Shōgun (TV miniseries)

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Shogun titles.jpg
Shōgun titles
Directed by Jerry London
Produced by Eric Bercovici
Ben Chapman
James Clavell
Kerry Feltham
Written by James Clavell (novel)
Eric Bercovici
Starring Richard Chamberlain
Toshiro Mifune
Yoko Shimada
Damien Thomas
John Rhys-Davies
Music by Maurice Jarre
Richard Bowden (arranger)
Cinematography Andrew Laszlo
Edited by James T. Heckert
Bill Luciano
Donald R. Rode
Benjamin A. Weissman
Jerry S. Young
Distributed by Paramount Television
Release date(s)
  • 1980 (1980)
Running time 547 min.
125 minutes (theatrical version)
Country United States
Language English/Japanese

Shōgun is an American television miniseries based on the international bestselling novel of the same name by James Clavell, who also co-produced and wrote the miniseries. It was first broadcast over five nights, between September 15 and September 19, 1980, on NBC in the United States. To date, it is the only USA TV show/miniseries to be filmed entirely on location in Japan. Sound stage shots were also done in Japanese studios. The miniseries is based on the adventures of English navigator William Adams, who journeyed to medieval Japan and rose to high rank in the service of the Shōgun. The series follows Englishman John Blackthorne's experiences and political intrigues in Japan during the early 17th century.


Main article: Shōgun (novel)

After his ship, the Erasmus, is beached ashore by a strong storm along the Japanese east coast, Pilot-Major John Blackthorne is captured and taken prisoner by fierce samurai warriors; later, he must juggle his self-identity as an Englishman associated with other Europeans, namely Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests, with the alien Japanese culture into which he is thrust. Being an Englishman, Blackthorne is at odds with the Portuguese and the Catholic Church's Jesuits. The powerful Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne, a Protestant and therefore a heretic, at a disadvantage. But it also brings him to the attention of Lord Toranaga, an influential warlord who mistrusts this foreign religion, and who is also competing with other samurai of similar high-born stature for the powerful position of Shōgun.

Through an interpreter, Blackthrorne reveals certain surprising details about the Portuguese and their Jesuit overlords that forces the warlord to trust him; they forge a tenuous alliance. To help the Englishman learn their language and assimilate to Japan, Toranaga assigns a teacher and interpreter to him, the beautiful Lady Mariko. Blackthorne soon becomes infatuated with her, but Mariko is already married, and their budding romance is ultimately doomed by future circumstances. Blackthorne saves Toranaga's life during an Earthquake. To reward the Englishmen for saving his life, and to forever bind him to the warlord, Toronaga makes Blackthorne a samurai, awarding him the two swords, a title, and a small income-producing fief near the ocean. At the same time, Blackthorne's repaired and anchored ship Erasmus, under guard, is lost to a fire which quickly spread when the ships' lamps were knocked over by a storm tidal surge. During a later attack by Ninja on Osaka castle, paid for by Toronaga's enemies, Mariko is killed while saving Blackthorne, who's temporarily blinded by the explosion that killed her.

As Shogun concludes, Blackthorne is supervising the construction of a new ship,The Lady; it is being built with monies Mariko left to him for this very purpose, following her death. Blackthorne is observed from a distance by Lord Toranaga. A voice over reveals the warlord's inner thoughts: It was he who had the Erasmus destroyed by fire, not a tidal surge. And Toranaga will destroy the ship Blackthorne is currently building, and any others in the future he may attempt. He also discloses Mariko's vital but fateful role in his coming triumph over his enemies, and how she was destined to die gloriously and live forever by helping to assure that victory. The warlord is convinced that Blackthorne's karma brought him to Japan and that the Englishman, now his trusted retainer and samurai, is destined never to leave. Toranaga also knows it is his karma to be Shōgun.

In the epilogue to the miniseries, it is revealed that Toranaga is triumphant at the Battle of Sekigahara; he captures and executes his rival Lord Ishido, and takes 40,000 enemy heads, after which he fulfills his destiny becoming Shōgun.

Episode guide[edit]

Episode Original US Air Date Times Notes
01 15 September 1980 8 pm - 11 pm Eastern (3 hr opener)
02 16 September 1980 8 pm - 10 pm Eastern
03 17 September 1980 9 pm - 11 pm Eastern
04 18 September 1980 9 pm - 11 pm Eastern
05 19 September 1980 8 pm - 11 pm Eastern (3 hr finale)

It was also broadcast in repeats as six two-hour parts and sometimes edited for content (particularly the omission of the beheading and urinating scenes in episode 1).


As an effort to increase awareness and publicity for the series, weeks before the episodes aired on network television, a replica of the Erasmus was docked in New York City, while hired actors dressed up as samurai roamed the streets near the harbor to promote the TV show.[citation needed]

Theatrical release[edit]

A 125-minute edit of the miniseries was released to theatrical film markets in Europe in 1980. This version was also the first version of the miniseries to be released to the home video market in North America (a release of the full miniseries did not occur until later). The film version contains additional violence and nudity that had been removed from the NBC version.

DVD release[edit]

The DVD release has no episode breaks and is divided over 4 discs, with bonus features on disc 5.

  • DVD Release: September 30, 2003
  • Feature length: 547 minutes
  • Extras: 13-segment documentary on the making of Shōgun (79:24); Historical Featurettes - The Samurai (5:34), Tea Ceremony (4:35), and Geisha (4:56); audio commentary by Director Jerry London on 7 selected scenes[1]

Blu-ray release[edit]

Paramount Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Shōgun on three discs was on July 22, 2014, and featured a 1080p remastered video presentation, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix, and a restored Dolby Digital mono track; the special features are exactly the same as on the original 2003 DVD release.


Blackthorne and Mariko

The miniseries, with narration by Orson Welles, starred Richard Chamberlain as John Blackthorne (Anjin-san), Toshiro Mifune as Lord Toranaga, Yoko Shimada as Lady Toda Mariko, John Rhys-Davies in one of his first major roles as Portuguese Pilot Vasco Rodrigues, Vladek Sheybal as Captain Ferreira, and Michael Hordern as Friar Domingo.

Out of all the Japanese actors hired to be part of the cast, only three spoke English in the entire production: Mariko (Yoko Shimada), Brother Michael (Masumi Okada) and Urano (Takeshi Ôbayashi). At the time the miniseries was made, Shimada knew very little English, and relied on a dialogue coach to correctly deliver her lines phonetically.

Originally, according to the documentary The Making of Shōgun, featured on the North American DVD release, James Clavell wanted Sean Connery to play Blackthorne, but Connery balked at doing television. Other actors considered for the role included Roger Moore and Albert Finney.


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. Shogun, 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,[2] 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 home VCR was not yet ubiquitous.)

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".[3]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the series a critic rating of 80%.[4]

Sexuality and violence[edit]

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[5]).
  • In the first episode, Blackthorne's stranded shipmate is suspended in a cargo net and dunked, screaming, into boiling vat of soy sauce and water until Blackthorne acquiesces to the Japanese nobility.
  • A man is shown beheaded early in the first chapter, another first for network TV (although the film version of the sequence was more bloody).
  • 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).


  • 1981 Peabody Award
  • 1981 Golden Globe, won:
    • Best TV-Series - Drama
    • Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Drama: Richard Chamberlain
    • Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Drama: Yôko Shimada
  • 1981 nominated American Cinema Editors "Eddie" Award, Best Edited Episode from a Television Mini-Series(episode 1): James T. Heckert, Bill Luciano, Donald R. Rode, Benjamin A. Weissman, Jerry Young
  • 1981 Emmy, won:
    • Outstanding Limited Series: James Clavell (executive producer), Eric Bercovici (producer)
    • Outstanding Costume Design for a Series (episode 5): Shin Nishida
    • Outstanding Graphic Design and Title Sequences (episode 1): Phill Norman (graphic designer)
  • 1981 Emmy, nominated:
    • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special: Richard Chamberlain
    • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special: Toshiro Mifune
    • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special: Yôko Shimada
    • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special: John Rhys-Davies
    • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special: Yuki Meguro
    • Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing (episode 3): Stanley Paul (supervising sound editor), William Andrews (sound editor), Leonard Corso (sound editor), Denis Dutton (sound editor), Jack A. Finlay (sound editor), Robert Gutknecht (sound editor), Sean Hanley (sound editor), Pierre Jalbert (sound editor), Jack Keath (sound editor), Alan L. Nineberg (sound editor), Lee Osborne (sound editor), Tally Paulos (sound editor)
    • Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special (episode 5): Joseph R. Jennings (production designer), Yoshinobu Nishioka (art director), Tom Pedigo (set decorator), Shoichi Yasuda (set decorator)
    • Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or a Special (episode 4): Andrew Laszlo
    • Outstanding Directing in a Limited Series or a Special (episode 5): Jerry London
    • Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special (episode 5): Donald R. Rode, Benjamin A. Weissman, Jerry Young, Bill Luciano
    • Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special (episode 5): Eric Bercovici (writer)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ James Clavell’s Shōgun Retrieved 2009-08-15
  2. ^ Walters, Ray (1980-10-12). "Paperback Talk". New York Times. pp. A47. 
  3. ^ Whitesell, Paul (June 26, 1980). "Graphic scenes are reportedly intact in 'Shōgun' series for TV". Toledo Blade. 
  4. ^ Shogun (Complete Mini-Series) (1980) Retrieved 2009-08-15
  5. ^ Shōgun. Dir. Jerry London. Paramount Home Video, 1994. ISBN 6300218171.

External links[edit]