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Entertainment Review: Shogun

James Clavell’s sweeping epic novel,Shogun, was a bestseller when it came out in 1975, and was soon turned into a mini-series. Now a new series has been produced and in keeping with the times, it is a bit more respectful towards Japanese culture. The book was inspired by the real life character of William Adams, a naval navigator, who was captured in Japan, became a  Samurai and helped one of the warlords in  the battle of succession for the throne of shogun (leader).

It was the 16th century, the Portuguese, Spanish and English were carving out Asian trade outposts among themselves, there was not just financial rivalry but also Catholic-Protestant enmity.  In Japan, the leader has died, leaving an heir too young to pick up the reins, so five chief warlords are to rule in the meantime, but there is a conspiracy to oust Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), led by the scheming Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano).

Around the time, English seaman, John Blackthrorne (Cosmo Jarvis), is aboard a Dutch ship when they run out of supplies. He and his men are taken captive, and their ship stripped of its cargo. By a fortuitous twist of circumstances, Blackthorne is kept alive, with the help of a Spaniard, Vacso Rodriguez (Nestor Carbonell) and sent to Osaka where Toranaga takes him under his wing. The Japanese warlord realizes that the Englishman could help with his battle with his enemies.

Created by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks from the Clavell novel, there is also some brushing up and reinvention here—mostly in how the Japanese are portrayed. There is an inevitable clash of cultures between West and East—both sides perceive the other as barbarians, not realising that their language and costumes may be different but greed and subterfuge for power know no boundaries.

Toranaga has an advantage over the others, as a woman named Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai) from the clan knows Portuguese and can serve as a translator for him to communicate with Blackthorne; their unlikely alliance tips power in the favour of Toranaga.The plot is full of intrigue, betrayal, shifting loyalties, Japan’s strict codes of honour and the strange (to the Westerner) fascination with ritual death. Jarvis comes to Japan with preconceived notions of a savage land, but is transformed by its beauty and his experiences with the people.

Shogun is a fascinating watch and dazzling to look at, with the grand sets, costumes and beautiful landscapes. Four episodes out of 10 are out on Disney+Hotstar and one will drop each week—it’s worth waiting for.

Shogun
Created by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Cosmo Jarvis, Anna Sawai and others
On Disney+Hotstar

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best-known entertainment journalists. A National Award-winning fim critic and author of several books on film and theatre. She tweets at @deepagahlot

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