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Shogun (1980) – DVD Review

Shogun DVD cover art


Written by: Eric Bercovici, based upon the novel by James Clavell
Directed by: Jerry London
Narrated by: Orson Welles
Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Yoko Shimada, Toshiro Mifune, Frankie Sakai, Alan Badel


  • Making-of documentary
  • Selected scene audio commentary by director London
  • Three historical featurettes

Released by: Paramount
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format

My Advice: Get it and love it.

[ad#longpost]Shogun is a mini-series legend: a lush tale from the history books blended with adventure, intrigue, war, romance, and mystery. In the early 17th century, an English navigator, John Blackthorne (Chamberlain), is shipwrecked along the coast of Japan. Rescued by the Japanese, he becomes embroiled in the struggles of Toranaga (Mifune), who is himself intent upon becoming Shogun of the nation. Before it is done, Blackthorne’s saga will lead him to become the first gaijin samurai, and will become one of the most touching and dramatic adventures you’ve ever seen.

The features list is very well-chosen and stacked. We have three featurettes that serve as a kind of cultural primer on feudal Japan: one on the samurai class of warriors, one on the tea ceremony that figures so prominently in the series, and the final one on the geisha. Even if you know and love Japan, these featurettes will prepare you to understand the subtleties of what you see on the screen. There is also a very long, thirteen-segment documentary on the making of Shogun that provides all kinds of background insight and information. Anyone interested in how films are made will love this.

It is too bad that the audio commentary with the director was only on select scenes, but asking him to do the full nine hours would have been unrealistic and probably end up being repetitive anyway. The only thing more I would have asked is to have a PDF version of the original novel or a package deal with the paperback, or perhaps a gallery to show off the fantastic richness of Japan.

The audio and video are good here. The show is so incredibly lush and beautiful that every scene screams out with beauty and color and detail. It’s almost overwhelming with all the new sights and exotic details, which mimics how Blackthorne himself must feel with confronted with this new world.

In short, if you have any interest in Japan or Japanese history, you will love the look and feel of this set. Fans of war movies and other such films of intrigue, political struggles, and battles for power will need this one as well. But people who like more philosophically-toned films will find something to love–basically, Shogun truly has something for everyone. A film that can keep your attention for nine hours doesn’t come along everyday, so enjoy this one while you can.

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