Shōgun

 

Shōgun

Screenplay by Eric Bercovici

Based on the best-selling novel by James Clavell

Cinematography: Andrew Laszlo

Editing: James Heckert, et al

Production Design: Joseph R. Jennings

Set Decoration: Tom Pedigo

Costume Design: Shin Nishida

Makeup: Masato Abe

Music: Maurice Jarre

Produced by Eric Bercovici & James Clavell

Directed by Jerry London

U.S. Air Dates:  Showtime: September 15-19, 1980

 

Cast:

Richard Chamberlain - Pilot-Major John Blackthorne (Anjin-san)

Yôko Shimada - Lady Toda Buntaro Mariko

Toshirô Mifune - Lord Yoshi Toranaga, Lord of the Kwanto

Damien Thomas - Father Martin Alvito

John Rhys-Davies - Vasco Rodrigues

Frankie Sakai - Yabu

Alan Badel - Father Dell'Aqua

Takeshi Ôbayashi - Urano

Yûki Meguro - Omi

Hideo Takamatsu - Lord Buntaro

Vladek Sheybal - Captain Ferriera

Leon Lissek - Father Sebastio

Michael Hordern - Friar Domingo

Nobuo Kaneko - Ishido

Hiromi Senno - Fujiko

George Innes - Vinck

Orson Welles - Narrator

 

Production:

Television: Toho, Asahi Broadcasting, NBC, Paramount Television

Video: CBS Home Entertainment

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD 50 x 3

Episode Size: avg. 10.5 GB

Total Avg Bit rate: High (30~35 Mbps)

Runtime:  547 min. avg. 54 min/episode

Episodes: 10 (seamless) in “3 Parts”

 

Audio

English & Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1

English & Japanese Dolby Digital mono (restored)

French, German and Japanese mono

 

Subtitles:

Optional English SDH, French, German, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary by series director Jerry London

• The Making of Shōgun - in SD (79:20 min)

• Historical Perspective Featurettes - in SD (15 min)

o   The Samurai

o   The Tea Ceremony

o   The Geisha

 

Presentation:

Standard Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 3

Street Date: July 22, 2014


 

CBS Product Description:

Journey to the brutal, thrilling world of 17th century feudal Japan with SHŌGUN, the unforgettable adventure based on the bestselling novel from James Clavell. Winner of three Golden Globes® and three Emmys®, the three-part miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain arrives for the first time on stunning Blu-ray July 22 from CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Media Distribution. The sweeping story of love and war follows John Blackthorne (Chamberlain), an English navigator shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. Rescued, he becomes an eyewitness to a deadly struggle involving Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune), a feuding warlord intent on becoming Shogun – the supreme military dictator. At the same time, Blackthorne is irresistibly drawn into the turmoil and finds himself vying to become the first-ever Gai-Jin (foreigner) to be a made a Samurai Warrior.


         


Critical Reception [Wikipedia]:

The miniseries was sparked by the massive success of the television miniseries Roots (1977) that had aired on the ABC Network in 1977. The success of Roots, as well as the critically acclaimed TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977), would spawn many miniseries onward through the 1980s. Shōgun, which aired in 1980, also became a highly rated program and continued the wave of miniseries over the next few years (such as North and South and The Thorn Birds) as networks clamored to capitalize on the format's success.

 

The success of the miniseries was credited with causing the paperback edition of the novel to become the best-selling mass-market book in the United States, with 2.1 million copies in print, and increased awareness of Japanese culture in America. In the documentary The Making of 'Shōgun', it is stated that the rise of Japanese food establishments in the United States (particularly sushi houses) is attributed to Shōgun. It was also noted that during the week of broadcast, many restaurants and movie houses saw a decrease in business. The documentary states many stayed home to watch Shōgun—unprecedented for a television broadcast. The Japanese characters speak in Japanese throughout, except when translating for Blackthorne. The original broadcast did not use subtitles for the Japanese portions. As the movie was presented from Blackthorne's point of view, the producers felt that "what he doesn't understand, we [shouldn't] understand.” Rotten Tomatoes gives the series a critic rating of 80%.


         

 

Shōgun broke several taboos and contained several firsts for American broadcast TV:

It was the first network show allowed to use the word "piss" in dialogue and actually to show the act of urination (As a symbolic act of Blackthorne’s subservience to the Japanese ruling class and to punish him for saying "I piss on you and your country," Blackthorne is urinated upon by a samurai). A man is shown beheaded early in the first chapter, another first for network TV (although the film version of the sequence was bloodier). Mariko is shown naked in a bath scene, and when Blackthorne is reunited with his men, a woman's breast is visible. The miniseries was also noted for its frank discussion of sexuality (e.g., pederasty), and matters such as Japanese ritual suicide (seppuku).


         

 

Awards

The Series won a Peabody Award and Golden Globes for:

Best TV-Series - Drama

Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series: Richard Chamberlain

Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series: Yôko Shimada.

Shōgun was nominated for an American Cinema Editors "Eddie" Award, and won Emmys for:

Outstanding Limited Series: James Clavell (executive producer), Eric Bercovici (producer)

Outstanding Costume Design: Shin Nishida

Outstanding Graphic Design and Title Sequences (episode 1): Phill Norman (graphic designer).

The series was also Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Lead Actors (Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune); Lead Actress (Yôko Shimada); Supporting Actors (John Rhys-Davies and Yuki Meguro); Film Sound Editing; Art Direction; Cinematography; Directing; Film Editing and Writing.


         

 

Reviews:

Time Out London:

Startled blue eyes above silky beard, Richard Chamberlain in a kimono looks more like an actor on his way to the bathroom than a grizzled English seafarer, cast ashore in 17th century Japan, where he turns samurai and becomes romantically and actively involved in a violent political intrigue. Based on James Clavell's huge novel, Shogun was originally a 10-hour TV mini-series. Shamefully hacked down to 151 minutes (still a yawning long haul), the plot has been rendered action-packed but utterly incomprehensible. Though production credits and cast point to a lively synthesis of oriental/occidental interests, the end result reduces the complex moral codes of feudal Japan to an inexplicable death wish. The threat of harakiri follows Chamberlain's illicit hanky-panky with the Lady Mariko (Shimada) as surely as day follows night, and yet again that rising sun blobs onto the screen like a pulpy tangerine.


         

 

eFilmCritic.com:

Mini-series stalwart Richard Chamberlain is Major John Blackthorne, an English navigator who finds himself shipwrecked and cast adrift in the decidedly unfriendly locale of 17th century feudal Japan. Although Blackthorne and his surviving sailors are originally treated as prisoners-of-war, the Major slowly manages in insinuate himself into the political arena, and is ultimately forced to choose between devotion to his homeland and a newfound respect for the Japanese culture. . . One of the best things about a quality mini-series is quite simply that of sheer volume; if you're having a great time with the first hour of Shogun, lucky you! There's over eight more hours to enjoy! And you'll have to search far and wide to find a made-for-television production that boasts this sort of quality. The costumes, the set designs, the majestic Maurice Jarre score, and the obvious respect for even the smallest cultural detail of 17th century Japan combine to create an entirely engrossing, not to mention lengthy, tale. That the viewer is not even offered subtitles when the Japanese characters speak is an indication of the respect the filmmakers have for their audience; those who are paying attention simply won't need the subtitles in order to follow the drama. With his performances in Shogun, The Thorn Birds (1983), and a handful of other (less celebrated) mini-series, Richard Chamberlain became known as the king of multi-chapter TV dramas, and his work here represents some of the finest of Chamberlain's career. And of course you can expect nothing but a truly regal presence when you have Toshiro Mifune as your intensely noble feudal warlord.  - Scott Weinberg


         

 

PopMatters.com:

Shogun is based on James Clavell’s best-selling novel of the same name which draws on the story of William Adams, an English pilot working on a Dutch merchant ship which reached Japan in 1600. The principal character is John Blackthorne, modeled loosely on Adams and played by the king of the mini-series himself, Richard Chamberlain. Blackthorn is the first English person to arrive in Japan and must find a way to survive in a culture which considers him to be a barbarian (not a surprising judgment, given contemporary European habits such as eating with one’s hands and rarely bathing). He must also deal with the already-established Portuguese traders and missionaries who regard him with suspicion not only because of his Protestant religion, but also because his presence threatens their cozy and profitable relationship with the Japanese.


         

 

Everything about Shogun is big and impressive, from its running time (nine hours) to the large cast, superb location shooting, and obvious care taken with the sets and costumes (the castle sets were constructed using traditional peg and groove methods; every kimono was unique). The story is set in a crucial period in Japanese history as nearly 150 years of civil unrest were about to come to an end with the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. The narrative in Shogun is straightforward and easy to follow despite [I would say “because” - LN] the rather impressive decision to leave the Japanese dialogue unsubtitled. Someone must have had a crisis of courage along the way, however, because the dramatic action is supplemented by narration (sonorously voiced by Orson Welles). The narration is fine when it conveys historical information (“That year, at dawn on the 21st day of the 10th month, the month without gods, the main armies clashed.”) but becomes annoying and intrusive when it tells us what characters are thinking and feeling (“In her heart, Mariko felt unworthy of such a beautiful ceremony.”)


         

 

Despite being filmed entirely in Japan and featuring an impressive cast of Japanese actors (among them Toshiro Mifune, Yoko Shimada, and Furanki Sakai [Frankie Sakai - LN]) Shōgun is concerned primarily with Blackthorne’s story while the distinguished Japanese cast is reduced to being supporting players in the heroic tale of a white guy making good in a foreign land. . . [and] while the Japanese characters behave as if they were living in the period of the story, Blackthorne appears to have popped out of a time machine, because his values are more typical of the late-20th century than the early-17th. . . [clearly] the character was imbued with values consonant with those of late-20th-century Americans because heroes are more appealing if they hold values similar to one’s own, however illogical such an arrangement may be from a historical point of view. - Sarah Boslaugh


         

 

LensView

The Series: 9

!980 - The year I bought my first VCR - a Sony Betamax. I wanted it expressly to record this series, which for reasons I have since forgot, imagined would be a keeper. And so it was, allowing me to watch the entire series again about the time that it went into syndication, which loped off a couple hours of program and substituted Jane Alexander for Orson Welles as Narrator. Eventually, my copy became unwatchable - not from overplay, as it happened, but from underuse. Much the same fate awaited more titles in my library than I care to admit. It was not 2003 that Paramount brought out a proper DVD of the original broadcast plus some pretty good bonus features, all of which are on this Blu-ray edition as well, though, sadly, not upgraded to HD in any way. The DVD image was good and the sound quality passable, no worse than I remembered my Beta copy to be, but the new Blu-ray, while apparently struck from the same source as the DVD, betters it in small ways which, accumulatively, make for a more satisfying viewing experience.


         

 

There was a curious gap in my television watching history: I was present during its earliest years, but absent all through college and beyond, from 1960-1972. I mention this because I didn’t really know from Richard Chamberlain all that much. I never watched Dr. Kildare. Still haven’t, and not likely to. He always struck me as trying too hard to impress. Still, he had a certain charisma, a kind of commanding presence despite his relatively light frame and his reliance on intensity. Even though television viewers may have known Chamberlain largely from his work in that medium, he did appear in films. I deliberately gave Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers a pass - I can’t recall why exactly, since Russell’s Women in Love was seriously engaging, and his next film, The Devils, was a knockout. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Chamberlain as the villain in The Towering Inferno, about which movie I can never quite get over Robert Vaughan’s leaping through the window to grab Chamberlain as he tries to make good his escape - What was he thinking!

 

There were a couple of other swashbucklers previous to Shōgun. One of which, Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers, in which Chamberlain plays the effete poet/lover/cleric Aramis, must have persuaded me to expect an interesting performance in Shōgun. Not having read the book, and knowing Japanese actors primarily through Toho films, especially the always impressive Toshiro Mifune, what I was not prepared for was Yôko Shimada. Totally unknown to me prior to Shōgun, Shimada absolutely swept me off my feet, as she did Blackthorne, with her directness, grace, innocence and oriental beauty.


         

 

Shimada first appears at Toranaga’s bidding from a hidden door of sorts, gliding past Mifune to rest just alongside and behind him. A simple move, but one that relays to us, however subliminally, the relationship her character has to Toranaga and to Blackthorne, something that the Englishman never quite comes to terms with - until it is too late. This is perhaps the most carefully prepared scene in the drama, one that director Jerry London lingers on at length to allow the dynamics, however subtly portrayed, to sink in for his audience. It comes near the end of the second hour where Blackthorne is finally presented to Toronaga following a series of interactions with local island leaders, incarcerations and transports to various locations. Unlike the village where Blackthorne first awakens to his local hosts, Toronaga’s castle is an exalted piece of work, both in terms of sheer elegance and mystery. Blackthorne has been until now utterly dependent on intermediaries of the “enemy” - he, English, Anglican; they, Portuguese , Catholic, Jesuit.


         

 

Father Martin Alvito (Damien Thomas) sits about halfway between Toronaga and Blackthorne and well off and to the side, permitting a clear view by all the participants. Father Alvito proposes himself as translator, but Blackthorne insists that he does not trust him to act for him. As if by magic, at the mere ring  small bell, Toronaga produces Lady Toda Mariko (Shimada), whom Blackthorne accepts as translator, not only because he sees no reason not to but because he is blinded by her presence. He is also blinded to the fact of what she is doing at this moment, which is to whisper her translation of Blackthorne’s words into Toronaga’s ear, a fact that Blackthorne accepts as mere formality. However, it is much more than that. Not that she is distorting his meaning but that Blackthorne sees her as apart from Toronaga and in relation to himself when the reverse is more the case.


         

 

What Blackthorne fails to see is that Toronaga anticipated the Englishman’s mistrust of Alvito, a man who presents himself to Blackthorne as having Toronaga’s confidence, and had Lady Mariko waiting for just this reason. Mariko, in her way, is just as strategically important to Toronaga as Alvito has been, and Blackthorne will become. Toronaga is fully aware of her story, her pain and her loyalty, all of which glides past Blackthorne with her very entrance on the stage, just as the sliding doors move in every home and castle.


Reviewers are often quick to point out that the Japanese characters who do not speak English (almost all of them in this case) are not subtitled so as to further “our” identification with Blackthorne’s plight. For our part, we have endured the stranded seaman’s various humiliations, mutually incurred insults, threats of death to himself and his surviving crew. We - meaning: the English speaking audience - identify with him and, once he gets past his initial posturing just this side of fanatical fervor, he sees in Lady Mariko a respite and oasis from his journey. It must be seductive and unnerving in equal measure that she does not lower her gaze in feigned embarrassment as other women commonly do - or did, even Europeans, I assume - unless they have designs. Naturally, he falls in love with this oasis or should I say: mirage, with consequences predictable to a Japanese audience, but not to us. . . which leads us to the most intriguing and most profound aspect of this drama: translation.


         

 

From the moment he awakens to the “Japans” Blackthorne is thrust into a situation not unlike that of a person who suddenly loses their sight. He depends on others to find his way, even to survive – add to this the responsibility he feels for his crew – yet he trusts no one. As the worst possible luck would have it, the very first person he comes across that speaks English and Japanese is a Jesuit priest who sees Blackthorne as mongoose to his cobra, or vice-versa, depending on who has the upper hand – nearly always the priest. There is a moment a little later on that ripples throughout the story in which Blackthorne becomes aware of, and gives expression to, his dis-ease by demanding that his translator makes clear to his captives that he does not trust him to translate for him. Blackthorne’s predicament seems unresolvable – yet he cannot simply tolerate the crisis. You would think the matter could be resolved rationally, but the concept of “natural enemies” seems ordained from Genesis, as resonances in this story with Biblical and present day Middle East are enough to make you cry. We, the audience, must ask ourselves at this point and at countless times throughout the drama, what we would do and say in a similar position.


         

 

Just as writers Clavell & Bercovici and director London invite the audience to learn something of seventeenth century Japanese language and culture, Toronaga wants the same of Blackthorne to the extent this is possible and permitted. Toronaga instructs Mariko to be the Englishman’s teacher and for a considerable part of the story they have interchanges of unusual lyricism that are nothing short than the language of love, all the more tender because of its contrast to Blackthorne’s previous interactions on this island, save the Portuguese pilot, Rodriguez.  (I refer here to those many instances where she translates for him, not to his simpering expressions of infatuation and undying  love, with its “thees” and “thous”, appropriate enough on the page, but which, frankly, Chamberlain sounds a little preposterous speaking.) As the Englishman becomes more fluent he comes to an interesting crossroads: whether or not to revert to his former style of personal power politics. In the beginning we see Blackthorne as a man who places his pride - of self, of country, of religion - above all else, even the safety of his crew. As he falls in love with Mariko, as with all men in such a state, his pride gives way to adoration – both slippery and dangerous slopes – and as he becomes fluent in her language he deceives himself that his understanding of her is equal to his command of the language. Because he wants what he wants, he feels she will comply with his desires, an illusion that men have of women so basic and primal that only tragedy can result, a misapprehension familiar to us all.


         

  

Image: 8

I expect there will be those who will come down on this Blu-ray for not being HD full frame - i.e., 1.78:1 - but despite being shot on 35 mm film and, as I recall, matted for potential theatrical presentation, what we have here is the aspect ratio as we saw it 1980, except that the film has been rescanned for high-definition viewing. Paramount’s DVD edition was already very decently color corrected with good contrast control and noise spec’s.  I would have said there was nothing about that image, unlike its lackluster audio mix, that cried out for renewal on standard definition terms. All the same, the new hi-definition transfer is improved, if not by leaps and bounds. Despite its softness, the image suggests the motion picture film from which it was struck and, as such, must look more impressive than on its original outing on television over thirty years ago.


          DVD

         

          Bluray

         

 

Density and resolution is very good, with facial textures and fabrics like the shoulder roll on Blackthorne vest and the fine silk of a kimono or the metallic ornamentation of the Japanese headgear, come through wonderfully – not so much that they bring attention to themselves, but that they offer a tangible reality merely suggested by the DVD.  Color is of a similar palette as the DVD but a bit less murky and a skosh brighter and deeper. Contrast, especially in outdoor scenes where there are light values across a wide spectrum, are just about perfect, showing off what well composed and properly lit 35 mm photography can do. There are no transfer anomalies or enhancements to get in the way. Noise is pretty much non-existent and the picture looks wonderful projected in motion and standing still onto a large screen. There are several brief patches of bewildering mushiness and the occasional source damage (see top of the frame below) that we wouldn’t have expected to be repaired. I observed that the difference between DVD and Blu-ray is seen to better advantage projected with my JVC RS-57, which likely benefits from some extra judicious processing, than my iMac display, which only slightly exceeds HD spec.


          Note damage across upper frame

         


Audio & Music: 8/8

Happy that the producers of this Blu-ray included an optional “restored” original mono track. Not so happily, they didn’t have the good sense to make it uncompressed (What’s up that, anyway!) I could go on and on about how manifestly stupid it is to go to all the trouble of restoring the original soundtrack and then offer it in a substandard  audio file, but three whacks in two sentences, plus taking off a point on the score should suffice. Anyhow, few people really care. Given the choice and default to the surround track, few would even bother to see what mere mono has to say for itself.

 

That said, switching between the uncompressed surround and restored mono tracks is an interesting, if frustrating, exercise.  The DVD also had a 5.1 mix, but in a compressed format. It lacked focus and dynamics that many were quick to blame on its age and the fact that the series was made only for TV. Well, on the evidence of the new DTS-HD MA mix, we can safely put that assumption to rest. Right from the opening titles and on through the storm and all the succeeding scenes, the new mix has huevos, dramatic impact, and improved clarity of dialogue. The music score especially, with its Japanese instrumental accents, comes through like a slicing sword. We could not have suspected that any of this was hidden away by listening to the DVD. The surprise is that the restored mono (which was also an option on the DVD, but sounding more authoritative here for some reason), despite its being tired old Dolby Digital, is almost as good as the new surround mix, and, in some subtle ways, better.


        DVD

       

        Bluray

       

 

As good as the 5.1 mix is, there are drawbacks to assigning surround channels when you don’t have access to individual tracks prior to the final theatrical mix, which, given the relative lack of finesse for various subtle atmospheric effects, such as the gentle lapping of waves at the shore or a gentle breeze through the trees, I suspect is the case for Shōgun.  This is hardly a major flaw, even in this surround mix, which really comes into play only subtly for musical swells and some storms and the like. This is by no means a modern audio design, though it is far better than average for its time and venue. The music, effects and dialogue on the mono are so good that it begs for an uncompressed format - in which case it would almost certainly be considered the preferred mix. Compare the lightning cracks in the prologue, and note how naturally voices come off, as compared to the airiness heard in the surround. As it is, the surround is just fine and does offer some (as most reviewers would say) “much needed” space.

 

Extras: 7

In addition to Jerry London’s scene-specific audio commentary - altogether too few and brief - CBS ports over the two major bonus features from their DVD set and the director’s isolated commentaries for selected scenes, like so:

Disc One: The Making of Shōgun (alas, in SD) (79:20 min), along with Part 1 of Shōgun.

Disc Two: Historical Perspective Featurettes (SD) (15:00 min.), with Part 2 of Shōgun.

Disc Three: Separate Commentaries  by Director Jerry London on Select Scenes (SD), and the finale, Part 3 of Shōgun.



         


Recommendation: 8

Not to put too fine a point on it, Shōgun is exceptional  drama. Its story is of universal appeal: there is romance, adventure, war, pageantry, mystery, stunning costumes of original design, and, defying the odds, there are profound psychological and cultural insights in abundance thanks to a brilliantly contrived script by Eric Bercovici. Bercovici, by the way, previously and since did considerable work in television as writer and/or producer for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Washington Behind Closed Doors and McClaine’s Law, among others.  It may be more than a coincidence that while filming Shōgun he met and married Chiho Adachi, who acted as consultant and interpreter for that production.

 

The performances by the entire cast are quite good - stimulating and, at times excellent, especially the Japanese, and, thanks to Jerry London’s fine direction (among other credits, he directed the excellent (and still absent on plastic home theater media) 1983 miniseries Chiefs, there is a sense that they are all on the same page in terms of emotional pitch, which is to say: just short of hysterical, making the appearance of Yôko Shimada ‘s Mariko that much more an effective dramatic contrast. I should also give special mention to Damien Thomas, an actor whose work is otherwise unfamiliar to me, as Father Martin Alvito, by some measure the most intriguing English-speaking character in the drama. Richard Chamberlain as the protagonist Pilot-Major John Blackthorne does mostly fine work here as a man whose neck we want to wring for most of the first hour and whenever he lets his hubris get the better of him, but who gradually lets his character get into his “part” so to speak, and we, in turn, his. The photography and attention to period detail is astonishing for its time and venue, and was influential in raising the bar for television series in these areas.


         

 

The transferred image and audio are very good, save only that the original mono, though restored, is presented in a compressed format. We do regret that none of the bonus features have been upgraded to HD, especially since there is so much interesting and valuable material there. The entire series is presented without a break, with the first three episodes on the first disc, and the remaining episodes spread discs two and three. There are convenient chapter stops but no episode demarcations as such.

 

 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

July 14, 2014



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