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John Blackthorne, an English ship pilot, whose vessel wrecked upon the Japanese coast in the early 16th 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. Written by
Harald Mayr <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rich and fulfilling, a great adaptation of Clavell's masterpiece
In 1976, James Clavell wrote an epic masterpiece: the story of Blackthorne, an English sailor lost in Feudal Japan. He gradually finds his place, oft the central pawn of political intrigues between various foreign powers and the local warlords. In 1980, this miniseries was unleashed on the world and created a whole new audience for the mammoth bestseller. No small feat considering the length and complexity of Clavell's 1200+ page door-stopper. Clocking in at almost 10 hours, this mega-budgeted series delivers the goods. People who have seen "The Last Samurai" might see a few plot similarities (even in certain smaller details: Tom Cruise sports exactly the same haircut as Richard Chamberlain). With all respect for the 2003 film, Shogun is far out of it's reach.
Richard Chamberlain embodies Blackthorne to perfection, successfully gaining our empathy through an ambiguous yet very human performance. Supporting him are Japanese icon Toshiro Mifune as the shrewd warlord and aspiring shogun Torunaga, who befriends/manipulates Blackthorne, and Yoko Shimada as Blackthorne's translator, confident and friend. Every actor gives life to Clavell's carefully drawn and layered characters (most of all a very bombastic John Rhys-Davies). For a television miniseries, the technical specs are quite surprisingly good. Indeed the budget must have been quite important (and set a record at the time) but never is the story or it's rhythm scarified to show-off. The direction and photography are quite tasteful, often reminiscent of early Kurosawa, only in color. Maurice Jarre's score might not reach the lofty heights of his work for David Lean but it serves it's purpose.
Many will tell you that the book is better. It is certainly more intimate and detailed, but a more faithful and excellent adaptation of such a rich book you are not likely to see anytime soon. For anyone with a taste for epics, Japan or just plain good entertainment, this is essential viewing.
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