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HomeTVThey Don't Make Epics Like 'Shogun' Anymore — Until They Do, Magnificently

They Don’t Make Epics Like ‘Shogun’ Anymore — Until They Do, Magnificently

Matt’s Rating:

A “relic from a bygone era”—that’s how Shogun’s hero, cunning Lord Yoshii Toranaga (the mesmerizing Hiroyuki Sanada), refers to the military title he insists he doesn’t covet. (We know better.)

FX’s majestic 10-part Shogun could also be seen as an emblem of another time, when maxi-sized miniseries (today’s “limited series”) were regular events, now a seemingly lost art like that of the star-driven variety show or the weekly Twilight Zone-style anthology. In 1980, the first time TV tackled James Clavell’s mammoth and hugely entertaining historical novel, with miniseries king Richard Chamberlain as the star, Shogun was rightly acclaimed as a peak achievement of the sprawling format.

This ambitious remake, told largely in Japanese with lucid subtitles, deserves its own shower of praise. Thrilling and fascinating in its depiction of an ancient, exotic and often forbidding culture, Shogun immerses us in the world of 1600s feudal Japan through the eyes of an outsider: English sea pilot John Blackthorne (the likably blustery Cosmo Jarvis), stranded in this strange land amid a tempest of political intrigue and deadly power plays.

Eita Okuno as Saeki Nobutatsu, Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko, Hiromoto Ida as Kiyama Ukon Sadanaga in Shogun

Katie Yu/FX

The difference being that this adaptation shifts its primary focus from the white “barbarian” to the so-called “godless savages” whose customs he struggles to understand, even as Toranaga takes the Anjin (pilot) under his wing as a strategic tool in his ongoing battle against his many devious rivals. Comparisons to Game of Thrones are inevitable, given the scope of the battle scenes on land and sea, the shocking betrayals and reversals, and the complexity and density of its labyrinthine narrative. (Perhaps needless to say, given the staggering number of characters and the ever-present subtitles, Shogun commands attention and is ill-suited for distracted viewing.)

Any dragons here are purely symbolic, of course. Which doesn’t mean the characters don’t take flight, a vivid tapestry of noble and ignoble warriors led by the seemingly outnumbered Toranaga, the jovially double-dealing Yabushige (scene-stealing Tadanobu Asano) and especially the lovely, conflicted Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai), a Catholic convert assigned as Blackthorne’s interpreter.

Torn between her new faith and her duty to Toranaga, skillfully threading the needle between old and new worlds while adhering to the samurai code that favors death before dishonor, Mariko embodies the strengths and contradictions of a country on the cusp of irreversible change. Blackthorne can’t take his eyes off her, and you won’t want to, either.

I never wanted to leave this world and its rewarding storytelling. Please, FX, never stop aiming this high. (Also, sincere thanks for making this available on both the linear and streaming platforms.)

Shogun, Series Premiere, Tuesday, February 27, 10/9c (two episodes), FX, streaming on Hulu

This story originally appeared on TV Insider

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