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Why Raiden From Mortal Kombat 2021 Looks So Familiar

Mortal Kombat is getting a new big screen treatment in 2021, and it's a big upgrade from the 1995 version. When the trailer dropped on February 18, 2021, fans found plenty to obsess over. Of particular interest was Sub Zero, a fan favorite player character and all-around ice monster. But some MCU buffs couldn't help but notice one familiar face in the crowd: Raiden.

Played by Tadanobu Asano, Raiden has appeared as a playable character in every Mortal Kombat except Mortal Kombat 3. In the trailer, Raiden joins forces with Sonya, Liu Kang, and the gang to fight Shang Tsung and the forces of darkness. Lord Raiden is often the leader of the forces of good in the Kombat universe, using his lightning powers to beat down villainy. But Marvel Cinematic Universe fans might recognize him from his association with a different fella with control over thunder and lightning. And Japanese cinephiles might recognize him from even further back. Here's where you might have seen Tadanobu Asano.

Japanese cinema's indie darling

Tadanobu Asano first came to fame in Japan, where he was one of the most famous indie actors of his era. Sometimes called Japan's Johnny Depp, Asano was known for his performances of cool and detached nonchalance. According to AnOther, he is also something of a poet and rock star.

Asano's big breakout role came in 2001, when he starred in Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer. The film is notorious for its graphic depictions of violence, many of which were perpetrated by Asano. Film critic Simon Abrams called it "a wonderful poison apple of a gore movie."

In 2003, Asano was part of the ensemble in Takeshi Kitano's big budget remake of Zatoichi. Kitano played the titular blind swordsman/massage therapist, and Asano played an emotionally tortured ronin. 

One of the weirder movies in Asano's filmography is Survive Style 5+. And that's saying something, given the fact that Asano starred in some of the biggest surreal hits to come out of Japan in the 2000s. In Survive Style 5+, he plays a man who kills his wife, but she just keeps coming back to life and tries to kill him. At one point, she turns her own arm into a missile that she launches at Asano. It's like if I Heart Huckabees had a scene where Lily Tomlin turns into a bazooka. That same year, Asano starred in The Taste of Tea. The film was a selection at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

Asano is one of the Warriors Three

American movie fans may recognize Asano as Hogun, one of Thor's buddies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also known as Hogun the Grim, he is one of the Warriors Three. Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg have been characters in Marvel Comics since 1965, accompanying the God of Thunder on both Earth and Asgard.

Hogun makes his first appearance in the MCU in Thor. Hogun is first seen fighting alongside Thor, Sif, Loki, and the other Warriors Three at Jotunheim. Sif and the Warriors Three eventually find Thor on Earth, after Odin banished him there.

In Thor: The Dark World, Hogun reveals that he is a Vanir from Vanaheim. After the events of Thor, the Vanir were imperiled by the Marauders: a group of pirates who menaced the nine realms. Hogun asked his friends for help defending his homeland.

Hogun was the last of the Warriors Three to die in battle against Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. He was a part of the last stand against Hela, fighting to his last breath to defeat her. Hogun refused to submit to the death goddess and was killed attacking her. That means Hogun won't be alive for the events of Thor: Love and Thunder. But at least it freed up Asano's calendar to play Lord Raiden.