Part of the reason seasoned action movie fans like to invest themselves so much in the “John Wick” franchise is its self-awareness, and the choice of consciously presenting some character archetypes is a testament to that. The globally expanded underworld provides ample scope to work with different sets of characters in each installment, and the ever-expanding universe of John Wick received some exciting new additions in “John Wick Chapter 4,” with some of them allying with the death dealer in his war against the High Table, some going against, and some looking to profit using the opportunity provided by the in-fighting. We will take a closer look at some of these characters and discuss the future possibilities of the franchise with them.
Fans across social media platforms were going wild after the updates about modern martial arts legends Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada joining the cast of “John Wick: Chapter 4” started making the rounds on the internet. The Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada was previously scheduled to appear in “John Wick: Parabellum” portraying the ruthless assassin Zero, a role he had to skip to appear in “Avengers: Endgame,” and given how he was wasted in the latter movie, we must say it wasn’t among his wisest choices.
However, in the fourth part of the “John Wick” franchise, he more than makes up for the regret by playing the role of Shimazu Koji, an honorable and steadfastly loyal friend to Baba Yaga and a loving father to his daughter, Akira. After John ends up butchering the Elder, the leader of the High Table in Morocco, he knows that after announcing his return in such a bold manner, no one is ever going to risk sheltering him. All except one: his old friend Shimazu, the manager of the Continental branch in Japan. Shimazu allowed John to take shelter and stay even after knowing the consequences the New York division of the Continental and its management had to face. Despite his daughter Akira’s repeated warnings, Shimazu isn’t willing to give up his loyalty and honor in fear of death.
The creators envisioned Shimazu’s character as the weary protagonists of Japanese Chanbara movies, the likes of whom value the codes and principles of a human being more than anything and willing to hold on to their perspectives even in the worst of times. During their final meeting, Koji asks his old friend, John, if there is any end to the violent cycle that inevitably churns out death and grief. John is asked the same question many times by different characters, but coming from Koji, it sticks to him the most, and he has nothing to respond to him with. Upon John’s apology for causing him trouble by bringing the Marquis’ and the High Table’s enforcers to his ground, Koji wisely remarks that friendship’s worth is only proven in the direst of times, which he proves at the end by sacrificing himself.
It is Koji’s resoluteness that backfires in the form of the deaths of many of his Yakuza associates who engaged in the all-out battle with the Marquis’ men. Unlike Winston, another Continental manager who uses guile and wit to manipulate people and doesn’t really engage in full-frontal battles, Koji takes the vanguard position while clashing with the opposing forces and sticks to his principles. As Koji finally faces another of his old friends, Caine, as an adversary, he chastises Caine for his fall from grace due to dishonoring the code of brotherhood, being unaware all the while that Caine, too, is forced to act in order to save his daughter.
A reluctant Caine expresses his unwillingness to prolong their battle, but despite being in the face of near defeat, Koji pushes the battle to the final phase to allow John some precious time to disappear and, most importantly, to save his own daughter, Akira. Koji knows if he lives, the High Table will hound him and his daughter for the rest of their lives; at least with him gone, his daughter might have a better chance of survival in seclusion. He makes a final sacrifice to save the lives of Akira and John and dies an honorable death at the hands of a friend, Caine—a manner in which the idealistic Samaritan probably would have wanted to breathe his last.
The daughter of Shimazu Koji, Akira acts as the concierge of the Japan division of the Continental. Protective of her idealistic father, this was probably her way of looking after her old man by staying by his side most of the time. Proficient in a number of martial arts and weaponry, Akira, as a concierge, is skilled enough to protect her father and the establishment. Dutiful at her job, Akira is ever vigilant in her role as a caretaker, and after learning of the fate of the New York division of the Continental, she fears the worst for their own, as her father has decided to aid a excommunicado like John Wick. Despite her repeated warnings, Koji’s unwillingness to leave John’s side ends up dooming both father and daughter. Akira had to witness firsthand as Caine took her father’s life, and true to Caine’s words, she returned to seek her vengeance. In the post-credits scene, as we see Caine, now free from all sorts of obligations under the High Table, preparing to meet his daughter, Akira comes towards him, ready to strike. Revenge might or might not solve anything in the long run, but it surely can be poetic and just. Singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama surely surprised the audience with her acting and action skills, and the father-daughter relationship between her and Hiroyuki Sanada was surely one of the highlights of the movie.
Actor and martial artist Scott Adkins’ transformation into the hulking, several hundred-pound brute using tons of prosthetics and a bodysuit will surely remind viewers of Colin Farrell’s unbelievable transformation into Penguin in “The Batman.” Killa is the German mob boss and a member of the High Table; he killed John’s adoptive sister Katia’s father, Pyotr, under Marquis’ command. As John wishes to get reinstated in his former crime family, Ruska Roma, Katia tasks him with eliminating Killa to earn the family crest.
Acting as the dealer in his own nightclub, Killa is a ruthless, cunning, tactical opposition who can also go toe to toe with someone like Baba Yaga if the situation calls for it, and Scott Adkins deserves praise for bringing unbelievable physicality to the otherwise reclusive-looking character. Director Chad Stahelski mentioned he was inspired by Sammo Hung’s character Wong Po in the Hong Kong action flick “SPL: Sha Po Lang” for the appearance and characterization of Killa. After getting brutally beaten for quite a while, John managed to terminate Killa and earn the family crest in return.
Mr. Nobody And His Dog
As an outsider tracker and bounty hunter, Mr. Nobody brings a unique dynamic to the John Wick lore by being the only assassin with no ties to any crime family initially and being purely money motivated in his quest to track down and kill the Baba Yaga. Assisted by his faithful, fierce dog, a Belgian Malinois, Mr. Nobody was able to track down John in almost every location he visited in the course of the movie, right through Osaka Continental, Ruska Roma HQ in Berlin, and the final showdown in Paris. Later, his talent interested the Marquis, who hired him to complete the quest he had already embarked upon. By the end, Mr. Nobody has a change of heart after witnessing John saving the life of Nobody’s dog instead of his own, and he witnesses the final duel between John and Caine with great appreciation. His unnamed dog brought the similar fierce yet funny action sequences that were used to great effect by Sofia’s Belgian Malinois duo in “John Wick: Parabellum”.
Although it is debatable whether John really dies at the end of the movie or pulls off a sneaky Bruce Wayne (“The Dark Knight Rises” reference), the new additions to the franchise, those that survived, Akira and Mr. Nobody, have enough potential to carry the franchise forward in a new direction. Akira’s return in her own spin-off or in a movie on Caine starring Donnie Yen is most likely going to happen, as the post-credits scene teased heavily. At the same time, Mr. Nobody and his dog can surely carry on the mysterious marksman and his dog trope that gradually increased the popularity of the franchise.