Geeks logo

Shōgun Series Review (Season 1)

A masterful effort that commits absolutely to its setting and time period.

By Robert CainPublished 2 months ago 3 min read

The land of the rising sun has often captivated many foreign audiences both past and present, resulting in a wide range of cinematic titles. The likes of The Last Samurai and 47 Ronin have already portrayed feudal Japan to varying degrees of success. From both a dramatic and historical perspective, Shōgun stands head and shoulders above many of its peers, a masterclass in portraying an older culture.

Based on the historical fiction by James Clavell, the series takes place in the early 1600s. The passing of the ruling Taikō has left the power split between five regents who all have their eyes on the ultimate title of Shōgun. Across ten episodes we follow Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), an ambitious regent marked for death by the others. In the midst of this political tension, the English sailor John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) is shipwrecked in Japan and soon finds his own role to play in the coming conflict. What makes Shōgun stand out is a steadfast dedication to both the source material and wider Japanese history. It doesn’t simplify or slim down its ambitions to suit a western audience. You may be surprised to learn that the battle scenes are fairly few and far between; instead the eight episodes wisely focus on the political turmoil and the conniving schemes lurking below the surface. The final piece of the puzzle is the religious angle, personified by the Portuguese Catholics and Protestant locals. This forms an additional layer of tension and hidden motives on the way through as one side seeks to build a church in the area while the other attempts to establish itself among the populous. The only misstep the series takes across its eight episodes is how Blackthorne is split between his roots as a sailor and assisting Lord Toranaga. The English crew is treated as an afterthought rather than factoring fully into the character’s personal motives.

The cast of Shōgun is large with a vast majority being Japanese actors. Hiroyuki Sanada delivers what is easily his finest performance to date, trading out his action physicality for some deeper reflection. Torenaga is beset on all sides by enemies and rivals, but tries to keep a level head and navigate his way out of the political quagmire. He doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his own allies either which only adds to the narrative. One of the most fascinating parts of the show is the translation, led for the most part by Lady Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai); she is both strong-willed and determined while also adding further intrigue to the way the characters interact. Dialogue plays a heavy role throughout with an older form of Japanese used; in keeping with the local mannerisms and culture, a vast majority of the performances are deeply stoic and collected. The one exception is Blackthorne, aka the Anjin, who is based on the first English sailors to discover Japan. He never gets in the way of the leading perspective, instead gradually learning their ways and language. Yet this character still serves a medium for us to enter the world as he does. Every other actor, no matter how small their part, delivers so many nuances that share the finer details of the setting and time period, always keeping the audience invested.

The atmosphere is phenomenal from the moment you see the opening titles; the peaceful and serene landscapes are often quite deceiving; they hide an undertone of brutal violence that enters the scene when you least expect it. One moment we witness a vicious assassination and in another we see how devastating cannons can be when fired into a crowd of samurai. The camerawork glides through the environments so seamlessly, always creating an appropriate scale for every episode. At times the land becomes more unforgiving with Japan’s earthquakes playing a major role in one episode alongside raging storms in the surrounding oceans. The music normally relies on traditional woodwind instruments, but at times foreboding drums creep in, speaking to the rising tensions between the factions.

Shōgun delivers one of the most richly detailed, powerfully acted and deeply authentic small-screen productions in recent memory. Without hesitation, it commits to the time period and creates a deeply intriguing tale of political strife and warring clans with a sprinkling of religion in-between. Some of the scenes with the Englishman and his crew are a bit underdeveloped but everything else is absolutely stellar. If you have any kind of interest in historical drama, this series is essential viewing.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Brilliant)

beautytvreviewpop culturematureentertainmentart

About the Creator

Robert Cain

I'm a well-travelled blogger and writer from the UK who is looking to spread his blogs and freelance writings further afield. You can find more of my work at

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.