I dive into disc three of the DVD release of Shogun this week which marries the conclusion of the third episode, originally broadcast on 17 September, 1980, and the fourth episode, which aired on 18 September, 1980.
James Clavell’s novel, adapted by Eric Bercovici continues to explore feudal Japan through the transplanted Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) who is beginning to understand how the culture, steeped heavily in honour, works.
While Mariko (Yoko Shimada) and Blackthorne begin a covert romantic relationship, her husband Buntaro (Hideo Takamatsu) arrives in the small village Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune) has hidden the Englishman away in.
Toranaga continues to build an army to war with Ishido (Nobuo Kaneko), and may use some of Blackthorne’s weapons as support. The Englishman, known as Anjin, proves his mettle, and Toranaga returns his ship, the Eramus, to him and makes him samurai.
There are other things happening as well, as Mariko discovers a plot to kill one of the country’s regents who has taken to Christianity as Father Alvito (Damien Thomas) proves to be devious and untrustworthy when it comes to the affairs of Japan and those who live there.
Politics, war, and love all seem to be on the verge of erupting everywhere, all the time, and the story remains completely captivating. Not to mention the beautiful production value that resonates through almost every frame of the min-series.
Orson Welle’s narration, and occasional translation continues, as some things cannot be left to context, and it’s cool to here him lend his voice to the things Toranaga is extorting upon his men.
The romance between Blackthorne and Mariko is done gently, and lovingly, and you know the pair are going to very much risk everything should the truth come out. But when Toranaga insists that Buntaro make amends with Mariko through the ritual of the tea ceremony, she denies him, and consequently causes some serious problems that will do doubt come to fruition before the story’s end.
Still, I like seeing the pair together, and I love seeing Blackthorne slowly succumb to the beauties, formalities and structure of the culture that he finds himself in. And soon works to protect it, and wants to lead an assault on the Jesuit’s black ship, which carries luxuries from Japan to the Old World.
As I watch this series, the first time through for me, I recall reading the book, how it felt lugging this massive paperback around in my book bag, and eagerly reading it at each opportunity.
Now some thirty-five years (!) after I read the book, I am will come to the conclusion of the iconic miniseries next week. I will say, the mini-series stands up well to the passage of the years, and the story is just as captivating to me now, as it was then.
How will it play out? Will it be emotionally satisfying? How much of it do I remember from reading the book as a teenager, I guess I’ll find out next week, when Shogun concludes.