While it is nothing new for TV to air a mini-series of some sort these days, there were a few that stood out during the 70s and 80s. One of the biggest that not only hit the mark with audiences but broke down numerous boundaries in television was the epic Shogun that featured Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune, and John Rhys-Davies along with countless others. Now the classic Japanese masterpiece is getting an all new release to Blu-ray from CBS and Paramount.
Shogun follows John Blackthorne, an English ship pilot, whose vessel wrecked upon the Japanese coast in the early 17th century is forced to deal with the two most powerful men in Japan in these days. He is thrown in the midst of a war between Toranaga and Ishido, who struggle for the title of Shogun which will give ultimate power to the one who possesses it. This is a true epic in both length, running a little over 9 hours, but also in visual scope and scale. The entire film was shot on location in Japan making it the only US TV show/miniseries to do that. Despite the film being released in 1980 the film holds up remarkably well taking audiences into the world of the samurai and Japanese culture like few others. This is one of those stories that is more than just a story, but almost a history lesson on the Japanese culture and the internal conflicts with each other and the outside world. The attention to detail in the visual look along with the culture makes it a unique experience that has yet to be matched. The films narration by Orson Welles somehow makes it that much better despite its odd placing at times. Early on he introduces each character and at times offers translation when needed which is another interesting aspect to the film. Usually US productions that feature a language other than English as the primary speech offers subtitles but here they chose not to do that. While this may seem strange, it was on purpose as the story is told through the perspective of someone who does not speak Japanese so unless it was translated to him he and the audience don’t know what is being said. This gives the viewer a more immersive experience thus adding more to the already amazingly well done film.
The scope and production alone are worth the film, but the performances along with it make for one of, if not the best story involving Samurai to date. Richard Chamberlain is one of the few English speaking actors in the film and word is that most of the crew didn’t speak English making his performances as an actor all that more impressive. This is far from an action film, but there is plenty of action sprinkled throughout that is well choreographed and looked to stick with tradition instead of Hollywood flash. You wouldn’t expect all that much from a TV production from the 80s, but early in the film it showcases a beheading letting the viewer know right away that this isn’t the usual production. While the majority of the film is just about the character studies of all those involved in these conflicts it manages to keep you engaged throughout the insanely long run time.
There are plenty of people that have probably never seen this and those with an open mind are likely to not take the time to check it out and that is a tragedy all its own. At the time of its release it took the nation by storm and is a true classic if there ever was one. This awesome Blu-ray release not only features a beautiful transfer of this epic masterpiece, but also numerous special features including a “making of’ and “historical perspective” featurettes as well as commentary from director Jerry London making it a must own for any old school fan of the series and any that is ready to step into the world of the Shogun.