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The new FX series, Shogun, has taken the internet by storm with rave reviews. A “Shogun” is a title bestowed upon a Military Commander in the feudal Japanese hierarchy. The show stars Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Yoshii Toranaga, Cosmo Jarvis as Pilot Major John Blackthorne, and Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. The show is based on the 1975 novel by James Clavell

[Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Shogun!]

The fantastic cast of Shogun delivers a new winner for FX

The show takes place during the feudal era of Japan in the 1600s after the death of Taiko (Fumiyo Kohinata), the supreme ruler of Japan. The plot starts with Pilot John Blackthorne and his crew, who washed ashore in Anjiro, Japan, after a shipwreck. One of the five regents of Japan, Lord Toranaga, visits the other four regents in Osaka, Japan, where they intend to impeach him.

In Osaka, we meet Toda Mariko, one of Toranaga’s allies who speaks Japanese and Portuguese. These three main characters are brought together when Toranaga orders John Blackthorne to be brought to Osaka for questioning. The show sets up a massive rivalry between Toranaga and the four other regents, along with Blackthorne and Mariko becoming close allies to Toranaga. The first two episodes briefly hint at the idea of Toranaga taking up the mantle of Shogun, which will ultimately be what the show’s plot revolves around. 

Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Yoshii Toranaga sitting on a horse in the series, Shogun
Hiroyuki Sanada in Shogun (FX)

After only two episodes, the show has already established itself as an enthralling adaption of the novel. The cast is one of the long list of highlights in the series, delivering several noteworthy performances. Hiroyuki Sanada begins to deliver what will likely be his career-defining performance. Sanada has been a relatively consistent name in Hollywood for over three decades. Still, we’ve yet to see him in a role so prominent and vital to the plot, with many of his previous roles serving as supporting characters.

The actor that genuinely caught me off guard from the start is Cosmo Jarvis. While a name like Hiroyuki Sanada is well known to the masses through his breakout role in The Last Samurai, Jarvis is a relatively fresh actor whose previous work I have not seen. It must be said that Jarvis delivers the defining performance of the series so far, with his nuanced take on John Blackthorne being phenomenal thus far. Jarvis is likely to be an actor who will be vastly on the rise following the success of this show. Another name likely to be a fast riser is Anna Sawai, who started off strong in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. Her performance as Toda Mariko is equally quiet and fierce.

Another character that has been a delight to watch is Nestor Carbonell’s Rodrigues. Carbonell is known for shows and movies like Lost and The Dark Knight trilogy. Shogun has the potential to be his best performance yet, barring his character’s longevity. Most of Carbonell’s scenes are shared with John Blackthorne, where the two characters gel with immediate on-screen chemistry. So far, Sanada, Jarvis, and Sawai have been the series’ main highlight and an equally talented supporting cast. 

Shogun is a feast for the eyes

The show’s cinematographers, Christopher Ross, Sam McCurdy, Marc Laliberté, and Aril Wretblad, deliver what can only be described as the most extraordinary visual experience on television since Game of Thrones. The show delivered on making 1600s Feudal Era Japan feel richly authentic and lived in. This is paramount for a show covering such a pivotal era in Japanese history.

Shogun feels massive in scope and scale due to the grand visuals and landscapes the show covers in the first two episodes. We see 1600s Osaka nature and land, and the Japanese open seas in the opening two episodes. The camera work balances perfectly a focused perspective on dialogue scenes while delivering grand cinematic visuals for the audience. It’s everything the audience would want from a television event like Shogun. The show uses natural lighting to its advantage, allowing it to feel genuine and authentic rather than having shoe-in-manufactured effects throughout the show. 

Photograph of Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in Shogun
Anna Sawai in Shogun (FX)

Production and costume design are a true highlight

It can’t be stressed enough how much authenticity and accuracy mattered to Japanese cultures and customs in this show. After the opening episodes, the first characteristic of the series that impressed me was the meticulous attention to detail in both the production and costume design. It feels as though authenticity was highly regarded throughout production.

Japan’s deeply rich culture and history needed proper handling to deliver an authentic visual of what 1600s Japan looked like. Most of that starts with the architecture and attire of the Japanese citizens. The set design feels authentic and accurate, as if it were from an Akira Kurosawa movie. 

Are there any negatives so far in FX’s Shogun

So far, there is little to complain about regarding Shogun. The first two episodes set the groundwork for a massive storyline. The show is certainly not for younger audiences, as the TV-MA rating indicates, but with the show making waves on social media, it’s fair to assume audiences of all ages will watch it, which is akin to Game of Thrones.

The show is a slow burn so far, and it is more interested in telling a rich story with a large amount of character development than displaying a blockbuster event right off the bat. To enjoy the show, you must be invested in the culture and the show’s goals. With such excellent writing, it won’t be difficult to invest in, but you may be disappointed if you’re expecting an action-filled premiere. 

Overall, the show delivers on adapting the 1975 novel in a way many did not expect. Shogun is being lauded as a Game of Thrones-esque show, and to a certain extent, that can be agreed upon. The world-building is massive, the production design is truly impressive, and it’s still on my mind.

At next year’s awards season, Shogun will likely be a favored contender in the limited series category. I fully expect Cosmo Jarvis, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Anna Sawai to all be nominated for their performances in the series. This show has some serious steam behind it, and I expect the audience to only grow larger over the coming weeks. 

Shogun is now streaming on Hulu weekly! Have you watched Shogun yet? Do you have familiarity with the novel? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.

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Drew Reed

Hey I'm Drew Reed, Staff Writer here at The Cosmic Circus. I love Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, The Lord of The Rings and many more fantasy and sci-fi universes. You can find me on twitter @ DrewReed1099

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