Star of iconic dramas like Heroes and Hawaii Five-0, Masi Oka has made a career of playing affable characters that are easy to root for. His expansive career features not only TV and Film credits, but also voice-over and digital effects. He truly is a jack of all trades and he brings his talent and passion to Disney+’s newest animated series, Star Wars: Visions.
Star Wars: Visions is an animated anthology series that combines the action-packed, heartfelt narrative of Star Wars with the beauty and artistry of Japanese anime. Nine short films were produced by seven influential Japanese animation studios to create a powerful and moving collection.
Masi Oka stars as Ethan in “The Ninth Jedi”, one of the collection’s most Star Wars-like entries. In the episode, we meet up with a group of hopeful Jedi many generations after the Jedi Order is mostly extinct. Hoping to get their hands on extremely rare but still powerful lightsabers, the Jedi discuss the symbolism behind the light color and how it reflects the heart of the one who wields the weapon. They probably could have used a handy guide!
Ethan (Oka) arrives at the temple and is presented with the very first lightsaber with promises that more are soon to come. Through a series of twists and turns, we see Ethan find unlikely allies to deal with betrayal in their midst. The animation is classic anime and fits the Jedi purpose storyline in a really pleasing and effective way. I had the pleasure of chatting with Oka over Zoom to talk about this dream project.
The Geekiary: Have you ever done any voice acting like this?
Masi Oka: Yes, I’ve actually done a couple, one for Spies in Disguise, but this is the first time I’ve ever done an English dub based on a Japanese series.
What was that like? The process? Was it kind of weird to be doing the other side rather than the original Japanese?
Oka: Yeah, it was actually a learning experience and very humbling. Being fluent in Japanese, I understand what they’re saying and also the intention of what they’re trying to do so I can try to match that completely… in English! It was very different because Japanese voice acting is a little bit different so I just tried to find ways to match. It was an interesting exercise that we went through.
It sounds very fun. What’s your relationship to Star Wars and how do you feel about the mashup with anime elements?
Oka: Wow! First of all, anime, I grew up on anime. Being Japanese, part of our culture is reading manga and watching anime. And for Star Wars, that was a big one in my childhood as well, it was the first movie I ever saw. It was also the first VHS I ever bought and it defined my career; I wanted to work on Star Wars and I did. So these two childhood influences made up who I was and have now come together to create this whole new world? It just blew my mind. It’s just a dream project for me.
The one that you star in, The Ninth Jedi, I feel like it’s kind of the most Star Wars of them all. Tell me about your character, Ethan.
Oka: I think Ethan is a character who comes in, gets a mysterious message, and arrives at this mysterious place. He’s expecting one thing, but it quickly turns out to be another. It is definitely a discovery and a journey for Ethan that shows him who he is, and what he’s capable of.
Are there any kind of overarching themes that the audience should be on the lookout for?
Oka: I think the key thing is just the belief in yourself. When the odds are against you, what’s important is to believe in yourself and you can overcome any adversity. Another theme is probably the idea of, when you collaborate, even if it’s coming from a completely different world or culture, there are infinite possibilities.
I always say, the human mind, we’re limited in our imagination when we’re just one. But when we collaborate with others, there’s unlimited possibilities. And this Star Wars: Visions, taking two different worlds of anime and Star Wars showed that Star Wars can go in many, many different ways, and it has limitless potential and stories to tell. I think it’s those boundaries that we need to break down and the idea that cross-culture is not a bad thing. We can create something amazing that nobody has ever thought about!
One thing I thought was very cool is we really get to see the reach of Star Wars. You hear about it being a worldwide phenomenon, but being able to see other cultures transcribe their own art into Star Wars is cool. At its core, Star Wars is a very human story; it’s father and son, it’s family dynamics, it’s a person trying to find themselves. When you were watching Star Wars growing up, was there anything in particular that you latched onto?
Oka: Well more than just the thematics, I think the whole idea of the storytelling is that wish fulfillment that there’s life out there and a whole world. There’s more than anyone can imagine and I definitely latched on to the ability to create things that never existed but only in your mind.
The 9 episodes long Star Wars: Visions premiered Wednesday, September 22, 2021, on Disney+. I highly recommend my faves ‘The Elder’, ‘The Twins’, ‘The Village Bride’, ‘Akakiri’ and ‘The Ninth Jedi’.
Check out this feature for a behind-the-scenes look at the vehicles in Star Wars: Visions and also take a look at the trailer below!
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