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  • Writer's pictureManoj Nayak

Shōgun (Season 01)

Watched on Disney+ Hotstar (in India)

Non-Spoiler Review



I recently dove into the new Shogun series, and I have to say, it’s quite the experience. If you’re familiar with James Clavell’s original novel or the 1980 miniseries, you’ll find that this 2024 adaptation does a commendable job of revitalizing the story for a modern audience. The pacing has been tightened up, which helps a lot. Clavell’s novel, while epic, had a tendency to drag at times, but the new series cleverly shuffles scenes and condenses the plot to keep things moving without losing the depth of the story.


One of the standout improvements is how Shogun handles its female characters. The novel was notoriously bad at portraying women, often reducing them to mere props or sexual objects. This adaptation, however, brings a breath of fresh air. We’re introduced to a range of complex female characters right from the first episode. Toda Mariko, played by Anna Sawai, is particularly impressive. She’s intelligent, perceptive, and her character is given much more agency than in the book. It’s a smart update that adds layers to the narrative and makes it more engaging.

 

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The show does, however, have a bit of a fixation on ritual suicides. Clavell’s original work was already a bit obsessed with seppuku and harakiri, and the new series somehow ups the ante. It even starts with a suicide by the ship captain bringing John Blackthorne to Japan. While it’s clear that the creators wanted to emphasize the bleakness of the era, it ends up making Japan seem overly morbid. Historically, seppuku was significant but not as common as the show might suggest, and it sometimes feels overdone here.


Another aspect that feels a bit off is the portrayal of samurai culture, particularly the practice of "kiri-sute gomen" - the right of a samurai to kill a commoner who disrespected them. While the practice did exist, it was surrounded by strict rules and wasn't as frivolous as depicted. The series occasionally makes it seem like samurai could kill at will without consequence, which isn’t accurate and could have been handled with more nuance. These moments can break the immersion a bit for those familiar with Japanese history.


TSHC Score: 7.8/10

Despite these critiques, Shogun (2024) is still a captivating watch. The production values are top-notch, with beautiful sets and costumes that bring feudal Japan to life. The story is dense and complex, making it the kind of show you want to discuss and dissect with friends. The performances, especially from Hiroyuki Sanada and Cosmo Jarvis, are compelling, drawing you into this intricate world of political intrigue and cultural clash.


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