Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on July 2011

Tadanobu Asano, left, poses with Takako Matsu; Photo: Sachiko Fukuzumi

For fans of Marvel Comics and Norse mythology, Thor should fit the bill. British director Kenneth Branagh certainly turns up the sound in his 3-D action film about the god of thunder. “It’s an exciting drama,” said Branagh in a video message to media in Japan. “It’s the first time for me to direct a film in 3-D. I know a lot of people are undecided on 3-D but I found the process a great opportunity to enhance the film’s appeal.”

Thor stars Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding title character. He is backed by such stars as Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Japan’s Tadanobu Asano, making his Hollywood film debut. After being banished to Earth from Asgard (the realm of the gods), Thor and his hammer end up in the New Mexico desert, where he is befriended by an astrophysicist (Portman). Soon he is being pursued by dark forces from his world. Amid the ensuing battles, Thor learns from us mere mortals what it takes to be a real hero. That’s what appealed to Branagh. “Thor is a god but he possesses human characteristics and weaknesses. At the start, he is arrogant, but he learns to overcome his weaknesses. I think that makes him one of Marvel’s strongest heroes.”

Asano, 37, plays Hogun—one of the Warriors Three who fight valiantly alongside Thor. Currently filming Ronin with Keanu Reeves in London, Asano made a quick trip back to Tokyo to promote Thor which he described as an eye-opening experience. “The whole process was incredible,” said Asano, best known to audiences in the West for his role in Ichi the Killer. “Everything from the set, to the costumes to the makeup was just breathtaking.” Asano, who was joined by an admiring Takako Matsu at the Tokyo promotional event, said: “My English is not very good but we managed to work everything out one way or another.”

Branagh heaped praise on the Japanese actor. “I first saw Tad in Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Kahn (in 2007), and I thought he had a natural movie star presence. I knew he would make a deadly soldier. He adapted amazingly well and was very popular with the cast and crew. He was a joy to work with.” Branagh added that he hoped Thor would provide Japanese audiences with an entertaining diversion from the stress of dealing with the events of March 11. “I love Japan, having been there many times, and I am confident that the people of Japan can overcome this hardship. Enjoy the movie, and please, please stick around for the final credits because there is a surprise at the very end.”

Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (www.japantoday.com)