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 novel of the same name by James Clavell. The miniseries was 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.


Main article: Shōgun (novel)

The story is based on the adventures of English navigator William Adams. The series follows Pilot John Blackthorne's experiences in Japan in the early 17th century. After his ship, the Erasmus, is wrecked along the coast of Japan, Blackthorne must juggle his identity as an Englishman associated with other Europeans, namely Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests, and the Japanese culture into which he is thrust. As an Englishman, Blackthorne is at odds with the Portuguese and the Jesuits. The powerful Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne—a Protestant—at a disadvantage, but it also brings him to the attention of Lord Toranaga. Already a powerful warlord, Toranaga competes with other samurai of similar stature to himself for the position of Shogun.

Blackthorne and the warlord forge a tenuous alliance. To help the Englishman assimilate, Toranaga assigns him an interpreter, the beautiful Lady Mariko. Blackthorne soon becomes infatuated with Mariko, but she is already married, and their romance is doomed. Ultimately, Mariko is killed while saving Blackthorne during an attack by Toranaga's enemies, and Blackthorne's ship under guard is lost (secretly) to arson. In the end, Toranaga prevails and earns the Shogunate.

Shogun concludes with Blackthorne supervising the construction of yet another new ship, determined to return home. He is observed by the soon-to-be triumphant Toranaga. A voiceover reveals the Shogun's thoughts—it was Toranaga who destroyed the Erasmus, as he will destroy the ship Blackthorne is now building, and any more he attempts to create, as well as disclosing Mariko's vital, but fateful, role in his triumph. The warlord is convinced that Blackthorne's karma brought him to Japan, and that he is destined never to leave.

In the conclusion of the miniseries, it is revealed that Toranaga is triumphant at the Battle of Sekigahara, captures and executes his rival Lord Ishido, and takes 40,000 enemy heads.

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. It 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 has announced a Blu-ray release of Shōgun for a July 22 release date. The Blu-ray will feature a 1080p remastered video presentation, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, and a restored Dolby Digital mono track; and the special features will be exactly the same as the 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]