5 July 2005 | actorman_us
There was a time in TV when the mini-series was king. They were great prestige products for the networks who, risking immense financial expenditure, hoped to create a cinematic masterpiece on a small screen.
SHOGUN may be the ultimate expression of this neglected TV format. Based on James Clavell's sweeping epic novel of the same name, it succeeds fully in transporting the viewer to another time and place. Through John Blackthorne's eyes (Richard Chamberlain in a now iconic performance, blending moments of delightful scenery chewing with moments of genuine emotion and subtlety), we become ever more involved in the political dealings of the Japanese nobility and the mixed motives of the Jesuits.
One of the great triumphs of SHOGUN is to ensnare the viewer despite long segments in Japanese with no subtitles. The filmmakers were trying to tell the story through Blackthorne's eyes and save for a few moments of narration explaining the dialog, we are left to slowly comprehend the action at the same pace as Blackthorne. It's a device which works wonderfully well, leaving the viewer to figure out what's going on through context and character.
In addition to Chamberlain, SHOGUN is replete with glorious performances. Toshiro Mifune's Toranaga, a Japanese nobleman with grand political designs, possesses great power and yet Mifune's performance is also very nuanced. Toranaga is a man who's mind is always trying to figure three steps ahead and we see this aspect of Toranaga's personality in Mifune's work- a considerable feat considering his dialog is exclusively in Japanese and without subtitles.
Yoko Shimada plays Mariko with a captivating beauty and ethereal grace. Becoming Blackthorne's interpreter and love interest, we cannot take our eyes off of her. Her performance is made doubly impressive by the fact that Ms. Shimada spoke no English and had to be told what her lines met with great care.
Additionally, John-Rhys Davies gives a wonderfully bravura turn as Rodrigues and Damien Thomas gives his Father Alvito real depth and dignity.
SHOGUN does show its age. The quality of the video image does have a bit of that TV glow to it and Maurice Jarre's score, seeming so lush back in 1980, sounds as if it were recorded by a very small third-rate band in a backwater recording studio- it reeks of TV. Still, these are comparatively minor quibbles to an otherwise completely engrossing epic. SHOGUN succeeds mightily in taking the viewer into a strange land filled with wonder and intrigue. By the end, it's a land you aren't ready to leave- perhaps the ultimate compliment for any film.