The epic mini-series adaptation of James Clavell’s novel (he also served as one of the show’s producers), Shogun continues this week, as I dive into disc two, which includes episode two and parts of episode three which originally aired on the 16th and 17th September, 1980, following the airing of the three hour premiere on the 15th.
Blackthorne/Anjin (Richard Chamberlain) goes to meet Toranaga (Toshiro Mufune), who has released him from prison, where he could keep him out of a rival shogun, Ishido (Nobuo Kaneko) reach. The cliffhanger of the previous night is quickly resolved, Blackthorne is walked past the crosses on which he thought he was about to be crucified.
Toranaga begins to foster a form of friendship with Blackthorne, and wants Anjin to serve in his court as an aide. He assigns Mariko (Yoko Shimada) to educate and civilise Blackthorne, and the Englishman begins to learn the beauties, and the dangers of the exotic country he has found himself in.
The production value continues to be exemplary (shot on location in Japan) and the budget is not only impressive for a television series but probably for a film shot at the same time.
Doling the story out over five nights and nine hours, the tale takes its time with characters, arcs, set-up, politics, and history.
I was surprised to learn that the story is loosely based on the true life story of William Adams, an English sailor in the 17th century. Obviously that served as a launching point for Clavell’s tale, and it was heavily fictionalised and dramatised to bring his titanic story to life.
Chamberlain is comfortable in the role of Blackthorne, and the story by now is rolling along nicely as an engaging historical drama.
The Portuguese and the Jesuit missionaries prove to be very dangerous as they have laid claim to Japan, something which shocks Toranaga, and makes him question the politics at work among those who have come to his country. They will continue to be a threat, as they now have possession of Blackthorne’s maps and documents, which Toranaga demands.
There is a long game at work here, and the Jesuits definitely seem to be in it for the long haul, but the viewer, in theory shuns the Christian beliefs and empathises with those of Toranaga and his people, even as Blackthorne and Father Alvito (Damien Thomas) maneuver and verbally joust.
We also get the blossoming of a love story between Blackthorne and Mariko, even as their attempts on his life, and Toranaga and his friendship grows stronger. Things are complicated on the romantic front with the reveal that Mariko is married to Lord Buntaro (Hideo Takamatsu) who doesn’t have a high opinion of Blackthorne to begin with.
It’s further complicated by Toranaga insisting he marry a young widow to serve honour, and save the lives of a village. There is a lot going on in this story, love, politics, history, action and more.
It is very interesting to see the details of the world come to life, especially the ease with which they discuss sexuality, and consequently how prudish the English, in the form of Blackthorn seem.
Orson Welles continues to provide narration as well as the occasional translation, as the audience still settles into the storytelling, and begin to realise that no, subtitles will not be provided, you need to pay attention and learn as Blackthorne does.
And as a side note, I love each time John Rhys-Davies pops up, it’s also fun to see Vledek Sheybal show up, as all I had ever seen him in was From Russia With Love.
The epic tale continues next week!