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SHŌGUN (2024)

Season One [Premiere] 

Aired On: FX / Hulu.

Release Date: 02/08/24.
Adventure. Drama. History.

"When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, Lord Yoshii Toranaga discovers secrets that could tip the scales of power and devastate his enemies."


Shōgun, a new 10-episode miniseries from Hulu and FX, reclaims the notion that they are no stranger to producing strong television adaptations. Based on a classic novel by James Clavell, the story was initially adapted in 1980 in what was, at the time, the second most successful miniseries of all time – behind only Roots.  


Husband and wife duo, Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks serve as writers and showrunners for this latest iteration. In recent years, Marks earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for Top Gun: Maverick and Kondo was a finalist for an O. Henry Award.


Set in 1600s Japan, the reigning ruler has died and his heir has not yet come of age, leaving a power vacuum and five warrior lords vying for the coveted title of shōgun.


In the opening scene, a ragged Dutch trading ship carrying a treasure trove of munitions lurches along, desperate to find shoreline as food and water have run out. The beleaguered captain commits suicide, leaving Englishman John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) in charge. 


The ship, The Erasmus, beaches onto the shores of Izu, a peninsula in the Kanto region of Japan controlled by Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada).


Toranaga, meanwhile, has been summoned before the Council of Reagents. Four of the five other ruling lords on the council demand that he release the heir’s mother from his castle in Edo. They are suspicious that Toranaga is trying to coalesce his power and usurp them as shōgun, even though he calls the title “a brutal relic from a bygone era.” 


Toranaga and another warlord, Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano), have also become interested in the contents of the Erasmus. Onboard are enough guns, canons, ammunition, and silver and gold to give whoever controls it a serious tactical advantage.


With all that going on, Blackthorne becomes caught up in the struggle and is manhandled, dragged about, pissed on, and held captive on the way to Osaka. This being, at the time, the cultural center of Japan and the apparent setting for the rest of the series. A sweeping view of the city in the closing frame teases the incredible scale yet to come. 


There’s an awful lot of setup and politicking in the series opener, but the writing is sharp and the pacing moves quickly enough that the story doesn’t get too bogged down in all the details. The acting is stellar all around, with Jarvis shining as a gritty, grimy POV character, and Sanada adding weight and gravity through his nuanced and powerful portrayal of Toranaga. 


What’s most impressive, however, is the sheer scale of the production. Perhaps, not since Game of Thrones has a television series looked so vivid and lived in and real. It’s also just about as bloody as the aforementioned, with at least two suicides, a beheading, and a man boiled alive in the premier.


Kondo and Marks, in a recent interview on the Empire Film Podcast, talked about the incredible attention to detail that was put into the production. And it’s evident in everything from the gorgeous costuming to the way the subtitles are incorporated in each frame, rather than just slapped at the bottom of the screen. So much care was put into this production – and it shows. 


This is rarified, immersive television done on an epic scale, and with so much respect and research invested to bring the source material to rich, colorful life. 

The series opener of Shōgun is big, ballsy, cinematic, and intensely engaging. It’s superbly written and complex, and a worthy successor to a series that once captivated a third of the entire U.S. television audience. In short, it’s an impressive and heady debut for what promises to be appointment viewing, and the first great TV show of 2024.

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