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‘Westworld’: Making Shogun World a Mirror Image of the Western Theme Park

World building and wardrobes became a hybrid of Samurai and Western influences for Emmy nominees Howard Cummings and Sharen Davis.

“Westworld” Shogun World


For “Westworld” newbies Howard Cummings and Sharen Davis, coming into Season Two to design the production and costumes turned out to be an advantage for their Emmy-nominated episode about Shogun World (“Akane No Mai”). Coming in fresh, yet knowing the sci-fi series inside out, allowed them to hone in on the Western sets and costumes for Sweetwater so they could create a mirror image for Edo feudal Japan.

“My impression of Sweetwater was as a viewer, not as a builder, in the first season,” said two-time Emmy winner Cummings (“The Knick,” “Behind the Candelabra”). “And when I got to read the script, it truly was a mirror image of Sweetwater. But Shogun World seemed like a natural because the films of Kurosawa and Westerns are very similar and tied together.”

“Westworld” Shogun World

The creation of Shogun World as a mirror image of Sweetwater even extended to some of the Japanese hosts, who paralleled their Western counterparts. Bandit Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), sees himself in ronin Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Maeve (Thandie Newton) finds her counterpart in geisha Akane (Rinko Kikuchi).

“Deconstructing their clothes was a challenge,” said Davis (“Django Unchained”). “The characters were so comfortable last year because they knew what their wardrobe was. I wanted to have fun with the fabric and play with the two worlds. I took bits of each character from the Western story and put it into the Japanese clothing.”

Creating Shogun World

After researching the Edo period under shogun rule (1603 and 1868) and watching such Kurosawa classics as “Yojimbo,” “Throne of Blood,” and “Ran,” Cummings laid out Shogun World in the manner of Sweetwater, only with narrower streets. Unable to find a suitable location for the set, however, Cummings wandered through the Sweetwater town built at Melody Ranch in L.A.’s Santa Clarita, and followed a road leading to a back alley.

The production designer realized that he could build the tea house and facades as part of a parallel village. “In actuality, when they entered the town, the Mariposa saloon was right around the corner. Crew people loved it because you could walk from one world into the other on the same street,” he said.

“Westworld” Shogun World

As you walked down the Shogun main street, they wanted to evoke familiarity in layout and activity. There’s a blacksmith and a photographer. There’s even a few Easter Eggs: Each of the stores represents a department involved in production, including hair, make-up, art, writing, and stunts. The angle on the sun was not good, however, with lots of shadows, so they created a structure over the entire set with silk truces for an overcast look.

Cummings patterned Akane’s teahouse after the floor plan of Maeve’s two-story Mariposa saloon, but also visited the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena for inspiration. The teahouse was built in six weeks: For a repeat of the host loops, there was matching choreography to Westworld: the balcony had to be built to match the one in the saloon, where there’s a ninja heist to steal gold in a box on the second level. “You could see the framing from the inside, so we couldn’t fake it,” he said. “The architecture was based on the sizing of floor matting and how you combine them. The interiors were flexible for shooting with sliding walls or removable screens.”

Fashioning the Shogun Wardrobe

Davis also studied the Edo period but suitably altered the Japanese kimonos and other garments with a Westworld fabric and color palette. “I simplified by using the Edo period silhouette,” she said. “And everyone who had new clothes had part of their real clothes. So even Maeve’s kimono dress is an expansion of her Western dress so that she’s still in her saloon outfit.”

Davis began by taking the floral pattern from Maeve’s dress and turned it into a burgundy kimono that stood out from the crowd of armored soldiers. Normally, it would take months to make kimonos, but Davis only had a few weeks and put to use about half a dozen sewing houses.

Westworld Season 2 Thandie Newton

“Westworld” Shogun World

John P. Johnson / HBO

“For the two dance kimonos, I wanted to ombre them,” Davis said, “dipping the fabric and going from dark to light, so red becomes pink from bottom to top. Some of the men had leather bindings on their kimonos to go along with leather Tabi boots. It became a hybrid. The Samurai police (doshin) would’ve looked comical if they were authentic, so I darkened their clothes and made them tighter and geared them up to look more intimidating.

“‘Westworld’ pushes your creativity,” Davis said. “You could have no fear. I made a decision and didn’t contemplate. I just went for it.”

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