Shogun is better than the classic original – here's how the creators pulled it off

Once upon a time, Shogun was a cultural phenomenon.

In 1980, James Clavell’s bestselling novel, which sold 15 million copies, was adapted into a television event that few have matched. Nearly a third of American households tuned in to watch an unforgettable fiction unfold in feudal Japan.

While this year’s big-budget remake may never reach that level of popularity, it is one of the few series released in the past several years that feels worthy of that honour.

The 10-episode mini-series was declared the most immersive epic since Game of Thrones by dozens of rave reviews before its premiere on Disney+ on Wednesday. It also improves greatly on the original – and addresses the many criticisms levied against it, particularly by the Japanese.

For a show this consistently brilliant, we have husband and wife co-creators Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo to thank. But was this the result of a meticulously laid-out plan? Far from it.

“It was chaos,” Kondo admits to The National.

shogun is better than the classic original – here's how the creators pulled it off

Hiroyuki Sanada plays the 16th-century feudal leader Yoshii Toranaga in the series. Photo: FX

She adds: “In hindsight, it’s like: ‘Look how clever you guys are for building this machine!’ But no, we built the mechanism through which we told the story as we were telling the story. We would make mistakes, acknowledge them and correct them over and over again.”

Or, as her husband puts it: “We were still building the car as we drove it – no, as we were learning to drive it!”

The thing is, they wouldn’t trade that chaos for anything. In many ways, that’s exactly how Shogun became such a resounding success.

It begins in 16th century Osaka; their leader has died, with no heir old enough to replace him. The local governors are now jockeying for power – which puts a target on the back of the charismatic and wily Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada).

Meanwhile, a British navigator named John Blackthrone has crash-landed nearby, much to the ire of the resident European merchants, who fear he may expose their secret treachery against their supposed allies the Japanese.

shogun is better than the classic original – here's how the creators pulled it off

Cosmo Jarvis plays John Blackthorne. Photo: FX

The only way for the two to survive is to join forces against their powerful enemies.

The show was supposed to be filmed, like the original, in Japan. But then the pandemic happened and everything changed. Marks and Kondo had to instead build their car in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and make it feel as Japanese as possible.

“The pandemic happened about three weeks after we got out of the writers’ room, and then we spent about a year and a half sitting on our hands, trying to figure out a plan for how we could execute this,” says Marks.

“Fortunately, in that time, I think it gave us a lot of opportunity for some navel-gazing.”

Firstly, they started interrogating their story and thinking about the many criticisms levied the first go-around. Secondly, the story would no longer focus primarily on Blackthrone’s perspective. The Japanese characters were now just as integral, and they prioritised cultural authenticity above all else – even beyond what the original text offered.

“We really started focusing on cultural nuance,” Marks adds. “We turned the pages again and again, speaking with our Japanese producers, Japanese cultural advisers, language advisers and historical advisers to really even beyond where the book was towards a place of greater authenticity.”

In Mark’s view, however, this was not as flawed a narrative as some had claimed. This was about enriching the material, not rejecting it.

shogun is better than the classic original – here's how the creators pulled it off

Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige. Photo: FX

“When we dug deeper into the book, it was pretty amazing for both of us to see just how far ahead of his time Clavell was,” Marks explains.

“He was very focused on this idea of how do we encounter other cultures? And how do we encounter ourselves in these other cultures? I don’t think it’s a white saviour narrative. Rather, it’s an interesting counterpoint to that narrative.”

He adds: “Everything that happens may have happened regardless of whether Blackstone landed there in the first place. The journey for him is really towards acceptance and towards surrender to all he can’t control, which we think is a pretty modern message to today.”

Kondo agrees, adding: “We were asking the same questions that Clavell was, but in our case, we were trying to ask those questions from the filter of today, with modern experiences in mind.”

And since they could not bring themselves to Japan to bring that message to life, Japan came to them – that they made sure of.

shogun is better than the classic original – here's how the creators pulled it off

Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga, centre, in a scene from Shogun. Photo: FX

“Everyone had devoted their careers to Japan, including the art department, hair, make-up, wardrobe,” says Marks.

“Then every day we would find some other place we were lacking, and then find someone else who was an expert on that thing and fly them over. It was all done on the basis of intuition and accepting what we didn’t know.”

The shoot itself was difficult – going on for months longer than the original plan – but they would not have traded the unwieldy weather of the wilderness for anything.

Marks adds: “It was a rough winter, but that was everything we asked for. It was this beautiful, untouched landscape, and we leaned into that. In fact, on the days it wasn’t raining, we brought in the rain, because we had to maintain the wet, beautiful, misty energy that we were going for with this show.”

Kondo adds: “This is a timeless story in so many ways. We just wanted to create a timeless show to go with it.”

Shogun’s first two episodes are now streaming on Disney+ Middle East, with new episodes released weekly

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Fantic Enters The Sporty Side Of Town With Stealth 125 And Imola Concept

Fantic Stealth 125 and Imola Concept The Italian manufacturer’s sporty offerings are designed to appeal to the beginner segment. The 125cc segment, pretty much non-existent in the US market, is ... Read more »

Discover the Health Benefits of Valencia Orange: Serving Sizes, Nutrition Facts, and Concerns Curated by Nutrition Professionals.

Valencia orange image Perspective from Roseane M Silva Master in Health Sciences, Bachelor in Nutrition · 7 years of experience · Brazil Possible Side Effects People who are allergic to ... Read more »

Kibsons at the heart of the better food systems debate bound for Cop28

Leading grocery delivery company Kibsons says it is already answering the call for greener production processes as food security and sourcing enter the Cop28 spotlight later this month. The UAE ... Read more »

Government passes draft budget law for FY2024

AMMAN — The government on Wednesday endorsed the draft general budget law for 2024 with estimated public revenues of JD10.3 billion, marking an increase of 8.9 per cent compared with ... Read more »

New forecasted capital expenditure for fiscal year 2024 stands at JD73 million — Gov’t

AMMAN — The new forecasted capital expenditure for the fiscal year 2024 stands at JD73.317 million, according to the 2024 public budget draft law. The government allocated JD1.729 billion as ... Read more »

Historical insights: Evolution of archaeological research in Jordan from post-World War I to 1960s

AMMAN — The post World War I period marks the beginning of scholarly research in Jordan. During the British Mandate in Jordan, the Department of Antiquities in Amman was founded ... Read more »

No fruit acids, whitening creams: UAE authority issues guidelines for salon cosmetics

The Sharjah City Municipality has issued a set of guidelines for the use of cosmetic products in hair salons and beauty centres. The authority urges salons to stick to these ... Read more »
Top List in the World