Abdy describes the original conception for the film as "a dream of Japan," and as you'll have noticed from trailers, this is not a straight samurai movie, with Miyazaki and "Lord of the Rings" among the reference points dropped by the filmmakers while I was on set. Kai and the other Ronin come up against a number of fantastical creatures in their adventures, including hunting the mythical beast known as the Kirin, being tormented by a shape-shifting villain played by "Pacific Rim" and "Babel" star Rinko Kikuchi, battling bird-like warrior monks known as Dengu (they're the Voldemort-ish figures in yellow in the trailer), and squaring off against a 7'7" samurai who was referred to on set as the Lovecraftian Warrior (he won't be called that in the film, unsurprisingly).
The supernatural elements were featured in Chris Morgan's script (subsequently worked on by "Drive" and "Snow White & The Huntsman" scribe Hossein Amini) since the beginning, and according to Rinsch, was one of the main things that attracted him to the project. "As a Westerner," he said, in between takes, "I knew what Kirin Beer was, but I never knew what a Kirin was, or what a Tangu Warrior was. The more I looked into, I saw that the myth and fantasy of Japan had more characters than Marvel could ever have in their entire menagerie. So I thought this was an opportunity to do something totally different. So our version of a Chushingura story is going to be a samurai fantasy epic. that's cool, I haven't fucking seen that before, that's great. Kurosawa on meth."
But he was also keen on keeping at least one foot on the ground. "Instead of doing it like '300,' where it's shot on a stage with a big green screen, we'll do everything. We won't just say that it has visual effects in it, and we won't say it's a boring period piece, we're going to do everything. We're gonna have big sets, the big costumes, real action sequences, CG augmentation, CG environments, CG characters, and CG fights as well. And you'll never be able to know where the seam is... And you have to appreciate what a gutsy, crazy movie this is," Rinsch said. " 'The Hobbit,' 'The Dark Knight,' people know that shit. This, we're creating a world that's entirely new to most Western audiences, and we're doing it in stereo, and with a cast that doesn't speak English as a first language. On paper, that's officially crazy. It's a really gutsy move on the part of everyone at Universal."