Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Review of Shōgun – an enthralling saga with a focus on bloody carnage.
Culture TV and Radio

Review of Shōgun – an enthralling saga with a focus on bloody carnage.


If you’ve ever been curious about the appearance of sailors suffering from scurvy after spending months at sea, Shōgun will not leave you in suspense. This is gruesome material, taking place during the rise of civil war in Japan in 1600. The series ambitiously adapts James Clavell’s renowned novel from 1975 and clearly honors its source material. Given that the paperback is over 1,000 pages, it’s remarkable that they were able to condense it into 10 episodes. The outcome is captivating, mesmerizing television.

Similar to the lengthy production of Masters of the Air, Shōgun has also been in the works for several years. Its initial announcement was made back in 2018 and, just like Masters of the Air, it has proven to be worth the wait. This gripping and complex drama requires careful and dedicated viewing. While mostly in Japanese, there are some portions in English, representing Portuguese. However, it’s not as challenging to follow as one might expect. Nonetheless, it’s important to give the series your full attention and avoid watching it casually while scrolling on another screen. Settle in, buckle up, and focus closely.

In the film, “Cosmo Jarvis” plays John Blackthorne, a high-ranking officer in the British Navy aboard the Scurvy, which is actually a Dutch ship called the Erasmus. The ship has become stranded on the coast of Japan, but the crew is skeptical of the existence of this rumored country. When they finally arrive, they find themselves in the middle of a conflict with the Portuguese, who have kept Japan’s location a secret in order to maintain their monopoly on trade. The small group of survivors from the Erasmus arrives during a critical time in Japanese politics: the taiko (supreme ruler) has recently passed away, leaving behind a young heir who is not yet capable of ruling. A council of five warrior lords serves as interim rulers, but their differences threaten to lead to a full-scale war.

Lord Toranaga, portrayed by the talented Hiroyuki Sanada, serves as our initial perspective in the brewing conflict. He is a highly esteemed and skilled commander, with the potential to attain complete sovereignty, but is also the least favored among his fellow warrior lords. Despite being warned that this is a time for a strong military leader, Toranaga views the title of “shōgun” as outdated and brutal. However, he cleverly sees the advantages of Blackthorne’s unexpected arrival and begins to manipulate the situation to his own benefit. Blackthorne, known as the “Barbarian” or Anjin for his exceptional sailing abilities, brings moments of humor with his amazement and frustration towards the unfamiliar culture and customs of Japan. Yet, Shōgun is also aware that this unfamiliarity goes both ways – to the Japanese, Anjin is a strange and unrefined outsider.

He is also a dissenter, trampling on the symbol of a Roman Catholic priest, and in this, he proves to be helpful. The conflict between the Portuguese and Spanish blurs the boundaries between religion and trade, one of the many important themes that Shōgun is not afraid to address. It also delves into the topics of statesmanship, diplomacy, war, and eventually love, although these take a backseat in the first two episodes. Instead, the brutality of this world is prominently portrayed. There are decapitations, swift and unmerciful. One man is slowly boiled alive, a “special method” employed by a grinning warlord; the camera does not shy away from depicting this gruesome scene. There is a vast variety of weapons and beautifully choreographed battles, which spark like torches amidst the explanatory conversations. There are assassinations and a particularly gruesome act of self-disembowelment, with far-reaching consequences.

The movie Shōgun reminds me of the golden age of epic cinema in the 1990s, just like Masters of the Air. Although they differ greatly in their setting and approach, they strangely complement each other. Both boast stunning visuals and appear to have a large production budget. The creators have made wise decisions, especially in allowing the audience to follow a bilingual storyline. This may seem like a given in today’s globalized television industry, but it’s not difficult to imagine a modern adaptation of Shōgun being entirely in English, which would have weakened the intelligence and impact of the narrative. Thankfully, this superb drama maintains its steady pace, resulting in visually stunning, confident, and captivating television.

Bypass the advertisement for the newsletter.

Source: theguardian.com