Shogun (1980) – Disc 4

We come to the conclusion of James Clavell’s epic Japanese tale this week (it was definitely quicker to get through the miniseries than the novel – course I was fourteen at the time) as I delve into the fourth disc of the DVD set which has the fifth and final episode.

Adapted by Eric Bercovici, the final episode aired on 19 September, 1980. The entire series ran consecutive nights from Monday to Friday that week, and swept the ratings.

The story this week picks up moments after Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) has received an admonishment from Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune) for asking to be allowed to pursue a romantic relationship with Mariko (Yoko Shimada).

And as a final showdown between Toranaga and Ishido (Nubuo Kaneko) comes to a head, fates, victories, defeats and tragedies will be delivered. There are plans within plans, and it seems almost everyone is a pawn for someone else.

12-Samurai

The Jesuit priests led by Father Alvito (Damien Thomas) prove that their own interests trump those of the people of the land they are serving in, but Blackthorne has a way to best them when Toranaga returns the Erasmus, the ship he serves as pilot on, to him.

For a television miniseries in the 1980s, the production values are stunning, and they definitely stretch their dollar as far as they can to make the series look epic, and catch the viewer up in the world of feudal Japan.

I remember closing in on the end of the book, the weight of the massive paperback shifting slowly from the right hand to the left hand, as I revelled in the adventures, the romance, politics and drama that were at play in this titanic story.

It remains a stunning watch, Chamberlain brings his character to life with an easy charm and his arc over the course of the narrative is easy to see and understand. There are rumours of an updated limited series coming, and I will be interested in seeing how that plays out, should it come to fruition, but for now I will recall my memories of those weeks in Grade Nine when I read embraced the world I found in those pages, and my upset at the horrible theatrical cut of the miniseries that I rented from my local video store.

Seeing it brought to life in this DVD set the story the way that it was meant to be seen as it was originally filmed is a much more rousing and entertaining watch than I had hoped it would be. Smart, well-thought out and paced, the acting is top-notch, the look of the series is beautiful and it remains one of the gold standards by which the mini-series of the 70s and 80s should be judged.

Did you ever read the book or see the original broadcast?

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