Shōgun Review: An Epic New Adaptation of the Classic Story

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You might wonder if we need another Shōgun series after the 1980 version was so acclaimed and groundbreaking. While this 2024 version may not be revolutionary, it does take advantage of the changes in the film industry in the past four and a half decades to deliver a stunning cinematic experience.

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Based on the iconic novel by James Clavell, Shōgun tells the story of a Japanese lord who, with the help of a British merchant, sets out on a power struggle that could gain him an advantage over his enemies. It’s a familiar story — not only from direct adaptations but also derivative works — but this new miniseries manages to be fun and exciting nevertheless.

One of the things that stands out about this version of Shōgun is that it takes much less of a focus on the white perspective. Although Cosmo Jarvis’s John Blackthorne is still a central character, it feels like series creators Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo are far more interested in the politics of feudal Japan than they are in the story of an outsider — allowing this miniseries to feel refreshing despite the familiarity of its beats.

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“SHŌGUN” — Pictured: Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

Shōgun is epic and compelling

That being said, the one area in which the show does underwhelm is its exploration of its themes. There are some interesting anti-colonialist tidbits here, but the show gets so caught up in the minutiae of the court politics that it can’t explore these aspects with a ton of depth. Still, the show is consistently engaging thanks to its sharp dialogue and exhilarating action.

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FX’s Shōgun also stands out thanks to its incredibly epic scale that modern filmmaking technology allows. The cinematography, production design, and visual effects are all on the level of a blockbuster film or something like Game of Thrones. Clearly, the series’s creators want to totally immerse viewers in the world of feudal Japan, and they mostly succeed.

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“SHŌGUN” — Pictured: Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

The series also takes advantage of its TV-MA rating to deliver a viscerally brutal experience. Beheadings and seppuku are depicted in a graphic level of detail that will put off the squeamish. Still, Shōgun never feels excessive in its violence — although it is designed to shock, it also carries an emotional weight that justifies it. 

Of course, the final piece of the puzzle is the performances, which are strong across the board. Hiroyuki Sanada is unquestionably the highlight, giving a commanding turn as the Japanese feudal lord. He has such a compelling screen presence that viewers will linger on every word he says. Anna Sawai is also a stand-out, with a much quieter but no less intriguing performance. And while Cosmo Jarvis is somewhat one-note in his approach, it works for the role he is given.

Shōgun is an incredible adaptation that doesn’t feel the need to modernize its content but does an excellent job of modernizing its form. With amazing visuals and gripping storytelling, FX has delivered what might be one of the most epic shows on television. Whether familiar or unfamiliar with the source material, viewers will be absolutely enthralled by this action-packed new series.

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Shōgun premieres February 27 on Hulu and FX, with new episodes releasing subsequent Tuesdays. Eight out of ten episodes reviewed.

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Rating: 9/10

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Written by Sean Boelman

Articles Published: 156

Sean is a film critic, filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include music documentaries, heist movies, and experimental horror.