Shōgun (miniseries)


Shōgun titles
Directed by Jerry London
Produced by Eric Bercovici
Ben Chapman
James Clavell
Kerry Feltham
Screenplay by Eric Bercovici
Story by James Clavell
Based on Shōgun (1975) by James Clavell
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 dates
  • 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 1975 novel of the same name by James Clavell, who also was the executive producer of the miniseries. It was first broadcast in the United States on NBC over five nights between September 15 and September 19, 1980. To date, it is the only American television production to be filmed on location entirely in Japan, with additional sound stage filming also taking place 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. The miniseries follows fictional Englishman John Blackthorne's transforming experiences and political intrigues in feudal Japan in the early 17th century.


Main article: Shōgun (novel)

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 juggle his self-identity as an Englishman associated with other Europeans in Japan, namely Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests, with the alien Japanese culture into which he has been thrust and now must adapt to in order to survive. Being an Englishman, Blackthorne is at both religious and political odds with his enemy, the Portuguese, and the Catholic Church's Jesuit order. The Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne, a Protestant and therefore a heretic, at a political disadvantage. But this same situation also brings him to the attention of the influential Lord Toranaga, who mistrusts this foreign religion now spreading in 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 which forces 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 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 for saving his life, and to forever bind him to the warlord, 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 kimonos, 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 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 his lover.

Blackthorne supervises the construction of a new ship, The Lady, with funds Mariko left to him in her will for this very purpose. Blackthorne is observed at a distance by Lord Toranaga; a voice over reveals the warlord's inner thoughts: It was he who ordered the Erasmus destroyed by fire, not from a tidal surge, in order to keep Blackthorne safe from his Portuguese enemies who feared his actions with the ship; Blackthorne still has much to teach Toranaga. And, if need be, the warlord will destroy the 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 gloriously in Osaka Castle and live forever, 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 an 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, and takes 40,000 enemy heads, after which he then fulfills his destiny by becoming Shōgun.

Episode guide

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

Theatrical release

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

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

Blu-ray release

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.


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. English words that she could not pronounce were substituted or overdubbed in post-production.

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.[3] According to the documentary The Making of Shōgun, other actors considered for the role included Roger Moore and Albert Finney.


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.[4] 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,[5] 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".[6]

The website Rotten Tomatoes gives the series an aggregate critic rating of 80%.[7]

Sexuality and violence

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


See also


  1. 1 2 "The Nielsen ratings". The Southeast Missourian pg. 14. September 26, 1980. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  2. James Clavell’s Shōgun Retrieved 2009-08-15
  3. Mavis, Paul (2011-03-14). "Shogun - 30th Anniversary Edition". DVDTalk. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  4. "'Shogun' Tops Nielsens". Cornell Daily Sun. Associated Press. 1980-09-24. p. 17. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  5. Walters, Ray (1980-10-12). "Paperback Talk". New York Times. pp. A47.
  6. Whitesell, Paul (June 26, 1980). "Graphic scenes are reportedly intact in 'Shōgun' series for TV". Toledo Blade.
  7. Shogun (Complete Mini-Series) (1980) Retrieved 2009-08-15
  8. Shōgun. Dir. Jerry London. Paramount Home Video, 1994. OCLC 53026518 ISBN 978-0-7921-9332-6 (2003).
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