It’s the Emmy season! Recent and eligible TV series for the Emmy awards, which means the promos are underway. For Variety’s Actors on Actors this year, Shogun actress Anna Sawai was paired with Loki’s Tom Hiddleston. The two had an easy chemistry and admired each other for their acting prowess and accomplishments.

This is not the first time that the role of Toda Mariko, in the Western order of the name Mariko Toda, has been nominated. The first person to be nominated for an Emmy for the same role was Yoko Shimada. She won the Emmy. Hence, Mariko Toda’s role must be an undertaking that may seem Herculean for a young actor such as Sawai. 

In 2024, many things have changed since Shimada won her Emmy for the same role. This year’s Shogun elevated the source material and has dedicated itself to portraying Japanese culture with authenticity; Rachel Kondo, who is of Japanese descent, and her husband, Justin Marks, are the showrunners, while award-winning actor Hiroyuki Sanada is the show’s producer. 

For any role to be considered good, the quality of the role and its writing needs meat. 

However, What makes Mariko resonate so much with Asian women and Hollywood? 

Let’s find out! 

What Makes Mariko Compelling

When it comes to Asian culture and Asian women, Hollywood has made many missteps in the past through its history of tokenization and perpetuating lazy tropes. The latest Shogun adaptation is self-aware in how women are written, as it acknowledges the many constraints women faced and experienced in feudal Japan, drawing mainly from historical accounts. 

Women married for politics and lived in service to their fathers or husbands or in duty, but some women found ways to live on their terms, like Mariko and Ochiba. Their primary weapon was patience. 

Strong Sense Of Duty

Mariko doesn’t play games when it comes to her duties. Even if some of us might enjoy playing Jili games, many Asian women grew up imbibed with expectations of their roles in life. For some Asian women, it was about service to the family. In Shogun, Mariko, as a child, was faithful to her father and followed his bidding even if she did not love the man she was supposed to marry. Then, because of her father, she pledged her support and loyalty to Lord Toranaga, who was allied with her father. Even in her last moments, Mariko remained consistent in her duty to Lord Toranaga. 

This trait of Mariko is something that the eldest Asian daughters can resonate with. 

Societal Expectations To Be Quiet And Conform

Although women could not directly rule the series’ setting, some found ways to achieve power, like when Ochiba bore a son, as it was a patriarchal society. Even if Mariko was a noble, she still suffered under the expectation of being voiceless and conforming to the expectations of her rank and society. 

She could not express her emotions and thoughts. She had to focus first on the performance of her duties. Although she was intelligent and accomplished, Mariko never truly recovered from her grief of losing her family and her father’s shame, which directly resulted in her abuse from her husband. 

Having More Than One Heart

Mariko’s grief from losing her family and the shame of her father were simultaneous. However, they also resulted directly in her husband physically abusing her often. She turned to Christianity, which gave her hope and a temporary antidote that could help her endure and cope with the suffering she struggled with. However, her Christianity coexisted alongside her loyalty to Toranaga.

The Ugly Side of Bushido

Lastly, Mariko’s story is not just about a woman with a complicated past who still did everything right – it’s also about the ugly side of bushido. Her fight in Episode 9 is a testament to what bushido entails: sacrificing your life literally for the sake of your master, even if there is no guarantee of comfort and a reward much after.

Wrapping Up

What makes the role more compelling for the modern audience is that Japanese women felt represented by Mariko. She embodied their emotional labor and the complexities of wanting to feel and yet needing to do the things she needed to. Moreover, she was a woman with agency, which made all the difference.