersey Clemons), an expat hacker who is on the run from her. past.

Over the course of the series, they learn that the Rando family has long been involved in the study of Godzilla.

The ninth episode of «Monarch,» which hits Apple TV+ on Friday, picks up after a cliffhanger that saw Cate, May and Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell) fall into a giant hole in the ground and presumably a deep underground portal to another world. .

Part of Legendary’s connected Monsterverse, the 10-episode Apple TV+ series follows two different trios of characters more than 50 years apart: Cate, Kentaro and May in 2015 and Keiko Miura (Mari Yamamoto), Bill Randa (Anders Holm) and Lee Shaw . (Wyatt Russell) in the 1950s. For one trio, Godzilla is a mysterious and elusive object of research. For the latter, the giant kaiju — or Titan in Monsterverse parlance — is more of a dangerous obstacle.

Set after the events of 2014’s «Godzilla,» «Monarch» is «about this brother and sister trying to find out who their father is and the giant monsters that keep getting in their way,» executive producer Matt Fraction said , who developed the series. with showrunner Chris Black. “It’s not about buildings collapsing and something exploding.

But as Godzilla fans themselves, Black and Fraction are well aware that part of the appeal of the Monsterverse movies is the spectacle of things toppling over and blowing up. Their goal was to deliver those elements «at the level people expect from these movies» wherever they were able, Black said.

Ren Watabe, Qyoko Kudo and Anna Sawai are walking down a street in the suburbs of Tokyo

Kentaro Randa (Ren Watabe), left, Emiko (Qyoko Kudo) and Cate (Anna Sawai) in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.

(Apple TV+)

Still, at its core, “Monarch” is a messy intergenerational family drama about a Japanese and a Japanese-American family (with some messy love stories, too).

Looking for a bit of a reprieve after leaving a more difficult project (the upcoming «Shōgun»), Sawai admits she was wary at first that Cate—who survived a close encounter with Godzilla only to discover her absent father. she lived a double life – she could come off as a victim of everything that happened to her.

«But when I realized that she felt bad about herself, that she couldn’t forgive herself, it was interesting,» Sawai said. “In order to deal with everything that happened to her, she needs to forgive herself… and tell herself that it wasn’t her fault. When I figured it out, she didn’t feel like the one-dimensional character she could have been.’

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The journey begins when, after heading to Tokyo to take care of her father’s business, she discovers that her father had a secret second family.

Kentaro, her younger half-brother, is an up-and-coming artist who is also still dealing with the apparent death of his father. Watabe, a newcomer who auditioned for the role while working as a chef in Japan, describes him as an «ordinary guy».

«When I got the script, I felt like I knew what the guy was and how he would probably act,» he said. “I’m glad I had a character I could relate to (because) it took me a while to understand what I was doing. But I tried to focus on work.»

Black says, «It was obvious» to start his story in Japan.

«You can go anywhere in the world and they know what Godzilla is, but his cultural homeland and birthplace is Japan,» Black said. “Matt and I love that this is where the story has to start. Once we made that decision, creating a group of Japanese characters and a Japanese family, it was incredibly important to us that it was authentic, that we didn’t try to imitate or appropriate someone else’s culture. We didn’t want to fake Japan.’

This included casting Japanese actors who were native or fluent in the language and were able to speak when their characters’ dialogue didn’t quite work.

«We would write the scene the way we knew how to write it, in colloquial American English, and then it would be translated into Japanese,» Black said. «The actors came up to us and said, ‘The phrase you’re using here, a Japanese person wouldn’t say that.’

Added fragment: «Even if we speak Japanese as a second language, the idiomatic things are the hardest to come by.»

Kiersey Clemons, Anna Sawai and Ren Watabe tilted their heads close together for a photo

Staying with Anna Sawai and Ren Watabe, Kiersey Clemons had to learn Japanese for her role in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.

(Emil Ravelo / For The Times)

Because Cate is Japanese-American, Sawai says she didn’t rework the language much, «because it was okay for it to be a little stiff.»

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«When I spoke Japanese, I had to put on a bit of an American accent,» said Sawai, who was born in New Zealand and is of Japanese descent. “And it was very intentional when she used that language because it was her secret language with her father. So I didn’t do much Japanese dialogue.’

But Watabe says he translated his lines himself «because what they were doing wasn’t working for me».

«There’s an English script and then I had to translate it (into) my own words, which worked well for the character,» Watabe said. “But it was really hard to be honest. I think it’s a learning experience. From now on, we should have a proper writer who can write in Japanese.”

Sawai, who has worked on several projects where dialogue written in English was translated into Japanese, agreed that «you need a bilingual person» to make it work.

«It’s so hard because when you translate an English sentence, it never comes out the same,» Sawai said. «The language is simply different. It is structured differently and we speak in a different way. If you take what is directly translated, we don’t speak like that.’

Watabe also found himself questioning whether accuracy would matter to the audience if they were mostly English-speaking people who could not understand Japanese. But Sawai assured him that it was still important to make the effort to get it right, regardless of the size of the Japanese-speaking audience. She also praised the «Monarch» creatives for being open to these edits.

Unlike Sawai and Watabe, Clemons had to learn Japanese for her role, and she admits it was difficult.

«It sounded so fast in the beginning and it’s not an accent I know at all,» Clemons said. “I feel like (Anna and Ren) listened to me a lot.

Signing on to portray May involved trusting Black and Fraction’s promise of what was to come for the character, she added, as most of her backstory and her ties to the larger Monsterverse lore weren’t revealed until later in the series.

“They definitely did May justice,” Clemons said. “I think everybody at the beginning of the middle of this series is probably asking, ‘What’s he doing here? What’s her motive?’ It’s a slow burn that’s well earned.”

Ren Watabe, Anna Sawai, and Kiersey Clemons peer through a hole in the wall with flashlights

Kentaro (Ren Watabe), Cate (Anna Sawai) and May (Kiersey Clemons), whose story comes to the fore in the later episodes of «Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.»

(Apple TV+)

When asked about Cate and May’s developing dynamic, Sawai and Clemons admit they aren’t quite sure where the relationship is headed either.

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«What I really appreciate about the show is that all the love stories are so messy and all the love stories are love triangles,» Clemons said. “I really, really like that it’s actually something you might not understand unless you’re queer. … There are all these communities of people that need representation in film and television, and I feel like there are these little nuggets that are kind of there for us.”

For the «Monarch» team, authenticity was more than just getting the language right. The series was filmed in Tokyo, which came with its own learning curve, and the team was always fine-tuning details such as what food the mother could have on hand for dinner and what snacks had a recognizable commercial jingle.

«The locations we shot were the kind of places in Tokyo that you don’t usually see on screen,» Fraction said. “Our Japanese crew were delighted when we were there. … They’re parts of Tokyo that you don’t see, but they’re super authentic.”

Black and Fraction explained that their approach was to be as open as possible with people telling them that something had happened to them. This included listening to their Japanese actors, the Japanese production team in Tokyo, and the Japanese casting director, as well as the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian writers on the «Monarch» staff.

The executive producers also realize one thing they didn’t quite get right in Tokyo: the size of Kentaro and his mother’s apartment.

«Everyone who has ever lived or worked in Japan has pointed out to us that the apartment that Emiko and Kentara live in is too big,» Black said of the Vancouver-built apartment complex. “Nobody in Tokyo has an apartment that big.

«But if in the Godzilla Monsterverse show, that’s where your suspension of disbelief shakes, we’re doing good,» Fraction joked.

Despite the challenges — including communication issues, the language barrier and various filming restrictions that exist in Japan — Sawai and Watabe say they are proud to have been involved in an international production of the scale of «Monarch» in their home country.

«I’ve always wanted the Japanese community to be a little more global,» Sawai said. «To be able to see the North American team and the Japanese crew working together felt like we were doing something new and progressing in a way.»

«I’m not Japanese, but the fact that this show has a cultural significance to other universes was really exciting to me,» Clemons said. “We’re on a show run by people of color. That’s really f– cool.»

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