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June 07, 2018

A Time to Heal

After a lifetime of bad guy roles and a dream role in Man in the High Castle, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is spreading martial healing.

Jon Matsumoto
  • Matthias Clamer/Contour by Getty Images

Back in the 1980s, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa forged a busy TV and film career by often inhabiting stereotypical Asian bad-guy roles.

So it's little wonder that he calls his role in Amazon's The Man in the High Castle "the most fulfilling in my career."

Born in Japan and raised mostly in the U.S., Tagawa brings his bicultural background to this thought- provoking piece of alternative historical fiction. As the compassionate and multifaceted Japanese trade minister Tagomi in High Castle, the deeply spiritual actor gets to spread his wings.

"The character is absolutely Japanese," Tagawa says. "In that sense it's been most satisfying bringing my life experience to this role. I'm massively thankful for this opportunity."

Loosely based on Philip K. Dick's 1962 novel of the same name, the series imagines what the U.S. might have looked like in the '60s had Japan and Germany prevailed in World War II. The second season is now streaming, and the third is due later this year.

Tagawa's Japanese-American father was a career member of the U.S. Army. His Japanese mother defied family expectations by joining the Japanese theater as an actress. Tagawa spent much of his early years moving between various schools for military families in states such as North Carolina and Texas. He faced racism and contempt from some of his peers.

Later, as an actor, he channeled residual rage from those early experiences into villainous roles such as the sorcerer Shang Tsung in 1995's Mortal Kombat.

"I thought, if they're going to offer me bad-guy roles, I'm going to give them bad guys like they had never seen before," he says. "I'm going to scare the hell out of them. I'm proud to have achieved that, especially after having grown up watching so many weak Asian bad guys in film and television."

At his core, however, Tagawa is much more about healing and spirituality. He's developing a new discipline that embraces the therapeutic rather than the competitive aspect of martial arts.

Moving forward, he seems as excited about teaching the healing arts as he is acting. "I made a vow when I got into Hollywood that if I ever gained any notoriety, I would bring my energy back to healing," he says. "That's where I am now."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2018

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