Was New TMNT‘s Shredder Meant to Be a White Guy?


From the beginning, it was perhaps the oddest casting decision made for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – we were told that William Fichtner was going to play Shredder, and his character name, Eric Sacks, was pretty clearly an Americanization of Oroku Saki, the Shredder’s traditional real name. Who announced this? Well, Fichtner himself, for one. But then you see the movie, and, well, he isn’t. It’s never really even hinted that he is – Shredder is shown right off the bat to be a tall, scarred Japanese guy, never specifically named as Oroku Saki but fitting the description. He’s played by Tohoru Masamune.

When I spoke to the writers about this, Josh Applebaum said this:

We wanted you to wonder if we were bluffing. It was only a bluff.

Except that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the movie. The bluff with Sacks in the storyline is that you think he’s a family friend of April’s, but he turns out to be a bad guy. He’s never set up in the storyline to appear to be Shredder.

A colleague who interviewed the filmmakers was told that Fichtner essentially “went rogue” and they didn’t know why he was telling people he was Shredder. Except…in the new official book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, which covers every iteration of the story so far, it flat-out says it:

Keeping with the classic Turtles vibe, it was announced that the Shredder would be returning, this time played by veteran character actor William Fichtner, who had appeared in Michael Bay’s hit disaster film Armageddon. The man behind the steel-plated mask is Eric Sachs, which many TMNT fans may interpret as a westernized version of the character’s original name, “Oroku Saki.” Fichtner was reluctant about the role at first, but his nephew Mikey and a compelling script, convinced him to take on the Shredder’s mantle. “I think if I thought of him as a villain, I probably wouldn’t have had as good a time as I did making the film,” he says. “Sachs is a very uplifted but complicated and layered guy, not to mention his beliefes are a little out there in a most pleasurable way. His is a very cool journey for an actor.”

Let’s not even get into the fact that his surname is spelled “Sachs” in promo material, and “Sacks” in the movie.

The plot thickens in a Movieweb interview with Masamune, wherein he says he only shot two scenes as Shredder – everything involving the bladed suit was CG motion-capture, and featured a full facemask, which presumably allowed the filmmakers to hedge their bets about who was inside. Movieweb has a few theories, including fan backlash over the racial switcheroo and the possibility that Chinese audiences didn’t want to see Japanese characters onscreen. But they’d have to know that – when a preemptive backlash began over an early script that had the Turtles as aliens, one of the principal objections was that Shredder was now “Colonel Schrader.” Is it really possible that Michael Bay and company simply thought the objection was to a name change rather than an ethnic one?

One thing’s clear – we’re not getting a straight answer out of anyone involved with the production any time soon. Fichtner was not part of the L.A. press junket, and Masamune has no idea, except for the fact that he was sworn to secrecy about his role. What’s most clear, as if we didn’t know, is that there was a lot of confusion surrounding the making of this film, and even last-minute switcheroos with the voice overdubbing of Leonardo and Splinter. Now that the groundwork is established, maybe, just maybe, the sequel will have a more coherent plan.

Not that I’m gonna pay to find out.

(h/t Scott Mendelson)