Warning: This post contains vague-ish spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 4, now in theaters.
Much like the original The Fast and the Furious, the first John Wick was a relatively simple affair: It was about a hitman who comes out of retirement because someone killed his puppy. He didn’t even leave the New York City area. By Chapter 2, the world building got such that our ever-vengeful hero was a globe-trotting man of the world, even trying out different genres star Keanu Reeves and series director Chad Stahelski adore. Indeed, it was their love of all the different flavors of action cinema that inspired Chapter 4’s somber/downer conclusion.
In a new interview with Vulture, Stahelski reflects on how they came up with the “samurai thing” that concludes the fourth — and probably at this point not final — installment.
“Keanu and I were sitting around many months after we completed John Wick 3 in Tokyo at the Imperial Hotel at the Scotch bar doing a little press, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, wouldn’t it be fun if John Wick was in Japan? Yeah, I don’t know if we could build a movie around it, but that’d be fun,’” he recalled. “Because, we never did nunchucks. We never did Enter the Dragon. I’m a huge Sergio Leone fan. I never got to do the Spaghetti western–style showdown that I wanted to do.”
At this point, something clicked in Reeves’ Japanese scotch-inspired mind. “Then Keanu just looks at me and goes, ‘John Wick needs to die,’” Stahelski recalled. “I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ He says, ‘Well, let’s do the samurai thing.’”
What is “the samurai thing”? It comes from a canonical book entitled the Hagakura, a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior dating back to 18th century Japan. Stahelski said that among the commentaries contained within are notes on “the way of dying, the art of dying.” He added, “You can only have a good death if you’ve had a good life. We started going down this road of Bushido samurai and anti-samurai mentality. And how does this philosophy tie into all the movies? How’s he going to get out of this?”
And so that’s how John Wick achieved a good death — or did he? Reeves and Stahelski may have planned Chapter 4 to be their fond farewell to their beloved character, but unfortunately, it made so much money that Lionsgate brass are already demanding more. Perhaps John Wick will have to find a second peaceful death.