James Clavell’s Shogun Blu-ray Review

Sporting beautiful cover art, the classic television miniseries James Clavell’s Shogun has arrived on Blu-ray looking incredible and loaded with enough bonus features to make it truly worth the purchase price. The series does feel a tad dated on Blu-ray, but the costume design and sets still manage to capture the essence of Clavell’s novel and the time period.

Aired over five nights in September, 1980, on NBC, Shogun won three Golden Globes and three Emmys. The three-part miniseries, which was filmed on location in Japan, featured Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune, Yôko Shimada, Damien Thomas and John Rhys-Davies. It was directed by Jerry London with a screenplay adaption by Eric Bercovici and incredible music from Maurice Jarre and Richard Bowden. The series also featured some great camera work from cinematographer Andrew Laszlo.

Shogun remains impressive and comes loaded with bonus materials.
Shogun remains impressive and comes loaded with bonus materials.

Based during the 17th century, the film tells the adventure of English navigator (or pilot) John Blackthorne (Chamberlain) – who arrives in Japan following a storm which stranded his ship. Although he awakes to find himself safe, Blackthorne quickly learns the Japanese customs are greatly different than his own. He also has to contend with priests from the Catholic Church, who inform the Japanese Samurai that Blackthorne is a pirate based on the nationality of his ship in crew.
Thrown in a hole with his crew and tortured for their insolence, Blackthorne’s situation begins to improve as he becomes involved with Lord Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune) – who is on the path of becoming Shogun of Japan. Blackthorne also finds true love as he begins to adapt the Japanese lifestyle and starts his own part to become the first-ever Gai-Jin (foreigner) to be a made a Samurai.

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Shogun is a sweeping romance, but also has enough action to keep you hooked on the film. The story drags from time to time, but is so rich with detail that you don’t mind the extra time spent on all the character development and lesser plot points. Chamberlain is at the top of his game in the film, and makes Blackthorne the type of tough hero the audience just has to love. He is able to give the audience a character who they can take the journey with rather than simply watch as he goes from Gai-Jin to Samurai.

Along with Chamberlain, Shogun benefits from an incredible performance from Yôko Shimada as the beautiful Geisha/interpreter. If Chamberlain is the film’s bravado, Shimada is its heart. The actress is simply a beauty to watch and makes the romance elements feel truly believable. She also manages to make her character matter just as much as Blackthorne.

On Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds solid (if a tad dated), and the format is the best version of the miniseries to be released to date. The film is presented in 1080p with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Restored Mono (Dolby Digital), German Mono (Dolby Digital), French Mono (Dolby Digital), and Japanese Mono (Dolby Digital). The discs also include English SDH, French, German, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles.

The Blu-ray features close to two hours of bonus features that take viewers deep into both the making of the series and the history of the time period. These features are a great addition to the release, and give you a greater appreciation for the series and how much work was involved in bringing it to the screen.

The features cover everything from adapting the novel and art of the film to the casting and building of the sets (such as Blackthorne’s ship). The historical features cover the Samurai, a look at the Tea Ceremony and the role of the Geisha. The discs also feature commentary from London.

Shogun is one of the greatest miniseries ever released (along with Chamberlain’s other great series 1978’s Centennial), and is given Blu-ray release worthy of its legacy. The series has aged some, but still manages to hook the audience early on thanks to its incredible performances and beautiful locations.

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