HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:81
Back in the day, the miniseries was king of Television, especially during the 1970’s and 1980’s. As it’s making a comeback in modern TV, the king of all the miniseries has to make its way back to us after decades of sitting in disrepair. “Shogun” was known as the cream of the crop, based on the 1976 book written by James Clavell, and actually produced by him, as well. It was the heaped high with praise and many well-earned academy nominations (and won many of those nominations), and then promptly forgotten about on home video despite a very lackluster DVD release. I remember seeing the VHS tapes WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY back in the day as a small child, and even revisited the DVD a few times, but being that it was playing on CBS CONSTANTLY, that was where most people were introduced to the famed series.
The tale is one that some may see in other modern tales. Pilot John Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) is an Englishman piloting a Dutch trading ship over the fabled Magellan pass in hopes of reaching the Orient. Traveling two years over rough seas, he finally ends up shipwrecked on the shores of Japan. The only problem is that the Portuguese and Spanish have already taken up roots there and the Jesuits are acting as their liaisons. Being an English man, piloting a Dutch ship (both protestant nations), the Jesuits are up in full arms against their natural enemy, giving John very little time to make his case. Imprisoned with Lord Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune), he must make his case as a friend not foe. This is made easier through the help of Lady Toda (Yoko Shimada), who ignites an instant spark between herself and the Englishman.
As Blackthorne adapts to life under the Japanese flag, he has to navigate many a rough water, as it’s a time of civil unrest in the nation. There has been 600 years of civil war between the clans, and with the nation split between Lord Toranaga and Lord Ishido, another war looks like it’s just coming over the horizon. Add in the fact that the Portuguese and Spanish are draining the Japanese society dry for their wealth and riches, and you have a trifecta conflict of the ages, both political, religious, and very, very personal. Blackthorne carries the mantle of interceding, as the only neutral party, and soon aspires to side with Japanese against his common enemy, the Jesuit priests and Spanish lords, as he strives to become the first white man to gain the title of Samurai.
“Shogun” rightly earns its place at the head of the table for dramatic miniseries, as it handles a delicate balance between action, political intrigue, and religious zeal. We’ve seen this series influence many modern pictures as well, with “The Last Samurai” carrying over many of the ideas of the “fish out of water” Englishman in Japanese culture, even so far as striving to become a samurai. As much as I love the series, it does have a few of the old 80’s tropes to it, especially relying on Chamberlain’s over-acting and old-fashioned views on the Japanese way of life, some of which have been supplanted with modern history. The Japanese co-stars are really the shining jewels in the tales, as Toshiro Mifune and Yoko Shimada outclass the English cast with ease. Toshiro Mifune has to be the most celebrated Japanese actor of our century, starring in an endless array of Japanese classic samurai films (his main claim to fame being under the direction of Akira Kurosawa), and Shimada is definitely the more believable of the pair when teamed up with Chamberlain.
Even so, the story is fantastic piece of work, giving a lot of fun and taking just nine short hours in a journey back to the fun and adventure of the Samurai culture. The series is extremely pointed and blunt, which was most likely much more shocking to the original viewers 34 years ago, as the TV series pushed boundaries at the time in its effort to keep the story gritty and raw as it could. Heads roll on screen, betrayals are met with merciless justice, and there are no punches pulled between the English pilot and the Jesuit priests, allowing for a very intense viewing experience. The addition of John Rhys-Davies as the strangely British sounding Spanish captain adds some humor to the tightly woven story, and the Japanese cast go out of their way to make this a riveting success.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=23385[/img]Now this makes me giddy with excitement. CBS had a lot of work cut out for them as they had to restore this old 1980’s film stock up to modern times, and which they did near flawlessly. The image looks better than I have ever seen it, and probably the best it’s ever been seen. Shot on film, it hadn’t aged well with its DVD release, and I was a bit nervous for what the Blu-ray would hold for us. Lovingly restored, you can see the rich colors and huge amounts of detail like never before (even including the skull cap hair coverings to create the bald head knots for the Samurai). The rich brocades of Japanese dress are shown off beautifully, from the soft pastels of Lady Toda, to the brightly colored ladies in waiting. The show has a lot of brown, earthy tones to it, as you see the dusty roads and locations that Blackthorne has to travel, but also showcases the luscious greens of the lord’s castles and beautiful Koi ponds. There are a few speckles here and there, and the occasional shot that shows its age, but 99% of the time the film stock looks like a million bucks. Great black levels and no apparent digital artifacting mar the release in any way. A definite coup of CBS/Paramount.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=23393[/img]The audio isn’t as perfect as the video, but it is still a major coup for CBS. The old DVD release of “Shogun” had a VERY anemic and restrained Dolby digital mono track, that many chocked up to the sound design of the show, but with the inclusion of a DTS-HD MA remixed track AND a remastered mono Dolby Digital track (why they didn’t create a lossless mono track that’s been REMASTERED makes one scratch one's head, but that can’t be helped now), that myth can be put to rest. The tracks both literally throb with power and show a sense of immersion and range that the old track couldn’t even come close to touching. Both tracks have their advantages and disadvantages, so it comes out to personal preference over which one you prefer to listen to. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is incredibly immersive as it lights up the soundstage with the new dynamics of the mix. That also happens to be its downside, as remixed tracks tend to always show some flaws from taking a mono track and trying to manually separate the channels. Sometimes the surrounds sound “off” due to that flaw. Also, there is a teensy bit of ambient hiss from the recording in some scenes. Sometimes it would be evident, and other times vanish in to the background. The Mono track is the original track, of course, and as such it sounds impeccable as a mono track's limitations allow. There is a solid front soundstage, but a little less LFE than the remixed track, and of course the surrounds aren’t utilized. Both are excellent tracks and I have to say I’m a purist, so the Mono track wins out for me, but the 5.1 remix is done very well and should please fans of a more surrounded track.
• The Making of "Shōgun"
• Historical Perspective Featurettes
• Select Scene Audio Commentary
James Clavell’s miniseries is still one of my favorite of the 80's. Not as relevant today as it was 34 years ago, it still is one of the more influential miniseries that has spawned many a movie based upon its ideals. The “fish out of water” scenario is a classic, but the subtle fine tuning to the Japanese culture created a very unique story that has spanned many a decade and delights viewers to this day. After spending time with the old DVD and CBS TV airings, this new transfer and audio will delight fans, new and old. Definitely a recommended title in my book.
Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Yôko Shimada, Toshirô Mifune
Created by: James Clavell
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DD Mono, French, German, Japanese DD 2.0
Runtime: 547 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 22nd, 2014
Buy Shogun Blu-Ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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