FX’s ‘Shōgun’ team discusses ‘dream East-meets-West’ collaboration at TCA

Epic historical drama awaits in FX’s Shōgun, an upcoming adaptation of James Clavell’s best-selling novel of the same name.

The limited series invites us into feudal Japan in the year 1600, where conflict within the Council of Regents threatens civil war. Elsewhere, a marooned Englishman arrives with news that could drastically impact Japan’s relationship with Portuguese merchants, creating a potential path for an English foothold in the country. Political machinations, conflicts of faith, and massive samurai battles ensue, making for a must-watch series.

What’s Shōgun about?

Anna Sawai in “Shōgun.”
Credit: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

Shōgun centers on the powerful Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada, also a producer), who must fight for his life as Japan’s Council of Regents — particularly his rival Lord Ishido Kazunari (Takehiro Hira) — turns against him. He’ll have to assemble a group of unlikely allies if he hopes to maintain any shred of power, including John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), a stranded English ship pilot, and Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), a translator whose Christian faith may test her commitment to Toranaga.

Although the characters and events in Shōgun are fictional, Clavell loosely based his novel on real-life events. Toranaga shares similarities with Tokugawa Ieyasu, the warlord who founded the centuries-long Tokugawa Shogunate. The character of Blackthorne is based on William Adams, the first Englishman to arrive in Japan.

FX’s Shōgun marks the second time Clavell’s novel has been adapted for television, the first being a 1980 miniseries that became a cultural phenomenon. For this new version, co-creators Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks sought to collaborate further with Japanese artists.

“I would say without a doubt that the hardest aspect, the thing that we grappled with from the very beginning up until the moment we delivered the last episode was, ‘How do we tell this story in a way that brings us closer to our Japanese partners?'” Marks said at the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour.

One approach to this question involved filming Shōgun mostly in Japanese, with English subtitles — a change from the 1980 version, which left the Japanese dialogue un-subtitled. Marks discussed how this subtitle choice would bring viewers closer to the show, instead of creating distance between non-Japanese-speaking viewers and the Japanese-speaking characters.

Hiroyuki Sanada leads Shōgun‘s star-studded cast.

Hiroyuki Sanada in “Shōgun.”
Credit: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

Shōgun stars a legend in Hiroyuki Sanada, whose vast filmography includes roles in Japanese and Hong Kong action films, as well as recent flicks like John Wick 4 and Bullet Train. Sanada is also a producer on Shōgun, where he strived to ensure authenticity in every aspect of the on-screen portrayal of 1600s Japan. At TCA, he spoke about hiring Japanese crew members, consultants, and artisans to craft costumes and props. “We had a dream East-meets-West team,” Sanada said.

Joining Sanada in the cast are Cosmo Jarvis (Persuasion) as John Blackthorne and Anna Sawai (Monarch: Legacy of Monsters) as Toda Mariko. Other stars include Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, an ally of Toranaga with a penchant for backstabbing; Hiroto Kanai as Kashigi Omi, the leader of a fishing village; Takehiro Hira as the calculating Lord Ishido Kazunari; Moeka Hoshi as Usami Fuji, a widow who has weathered incomparable tragedy; Tokuma Nishioka as Toda Hiromatsu, Toronaga’s trusted general; Shinnosuke Abe as Mariko’s husband Buntaro; Yuki Kura as Yoshii Nagakado, Toranaga’s brash son; Yuka Kouri as famed courtesan Kiku; and Fumi Nikaido as Ochiba no Kata, mother to the heir of Japan and enemy of Toranaga.

Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks co-created Shōgun, and serve as producers with Michaela Clavell, Eriko Miyagawa, Edward L. McDonnell, and Michael De Luca.

Shōgun premieres Feb. 27 on Hulu and FX.

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