Review of “Shogun” Episode 1 “Anjin”: An Enthralling Series Premiere

intricate politics of feudalism. a ship lost at sea with most of its crew members dying of malnutrition, scurvy, or other diseases. a country on the verge of conflict. Unusual traditions and dangerous meetings as civilizations collide like waves against a rock. A new era dawning and an end to an old one. Shogun is an instant hit because of the upheaval in feudal Japan, its Catholic Portuguese allies, the newly arrived English and Dutch protestants, and some of the best acting, costume design, and cinematography I’ve seen in a long time. Shogun is breathtakingly beautiful, tragic, and gripping all at once.

Although I have started and read a little portion of James Clavell’s 1,152-page book, which serves as the basis for this new show, I have not finished reading it. This time, I want to read along as the episodes premiere on Hulu each week, instead of skipping the original source or concentrating on parallels between the original and the adaptation. This means that, in contrast to many of the other shows I cover, I won’t be comparing this one to the novel in my review; that being said, I will still try to read along and stay up. I can then speak to both without being biased toward the original, allowing me to evaluate this show on its own merits.

Furthermore, a book that length is not something to read quickly (I also need to finish Three Body Problem soon). It’s alright! It can be entertaining at times to be ignorant of the original source. For example, I have no doubt that if I hadn’t watched the animated original Avatar, I would be enjoying the live-action version of the film more.

Nevertheless, I’ve promised to review every episode of this show, so the next post will only cover the series premiere “Anjin,” and I’ll follow up with a second review for that episode tomorrow. After watching the first episode of Shogun, I discovered that FX and Hulu had actually released the first two episodes at once. After that, I’ll be updating this blog every week with recaps and reviews. And the reason I’m so thrilled about it is that, aside from you, Slow Horses, almost everything I’ve been covering lately has disappointed me so much that it seems refreshing to be this eager about a new series. Anyway, allow me to discuss…


Review of "Shogun" Episode 1 "Anjin": An Enthralling Series Premiere
John Blackthorne, played by Cosmo Jarvis. CR: Katie Yu 2024 FXCOPYRIGHT, FX. RESERVE ALL RIGHTS.

I’m not going to recap much. Let’s just get the basics out of the way. “Angin” in Japanese means “pilot” and that refers to one of the show’s chief protagonists, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). I think it might have a double meaning, however, and also refer to the show’s other chief protagonist, Lord Yoshi Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) who is trying to steer Japan toward a better future. The odds are stacked against both men, who eventually come face to face just as the series premiere ends.

The episode opens with a title card stating that the year is 1600. This is helpful because I would much rather skip setup exposition and get straight to the action. The Portuguese, whose name I will learn how to spell without the use of spell check, have a prosperous trade relationship with Japan. Additionally, a sizable portion of Japan has become Christian, and numerous Catholic missionaries have been installed.

The Dutch, of which Blackthorne is an Englishman employed, seem to be trying to locate Japan and start the process of taking it away from the Catholics. Protestant colonialists are eager to have a say in the matter. The Catholics have gotten all of the pie so far. In fact, it seems that the protestants are searching for the entire pie and desire it. The sole issue? The journey was difficult. Along the voyage, nearly every man and several ships were lost. There are only twelve left, including Blackthorne, who is now their de facto leader, when the Japanese find them, save them, and immediately put them in jail.

It’s interesting that both tribes regularly call each other “barbarians” or “savages,” because it makes sense: The sailors are untamed, rude, and dirty. Seppuku is one of the practices practiced by the Japanese. In this episode, at a gathering of Japan’s five regents, a young man named Tadayoshi, who works for Lord Toranaga, lashes out. Feeling guilty about what he did, he vows to kill himself and to stop his line, which includes killing his child. Even though this is horrifying, it’s hardly the worst event we witness in the series premiere (mostly because the baby’s death isn’t shown to us).

Review of "Shogun" Episode 1 "Anjin": An Enthralling Series Premiere
Usami Fuji, played by Moeka Hoshi. CR: Katie Yu 2024 FXCOPYRIGHT, FX. RESERVE ALL RIGHTS.

The worst scene features some of the most horrific and gory killings I’ve ever seen on television. A Catholic priest’s demands that the local lord, Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano), execute Blackthorne are met by the execution of another member of the crew—that is, a slow boiling to death in a massive cauldron. It’s a gruesomely brutal method of murder. However, it becomes rather evident that both cultures have aggressive, barbaric impulses, regardless of what each believes of the other. Blackthorne is employed by a colonialist nation that would soon rule over the whole planet. However, it is also indefensible to boil an innocent sailor to death.

Although Yabushige wishes to keep the ship, along with its muskets and cannons, for himself, an elderly man in the hamlet who knows a little Portuguese and can, albeit imperfectly, communicate with Blackthorne, is a spy for Lord Toranaga. When word gets out that Toranaga is a prisoner in all but name, he sends his right-hand man, Toda Hiromatsu (Tokuma Nishioka), to Osaka to pick up the prize. Blackthorne’s maritime experience comes to the rescue when a strong storm nearly takes the ship, the crew, and everyone on board with it. Hiromatsu makes the wise decision to bring Blackthorne back to Osaka with them.

Additionally, Blackthorne saves the life of his new nemesis, Nestor Carbonell’s Rodrigues, a Spanish agent for the Portuguese (albeit I had no idea that this was a Lost alum). After the man is thrown overboard, Blackthorne is adamant that they locate him once they reach land safely. They do, at the foot of a cliff that rises sharply out of the turbulent ocean. When Yabushige rejects Blackthorne’s request to descend, Blackthorne gives him the rope and demands that the Japanese Lord descend on his own. A last-minute rope saves him from drowning, but not before he nearly dies and considers suicide (you were correct all along, Sam Gamgee).

After saving Rodrigues, Blackthorne is brought to Osaka and finally encounters Toranaga there. Though we don’t yet know how, the strong Japanese Lord believes that this new outsider might be able to assist him. He is currently being attacked by his envious and ambitious enemies on every side.

I think the politics of this to be really interesting. It has a slight resemblance to the Netflix series Kingdom, which focused on Korean feudalism and zombies. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it. The dead king is here, and everyone is fighting for control. The drums of war are already banging, and Toranaga seems to be the only one with the honor and fortitude to oppose the formidable regent Ishido Kaznari (Takehiro Hira). But Toranaga’s odds of surviving are much worse than the Dutch and English sailors’ if four of the five regents that rule Japan are against him.

Thus, the stage is set for an epic play about the arrival of the first colonists from distant Europe in feudal Japan. We’re going to be in for an incredible journey as a battle of civilizations, between protestant and Catholic, as well as between Japan and the West, is about to explode. Everything about this film is superb, including the performances as well as the superb score and cinematography. Cosmo Jarvis seems to be channeling Tom Hardy in this scene, and I find myself captivated to his character right away because he’s not your typical good guy or white savior. He is vicious and cunning in addition to being intelligent. Naturally, Hiroyuki Sanada is a pleasure to see, and he’s portraying Toranaga flawlessly—reserved, powerful, but not above allowing one of In a fit of rage, his liegemen kills himself and his child to protect himself.

Thus far, I’m quite impressed, and I’m eager to see where this goes. Shogun serves as a reminder that even if there is a lot of terrible TV available right now, truly excellent TV is still being produced. This seems like something from HBO, and it’s obvious that FX and Hulu are spending a lot of money to produce one of the most visually stunning shows ever. However, I’m also pleased with the writing, which is so frequently disregarded in favor of spectacular VFX and loud action, thanks to its excellent world-building, tight, suspenseful pacing, and smart dialogue.

As previously mentioned, I’ll be thinking about the second episode tomorrow and probably will discuss both in a video that I post on my YouTube channel at the same time. So if you want to talk about Shogun, make sure to follow me on this site and, while you’re at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel. How did you feel about the debut of the new series? I’m also interested in the opinions of book readers. Even though I haven’t read very far, I can already tell that some things are changing, though nothing that truly disturbs me. Change is necessary for adaptations, and thus far, everything feels very well-thought-out and natural. Tell me what you think about Facebook and Twitter.

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