Saturday, 14 March 2009

Mini-Series Review - Shogun

Making a TV adaptation of one of the greatest works of fiction of all time (and in the view of many, including myself, Shogun deserves to be counted as one of these) must be a pretty daunting task – just how do you turn well over a thousand pages in intricate plot and character development into just a few hours of TV action?

Well, to start with, the producers of this excellent adaptation did it in just over 9 hours. I’m glad to say that it is extremely faithful to the book – there’s no chance they could have done anything to improve the storyline, and thankfully they realised that.


Shogun chronicles the life of an Englishman, John Blackthorne (played breathtakingly well by Richard Chamberlain – he’s exactly like I pictured him to be when reading the book), after his ship crashes just off the coast of Japan. After many trials and struggles, he eventually becomes a Samuri (if I remember correctly, this story was inspired to some extent by a real-life story). In between he is used as a political pawn, finds love, attempts to commit suicide, and experiences a change in lifestyle and attitude that he would never have imagined. The plot also involves the political and military battles of the feudal Lords in the Land of the Rising Sun. And much more – it’s impossible to describe fully without the use of many thousands of words… if you want a bit more detail about the plot, click on the link to the book review at the bottom of the page, which goes into a little more depth.

Cast and Filming

Since most of the cast are Japanese it wasn’t surprising that I haven’t heard of them… they’re certainly good actors and actresses though, and portray the characters just as I’d imagined them. The only one apart from Richard Chamberlain that knew was Michael Horton, whose part is sad and brief… In fact, much of the film is tinged with sadness, and some parts are simply heart-breaking. (One example of this is when they are first captured – the survivors from the ship are imprisoned, and have to choose one of their number to be tortured and killed while the rest will survive… at least for a while…)

The cinematography is excellent, and on the occasions where there are special effects (for instance, an earthquake), they are handled well, albeit nothing spectacular. They were probably cutting edge at the time, of course. The locations all look absolutely authentic – well as far as I could tell, anyway!


It’s not for everyone – there’s a couple of brief scenes of nudity, some fairly graphic violence, and a bit of bad language. It’s rated 15, which I think is what it should be – definitely not for children! It’s not gratuitous in any way, it just doesn’t pull any punches.

Some of the characters (particularly Marika, Blackthorne’s love interest) can be extremely hard to understand because they have such strong accents. There are subtitles when they speak Japanese, but sometimes it feels like there should be subtitles for the English as well! It’s a shame because it can sometimes slightly mar your enjoyment of an otherwise near perfect production.


Even if you haven’t read the book you should still be able to pick up almost all of the storyline from this series – nothing important is missed out, although even with 9 hours there are still some scenes missing. To be honest though, unless you know the book really well, you won’t notice them very much.

If you’ve read the book and enjoyed it you will be surprised at just how good this adaptation is – I certainly was, even after being told how good it was by my parents who remembered it being serialised on BBC1 some years ago. If you haven’t read the book, then this would appeal to you if you like in-depth historical action – after all it will take you 9 hours to sit through all of it. It’s not really something you can enjoy watching one episode a fortnight, even if you know the story well – it demands too much concentration to view it periodically. If you can watch the whole series within about a week, however, you’re in for a tremendous, swashbuckling time.

Additional Information

There is also a standard length movie edited from this mini-series, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. (I’ll get round to reviewing it ASAP!) It’s just too short to do the book any kind of justice, and the splicing isn’t fantastic either. So before I even write my review, you have been warned.


Shogun book review

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