Updated Version of Classic Samurai Work Deemed Important and Necessary

Updated Version of Classic Samurai Work Deemed Important and Necessary

The brilliant illustration of the clash between Samurai-era Japan and Europe during the Age of Discovery is depicted in a ten-part TV series.

James Clavell’s novel, Shōgun, was a bestseller in the 1970s and the most famous part of Clavell’s six-volume Asian saga. Through Shōgun’s thousand-plus pages, Clavell painted a broad and immersive picture of 17th-century Japan. The intrigue of the story, which revolves around the clash between Samurai Japan and Europe during the Age of Discovery, is masterfully represented in a new ten-part series produced by the Disney-owned US TV channel FX.

In his portrayal of historical Japan and samurai culture, Shōgun provided ample stimulation for the reader’s imagination, making it ideal for adaptation to television.

Based on real events, the story follows an English pilot employed on a Dutch ship who exhausts his last strength to find a route to Japan, a place the Portuguese already view as their own territory.

A power struggle ensues within Japan, and one of the power-hungry provincial lords first imprisons the pilot and then takes him under his wing. The pilot’s skills in seafaring and artillery combat prove extremely beneficial in the struggle for power against other warlords.

Following the book’s success, it was quickly transformed into a television mini-series. The five-part series that premiered in 1980 featured big stars of the time: Richard Chamberlain as pilot John Blackthorne and Toshirō Mifune, known for his role in Kurosawa’s samurai epics, as the samurai lord Toranaga.

Viewing the 1980 series today reveals a relatively slow narrative, largely due to the numerous plot twists and details that underpin the final resolution.

The new series maintains the same plot twists but presents them in a more tense and exciting manner, despite the series’ similar length. This makes it a valuable and necessary update to the classic tale, for which main writers Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo can take credit.

The series is visually stunning, natural, and impressive, as are the sound design and music. The violence depicted isn’t downplayed, ensuring the power of samurai swords is clear to the audience.

John Blackthorne, portrayed by Cosmo Jarvis, is a character defined by his clumsiness and austerity, even as he begins to embrace Japanese customs and integrate into society.

Initially, he views the Japanese as barbarians, a sentiment they reciprocate. However, as the distance between them closes, Blackthorne realizes he no longer identifies with his former crew, who are drunken and unruly and avoid cleanliness.

Playing a key role in the relationship between Blackthorne and Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) is Mariko, the wife of Toranaga’s general Buntaro (Anna Sawai). As a convert to Catholicism, Mariko knows Portuguese and serves as Blackthorne’s interpreter, while Blackthorne gradually learns Japanese.

Thanks to Mariko’s translations, the series’ events are easily understandable to international audiences without the need to subtly alter the Japanese dialogue into English.

The culture and language of historical Japan, which are central to the story, are presented realistically, avoiding undue exoticization.