Shōgun Review – IGN

FX’s Shōgun: A Masterpiece in Storytelling

FX’s 10-episode limited series Shōgun is a masterpiece, with an extremely talented cast performing in Japanese and English to tell a fascinating story about faith, sacrifice, and ambition. Creators Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo have crafted a version of feudal Japan filled with visual splendor, brutality, and intrigue, avoiding the temptation of big-budget spectacle in favor of keeping the focus firmly on the writing and characters.

Visual Splendor and Intrigue

Shōgun’s strikingly beautiful shots of the landscape and cities, sumptuous meals, and gorgeous costumes create an illusion of peace so strong that when violence breaks out, it’s sudden and harsh – an assassin’s blade tearing through shoji or bodies piling up in the snow. The conflicts are never won or lost based on who’s the best archer or swordsman. They’re determined by the plots that were in place before the fighting began and how good the attackers were at assessing their enemies and their motivations.

Faithful Adaptation

Highly faithful to James Clavell’s bestselling (and frequently adapted) novel about the events leading up to the creation of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, Shōgun kicks off in 1600, when Japan is on the brink of civil war. The tension is palpable in the premiere; a fragile peace built on ritual and bureaucracy threatens to crack and plunge the country into a new era of bloody wars of conquest.

Powerful Performances

Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) starts the series seemingly backed into a corner. Playing one of five regents put in place by Japan’s recently deceased ruler to manage the country until his heir comes of age, Sanada delivers a masterful performance, utterly regal even in scenes where Toranaga has to sneak away from his peers on the council, who have banded together to depose him.

He finds an unexpected lifeline when a ship of starving, scurvy-ridden Europeans led by the brash English pirate John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) washes ashore. Shōgun could easily have become a repeat of The Last Samurai, but the series takes more of an ensemble approach rather than centering the story on John’s experiences.

Character Development and Conflict

John never develops a miraculous mastery of the language, and the writers constantly find novel ways to use the communication barrier between him and his captors. It’s a source of humor in the early episodes, as they often unintentionally echo each other in their threats, mockery, and accusations of barbarism. Nestor Carbonell makes the absolute most of his brief time as Rodrigues, an equally foul-mouthed Spanish sailor who provides John with an early primer on life in Japan.

The true third pillar of Shōgun is John’s long-term guide Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), a vassal of Toranaga who converted to Catholicism after a terrible tragedy. Mariko’s quest for vengeance leads her to become the lynchpin of the series’ biggest conflict.


The roiling storm of Mariko’s emotions behind her eightfold fence serves as a microcosm of Shōgun’s Japan. The other standout performance comes from Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, a lord ostensibly in service to Toranaga who spends the entire series transparently trying to ensure he’s always on the winning side of the growing conflict.