Shōgun (1980 miniseries)

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Title card
GenreHistorical drama
Based onShōgun
by James Clavell
Written byEric Bercovici
Directed byJerry London
Music byMaurice Jarre
Country of originUnited States
Original languages
  • English
  • Japanese
No. of episodes5 (list of episodes)
Executive producerJames Clavell
ProducerEric Bercovici
CinematographyAndrew Laszlo
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time
  • 180 minutes (premiere/finale)
  • 120 minutes (episodes 2–4)
  • 159 minutes (theatrical version, Japan)
  • 125 minutes (theatrical version, Europe)
Production companyParamount Television
Budget$22 million[1]
($69 million in 2020)[1]
Original release
ReleaseSeptember 15 (1980-09-15) –
September 19, 1980 (1980-09-19)

Shōgun is a 1980 American historical drama television miniseries based on James Clavell's 1975 novel of the same name. The series was produced by Paramount Television and first broadcast in the United States on NBC over five nights between September 15 and September 19, 1980. It was written by Eric Bercovici and directed by Jerry London, and stars Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune, and Yoko Shimada, with a large supporting cast. Clavell served as executive producer. To date, it is the only American television production to be filmed on-location entirely in Japan,[citation needed] with additional soundstage filming also occurring in Japan at the Toho studio.

The miniseries is loosely based on the adventures of English navigator William Adams, who journeyed to Japan in 1600 and rose to high rank in the service of the shōgun. It follows fictional Englishman John Blackthorne's (Chamberlain) transforming experiences and political intrigues in feudal Japan in the early 17th century.

Shōgun received generally positive reviews from critics and won several accolades, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series, the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama, and a 1981 Peabody Award. A remake series was released by FX in 2024.[2]


After his Dutch trading ship Erasmus and its surviving crew is blown ashore by a violent storm at Anjiro on the east coast of Japan, Pilot-Major John Blackthorne, the ship's English navigator, is taken prisoner by samurai warriors. When he is later temporarily released, he must relinquish his English identity, while adapting to the alien Japanese culture in order to survive. Being an Englishman, Blackthorne is at both religious and political odds with his enemy, the Portuguese traders, and the Catholic Church's Jesuit order. The Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne, a Protestant and therefore a heretic, at a political disadvantage. This same situation, however, also brings him under the scrutiny of the influential Lord Toranaga, who mistrusts this foreign religion now spreading throughout Japan. He is competing with other samurai warlords of similar high-born rank, among them Catholic converts, for the very powerful position of shōgun, the military governor of Japan.

Through an interpreter, Blackthorne later reveals certain surprising details about the Portuguese traders and their Jesuit overlords. He explains to Lord Toranaga about the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas which was signed between Portugal and Spain in 1494, forcing Toranaga to trust him; they forge a tenuous alliance, much to the chagrin of the Jesuits. To help the Englishman learn their language and to assimilate to Japanese culture, Toranaga assigns a teacher and interpreter to him, the beautiful Lady Mariko, a Catholic convert and one of Toranaga's most trusted retainers. Blackthorne soon becomes infatuated with her, but Mariko is already married, and their budding romance is ultimately doomed by future circumstances. Blackthorne also ends up saving the life of a Portuguese counterpart, Pilot Vasco Rodrigues, who becomes his friend despite their being on opposite sides.

Blackthorne saves Toranaga's life by audaciously helping him escape from Osaka Castle and the clutches of his longtime enemy, Lord Ishido. To reward the Englishman, and to forever bind him to his service, Toranaga makes Blackthorne hatamoto, a personal retainer, and gifts him with a European flintlock pistol. Later, Blackthorne again saves Toranaga's life during an earthquake by pulling him from a fissure that opened and swallowed the warlord, nearly killing him. Having proved his worth and loyalty to the warlord, during a night ceremony held before a host of his assembled vassals and samurai, Lord Toranaga makes Blackthorne a samurai; he awards him the two swords, 20 kimono, 200 of his own samurai, and an income-producing fief, the fishing village Anjiro, where Blackthorne was first blown ashore with his ship and crew. Blackthorne's repaired ship Erasmus, under guard by Toranaga's samurai and anchored near Kyoto, is lost to a fire, which quickly spread when the ships' night lamps are knocked over by a storm tidal surge. During a later attack on Osaka Castle by the secretive Amida Tong (ninja assassins), secretly paid for by Lord Ishido, Mariko is killed while saving Blackthorne's life, who is temporarily blinded by the black powder explosion that kills her. Lord Yabu is forced to commit seppuku for his involvement with the ninja attack, into which he was coerced by Ishido. Right before he dies, Yabu gives Blackthorne his katana, and Yabu's nephew, Omi, becomes the daimyō of Izu.

Blackthorne supervises the construction of a new ship, The Lady, using funds Mariko left to him in her will for this very purpose. Blackthorne is observed at a distance by Lord Toranaga; in a voice-over he reveals his inner thoughts, observing that Blackthorne still has much to teach him. It was Toranaga who ordered the Erasmus destroyed by fire to keep Blackthorne safe from his Portuguese enemies, who feared his hostile actions with the ship (and, if need be, the warlord will also destroy the new ship Blackthorne is currently building). He also discloses Mariko's secret but vital role in the grand deception of his enemies, and, as a result, how she was destined to die, helping to assure his coming final victory. The warlord knows 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 become shōgun.

In a voice-over epilogue, it is revealed that Toranaga and his army are triumphant at the Battle of Sekigahara; he captures and then disgraces his old rival, Lord Ishido, burying him up to his neck to die slowly. The narrator concludes that when the Emperor of Japan offered Toranaga the position of shōgun, he "reluctantly agreed".


Performer Role
Richard Chamberlain Pilot-Major John Blackthorne "Anjin-san" (based on William Adams)
Toshiro Mifune Yoshi Toranaga, Lord of the Kanto Region
Yoko Shimada Lady Toda Buntaro "Mariko"
Frankie Sakai Lord Kashigi Yabu, Daimyo of Izu
Also starring
Alan Badel Father Dell'Aqua
Michael Hordern Friar Domingo
Damien Thomas Father Martin Alvito
John Rhys-Davies Vasco Rodrigues
Vladek Sheybal Captain Ferreira
George Innes Johann Vinck
Leon Lissek Father Sebastio
Yūki Meguro Kashigi Omi, Head Samurai of Anjiro
Hideo Takamatsu Lord Toda Buntaro
Hiromi Senno Usagi Fujiko
Nobuo Kaneko Ishido Kazunari, Ruler of Osaka Castle
Edward Peel Jan Pieterzoon
Eric Richard Maetsukker
Steve Ubels Roper
Stewart MacKenzie Croocq
John Carney Ginsel
Ian Jentle Salamon
Neil McCarthy Spillbergen
Morgan Sheppard Specz
Seiji Miyaguchi Muraji
Toru Abe Toda Hiromatsu
Mika Kitagawa Kiku
Shin Takuma Yoshi Naga
Hiroshi Hasegawa Galley Captain
Akira Sera Old Gardener
Hyoei Enoki Jirobei
Miiko Taka Kiri
Midori Takei Sono
Ai Matsubara Rako
Yumiko Morishita Asa
Rinichi Yamamoto Yoshinaka
Yuko Kada Sazuko
Masumi Okada Brother Michael
Yosuke Natsuki Zataki
Takeshi Obayashi Urano
Yoshie Kitsuda Gyoko
Masashi Ebara Suga
Setsuko Sekine Genjiko
Atsuko Sano Lady Ochiba
Orson Welles Narrator

Only three of the Japanese actors spoke English in the entire production: Shimada, Obayashi, and Okada. At the time of filming, Shimada knew very little English, and heavily relied on her dialogue coach to deliver her lines phonetically. The English words that she could not pronounce were substituted or overdubbed in post-production.


Episode Original US air date Times Notes Household
01 15 September 1980 8 pm – 11 pm Eastern (3 hr opener) 29.5 23.0
02 16 September 1980 8 pm – 10 pm Eastern 31.7 24.7
03 17 September 1980 9 pm – 11 pm Eastern 36.9 28.7
04 18 September 1980 9 pm – 11 pm Eastern 35.6 27.7
05 19 September 1980 8 pm – 11 pm Eastern (3 hr finale) 31.5 24.5


Clavell and NBC wanted Sean Connery to play Blackthorne, but Connery reportedly laughed at the idea of working for months in Japan, as he had disliked filming You Only Live Twice there.[4] According to the documentary The Making of Shōgun, other actors considered for the role included Roger Moore and Albert Finney.

Clavell said he was originally opposed to Richard Chamberlain's casting, wanting Albert Finney. However he was extremely happy with Chamberlain's performance: "He's marvelous", said Clavell.[5]

The 16th-century European sailing ship used in the series was Golden Hinde, a replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind. It was built in the early 1970s to mark the 400th anniversary of Drake's circumnavigation. After it underwent a restoration programme, the ship remains as an exhibit located at St Mary Overie Dock, Cathedral Street, London, SE1 9DE, United Kingdom.[6]

Shots of Toranaga's castle used Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture.


Shōgun was produced after the success of the television miniseries Roots (1977) that had aired on the ABC Network in 1977. The success of Roots, as well as Jesus of Nazareth (1977), resulted in many other miniseries during the 1980s. Shōgun, which first 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.

NBC had the highest weekly Nielsen ratings in its history with Shōgun. Its 26.3 average rating was the second highest in television history after ABC's with Roots. An average of 32.9% of all television households watched at least part of the series.[7] The miniseries' success was credited with causing the mass-market paperback edition of Clavell's novel to become the best-selling paperback in the United States, with 2.1 million copies in print during 1980,[8] 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 and still expensive in 1980.)

The Japanese characters speak in Japanese throughout, except when translating for Blackthorne; the original broadcast did not use subtitles for the Japanese dialog. As the movie was presented from Blackthorne's point of view, the producers felt that "what he doesn't understand, we [shouldn't] understand".[9]

Sexuality and violence[edit]

Shōgun broke several broadcast taboos and contained several firsts for American television.

  • 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 Kasigi Omi, a local leading samurai.[10]
  • In the first episode, Blackthorne's stranded shipmates are to be suspended in a cargo net into a boiling vat of soy sauce and water; one of them, Pieterzoon, is killed that way 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).
  • Men are shown wearing fundoshi.
  • Mariko is shown naked in a bath scene, and when Blackthorne is reunited with his men, a woman's breast is visible.
  • Shōgun was also noted for its frank discussion of sexuality (e.g., pederasty), and matters such as Japanese ritual suicide (seppuku).

Reception in Japan[edit]

The miniseries was reported to have been negatively received in Japan, where it was broadcast in 1981 on TV Asahi, as the series' fictionalization of events in the 16th century seemed frivolous and trivial.[11] Many Japanese viewers were already accustomed to historical drama series such as NHK's annual taiga dramas, which were considered more faithful towards the history they are depicting than the miniseries.[11]

Theatrical release[edit]

In Japan, Shōgun was cut to a 159-minute version and released theatrically on November 9, 1980.[12] Stuart Galbraith IV described this version of the film as "fatally cut to ribbons".[12][13] It was later restored to its full length for a home video release in Japan.[12][13]

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

DVD release[edit]

The five-disc DVD release has no episode breaks and 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[14]

The 125-minute version has yet to be released on DVD or Blu-ray.

Blu-ray release[edit]

CBS 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.

Syndicated version[edit]

A version of the miniseries edited into one-hour episodes has been broadcast in North America.


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Peabody Awards NBC and Paramount Television Won [15]
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Episode from a Television Mini-Series James T. Heckert, Bill Luciano, Donald R. Rode,
Benjamin A. Weissman, and Jerry Young (for "Episode 1")
Nominated [16]
Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series – Drama Won [17]
Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama Richard Chamberlain Won
Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama Yoko Shimada Won
People's Choice Awards Favorite TV Mini-Series Won [18]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series James Clavell and Eric Bercovici Won [19]
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Richard Chamberlain Nominated
Toshirô Mifune Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Yoko Shimada Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Yūki Meguro Nominated
John Rhys-Davies Nominated
Outstanding Directing in a Limited Series or a Special Jerry London (for "Episode 5") Nominated
Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special Eric Bercovici (for "Episode 5") Nominated
Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special Joseph R. Jennings, Yoshinobu Nishioka,
Tom Pedigo, and Shoichi Yasuda (for "Episode 5")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or a Special Andrew Laszlo (for "Episode 4") Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Series Shin Nishida (for "Episode 5") Won
Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special Donald R. Rode, Benjamin A. Weissman,
Jerry Young, and Bill Luciano (for "Episode 5")
Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing Stanley Paul, William M. Andrews, Leonard Corso,
Denis Dutton, Jack A. Finlay, Robert Gutknecht,
Sean Hanley, Pierre Jalbert, Jack Keath, Alan L. Nineberg,
Lee Osborne, and Tally Paulos (for "Episode 3")
Outstanding Graphic Design and Title Sequences Phill Norman (for "Episode 1") Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Hollywood Flashback: One in Three TV Sets Tuned In to 'Shogun' in 1980". The Hollywood Reporter. June 24, 2020. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  2. ^ "FX Shogun | on Hulu and FX".
  3. ^ a b "The Nielsen ratings". The Southeast Missourian. September 26, 1980. p. 14. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  4. ^ Mavis, Paul (2011-03-14). "Shogun – 30th Anniversary Edition". DVDTalk. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  5. ^ "CLAVELL: CHEERS FOR CHAMBERLAIN'S CRAFT: CHAMBERLAIN". Los Angeles Times. Feb 12, 1980. p. g1.
  6. ^ Stabler, Simon (June 2023). "The Gold Standard". Best of British. p. 52. Archived from the original on 2024-01-05. Retrieved 2024-01-04.
  7. ^ "'Shogun' Tops Nielsens". Cornell Daily Sun. Associated Press. 1980-09-24. p. 17. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  8. ^ Walters, Ray (1980-10-12). "Paperback Talk". New York Times. pp. A47.
  9. ^ Whitesell, Paul (June 26, 1980). "Graphic scenes are reportedly intact in 'Shōgun' series for TV". Toledo Blade.
  10. ^ Shōgun. Dir. Jerry London. Paramount Home Video, 1994. OCLC 53026518 ISBN 978-0-7921-9332-6 (2003).
  11. ^ a b Clements, Jonathan; Tamamuro, Motoko (2003). "Introduction". The Dorama Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. p. xxiv. ISBN 1-880656-81-7. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  12. ^ a b c Galbraith IV 2008, p. 324.
  13. ^ a b Galbraith IV 2008, p. 325.
  14. ^ James Clavell's Shōgun Retrieved 2009-08-15
  15. ^ "Shōgun". Peabody Awards. Retrieved October 15, 2023.
  16. ^ "Nominees/Winners". IMDb. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  17. ^ "Shōgun". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved October 15, 2023.
  18. ^ "1981 Nominees & Winners". People's Choice Awards. Archived from the original on Apr 5, 2016.
  19. ^ "Shōgun". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved October 15, 2023.


External links[edit]