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Like Game of Thrones in feudal Japan, the latest adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel centres on a shipwrecked Englishman who washes ashore and shifts the balance of power amongst a rogues’ gallery of warlords

As a bestselling novel, James Clavell’s Shōgun achieved high praise from critics as well as readers, while annual sales of the book averaged approximately one million copies for more than a decade-and-a-half (from its 1975 publication to 1990). Now, nearly half a century after the novel’s publication, Shōgun makes yet another resurgence — not dissimilar to its growth in popularity following NBC’s three-time Emmy-winning 1980 miniseries of the same name, starring Richard Chamberlain as Pilot Major John Blackthorne.

Taking on the role of Blackthorne in the new series is British-American actor, musician and filmmaker Cosmo Jarvis, largely known for his turns in period pieces such as PersuasionLady Macbeth and Peaky Blinders. And while much of the plot does still centre on Blackthorne, the entirety of the largely Japanese cast is instrumental in bringing the end of the Sengoku period to life more than 400 years after its decline.

Shogun on Disney+. Pictured: Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, an English ship’s navigator who strikes an alliance with a Japanese warlord to ensure their mutual survival.

According to the synopsis, this new adaptation, like its predecessor, “is set in Japan in the year 1600 at the dawn of a century-defining civil war.”

“When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne, comes bearing secrets that could help [Lord Yoshii] Toranaga [Hiroyuki Sanada, 47 Ronin] tip the scales of power and devastate the formidable influence of Blackthorne’s own enemies, the Jesuit priests and Portuguese merchants. Toranaga’s and Blackthorne’s fates become inextricably tied to their translator, Toda Mariko [Anna Sawai, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters], a mysterious Christian noblewoman and the last of a disgraced line.”

Shogun on Disney+. Pictured: Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko, a Christian noblewoman with a checkered past who serves as Blackthorne’s translator.

The series was penned by husband-and-wife duo Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo, with the author’s own daughter, Michaela Clavell, serving as an exec producer, the latter of whom gets to shepherd a more authentic version of her father’s novel to the screen that would not have been possible in previous TV eras. “You know, the book is a very complex group of thoughts and stories,” says Clavell, “and I think that because the viewership is so much more sophisticated, as is the technology, that Rachel and Justin were able to write the complexities of the stories and the characters from the Japanese point of view, as well as Blackthorne’s point of view. We were very proud of being able to translate the novel’s complexities into this series. It comes through beautifully — very simply, but very beautifully.”

Brutality, of course, remains a key part of the narrative. For Marks, it was pivotal to create an authentic portrayal, but not glorify the carnage. “There’s a thin line between not shying away from something and celebrating it. And I think we really tried to sort of exist in that area,” he explains. “I can point to, in the first episode alone, some moments where the violence really just comes at you quite suddenly, without warning. And hopefully, if we’ve done our jobs, you want it to be over as soon as possible. Because we’ve created a subjective experience of what it is to actually be in the midst of that, and no one wants to be in the middle of violence as it’s occurring. At the same time, we wanted to reflect a reality of an experience.”

Shogun on Disney+. Pictured: Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Lord Toranaga’s scheming “ally.”

The 10-part series boasts an acclaimed Japanese cast and crew that is unprecedented for a U.S. production. And for leading man Sanada, who has often been tapped to pull double duty as both actor and unofficial cultural consultant, this project represented a chance to be empowered in that role as never before. “Since my first experience in Hollywood, I was always asked by producers or directors to correct your ‘cultural thing,’” the actor reflects. “But I started to feel the limit to say something as an actor. Luckily, this time, [they] allowed me to do the producing. I got a title for the first time. So, I could hire a Japanese crew, the specialists for the samurai drama. Wig, costume, props, everything . . . Of course, the responsibility was on my shoulders. Heavily. But more than that, I felt fun and happiness to create the authentic drama with a Western crew and a Japanese crew together. We had a dream East-meets-West team.”

Shōgun premieres on Tuesday, February 27 on Disney+

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