Shogun: Disney+ TV Series Review

A dive into the history of feudal Japan and its contacts with the West.

Image Credit: Hulu/FX

Impressive streaming release for a product with a thousand faces which will be talked about. Shogun is a product that shows, right from the first trailers, the aspiration to be a great series, tidy and clean but without the real burst of originality that would instead have given an unequivocal stamp of quality that is sometimes missing during the episodes. Inspired by the novel of the same name published in 1975 and written by James Clavell, Shogun occupies a niche that is normally filled by low-grade films or very old cult products with nothing in between. The main problem? Too West.

Shogun, between myths and reality of the Rising Sun

We are roughly in the first half of the 16th century, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) is shipwrecked along with his small crew on the coast of Japan where he is captured by a feudal lord headed by Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), one of the most powerful daymo of the Rising Sun which finds itself in a very dangerous political position and which aspires to eliminate all its opponents. With particularly careful photography and a costume department of the highest quality, we find ourselves faced with evocative images, full of meaning. 

The care in the banners, in the typical houses, or in the customs themselves, in our crazy eyes, denotes great research behind the entire series and linearity with the original novel. The sore point of the story is held by the protagonist John: his rather simple interactions, acting, and writing create the conditions to highlight a contrast that is too evident. With an interpretation that in too many situations vaguely recalls that of Tom Hardy without ever, obviously, reaching those levels. 

It was certainly the intention of the producers to underline so explicitly the enormous differences that exist between the protagonist and the surrounding environment, but it must be recognized that the choice was not always right and that in general, it ruins the almost perfect linearity of the subject. The character of John Blackthorne is directly inspired by a real Englishman, William Adams who became a samurai in the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu, from whom he was clearly used for inspiration in the creation of Toranaga. The relationship between Lady Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai) and John was written on a large amount of tried and tested stereotypes and choices, making it rather banal and vicious without adding almost anything to the main story.

Image Credit: Hulu/FX

War of the Worlds

Very high potential, highlighted by the fact that when a Western production aims to describe the East two things can happen: either meager budgets and a worthless product, or enormous productions that aim to tell the "true East". In this case, Shogun leans towards the second solution. The problem is that in these cases there is almost always too much of the West. Love stories, intrigues, and writings that only have an "oriental" behavior on the surface, and then deep down are stories that we have already seen and read with Japanese actors, samurai, and some seppuku here and there. 

For this production in particular, elements of originality are missing, since for the rest of the production there is not much to say. A direction that is appreciated for being soft, but also resolute and firm, almost embracing the ceremonious behaviors of feudal Japan. Accompanied by an almost obsessive care in the writing and performances of almost the entire cast (with the obvious exception of Cosmo Jarvis). He wouldn't be surprised if the series was appreciated by the general public, which always leans towards this type of packaging. In fact, the series flows with great ease, is not boring, and always arouses that extra interest in finding out what will happen next. 

The dialogues are of particular interest thanks to the important role of the language that hovers throughout the series. However, a negative note must be added, even if it is purely specific: technically John Blackthorne should speak Portuguese all the time, and not English as happens instead, this is because the first to arrive in the Japanese archipelago where Portuguese, the Dutch and only in one second moment the English. To agree with this, it is said that Lady Mariko learns Portuguese from a Portuguese Catholic priest. In another line of dialogue, John Blackthorne meets a captain of a Portuguese ship who technically immediately recognizes John's foreign accent, but compliments him on his knowledge of the language. Of course, all this while the characters speak in English. In short, a bit confusing and slightly inexplicable.

Image Credit: Hulu/FX

Shogun: evaluation and conclusion

In conclusion: Shogun is an enjoyable series, that can be appreciated and which will certainly have great resonance. It's a shame that it's a product like many others and without a way of detaching it from the stories already told. However, we advise you to watch it with a light heart, without paying too much attention to the possible historical errors and fictionalized events that may not please everyone. However, if you have a friend who knows everything about Japan, be prepared to hear many lectures and to stop watching many times to hear this or that explanation as to why the series was completely wrong in describing a situation. Available on Disney+ from February 27, produced by DNA Films, Fx Productions, and Michael De Luca Productions.