Monday, May 6, 2024

The FX Shogun series has ended and I really liked it a lot.

I finished watching FX's adaptation of James Clavell's Shogun, and I'm now ready to discuss it so here is your obligatory spoiler warning :).

First off, it was just really good throughout its narrative (one of the best shows I've ever watched). The first six episodes or so of its ten episode run hold closely to the material within the book. The last four deviate quite a bit from what Clavell wrote, but the spirit of his words is still there. The finale in particular hit some really solid notes for me, because it just was so beautiful. It was a perfect conclusion, really, to the story that the showrunners wanted to tell, and their attention and dedication to detail paid off in spades. Here's a few trivia tidbits that might interest you: 1) all of the kosodes used in the show were authentically recreated using period materials by 200 experts in kosode design, 2) the language spoken was faithful to the kind of language spoken from that era, and 3) the soundtrack took five years to make because they wanted to make sure that all compositions were faithful to the musical instruments that were available in Japan in 1600.

Maybe part of me wanted to see the Battle of Sekigahara (you don't see it). Looking back on this decision, I think it was the correct one to make. I think it would be difficult to justify a huge amount of money spent for our eyes to enjoy a battle that would have contributed nothing to the story except some gore. As Toranaga pointed out in the finale to Lord Yabushige before Yabu's seppuku moment, the outcome was inevitable. What the showrunners opted to do was offer a glimpse into Toranaga's mind, which (arguably) was the most intriguing aspect of the show. If I were to use a chess metaphor, Toranaga sacrificed his knight, his bishop, and his queen all so that he could achieve a checkmate from which his enemies could not escape. Additionally, Mariko was the definition of a brilliantly written female character, and a lot of kudos should go to James Clavell because she is equally this brilliant in the novel.

The most beautiful aspect of the finale for me was how Mariko's death touched dozens. She was the true heart of the story, transforming everyone through her life and her death. And she did the only thing that could be done in Toranaga's unique situation, moving the other regents to side with Toranaga against Ishido, or to make them withdraw the armies of the heir on the battlefield of Sekigahara (which delegitimized Ishido). Because of Mariko's sacrifice, Lady Ochiba (who ultimately made the decision regarding those armies) had no choice but to withhold them or lose family honor.

In the book, Toranaga is a man of great discipline and willingness to wait until his opponents make a crucial tactical error. In the show, Mariko ends up being the "Crimson Sky" event that hands Toranaga the Shogunate. In the book, "Crimson Sky" is an attack on Kyoto to control the Emperor and get him to declare him Shogun. It is not an attack on Osaka to defeat Ishido. But I think the important thing to understand from the way both of these events transpire is that the end result remains the same, and that the character of Blackthorne (Anjin) and that of Lord Toranaga are fundamentally cut from the same cloth. They are both unpredictable, because they are interested in all kinds of information and able to think and plan outside the context of their own cultures. This is then summed up when Anjin declares to Toranaga that rebellion is always dishonorable "unless you win."

Lord Yabu (easily one of the best characters in the show) asks Toranaga, "How does it feel to control the wind?" Toranaga replies, "I don't control the wind; I only study it." If you haven't given the television series a watch, I highly recommend that you do so.


  1. The was absolutely excellent! Glad it was not all translated to English.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the show. I'm still debating watching it. I probably will, but not right now.