SHŌGUN. I Thought They Didn’t Make Them Like This Anymore [REVIEW episodes 1-8]

Already in February, we get one of the best series of 2024. “Shōgun” unbelievably transports in time and completely engrosses.

Marcin Konczewski

29 February 2024

I’m not going to beat around the bush, because I’ve often wrinkled my nose in recent reviews here – in my opinion, viewers will embark on a fascinating journey because “Shōgun” is a masterpiece of the small screen. The second adaptation of James Clavell’s novel is a kind of phenomenon and an event that will set the standard for future historical series. I’m almost certain of that. In terms of production quality and scope, it shocks from the first episode and then just blossoms. At times, it was hard for me to believe how well-made, acted, and told the series is. There’s no messing around with sensitivity here, no tabooization; there’s an honest exposition of everything that the fascinating, yet distant culture of samurai Japan offers. The production by the duo Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks doesn’t try to conform to current standards or follow the production trends of contemporary historical cinema. Instead, it stands in contrast to them, returning to classicism. It remains faithful, almost pure (especially in depicting all the dirt) to cultural realities. Yes, certain elements are more pronounced, others less. Overall, however, it’s a truly astonishing hourglass of time. I was convinced that such productions were no longer made.

“Shōgun” is a dramatic, incredibly engaging tale of honor, pride, secrets, and power. That’s the first layer. However, it serves to uncover further, more subtle layers. At subsequent levels, we receive an existential discourse on duties, loyalty, and the cruelty of a world that not only no longer exists but is also culturally distant from our European sensibilities. Feudal Japan is in the midst of a growing conflict, where Lord Yoshii Toranaga fights for life, his country, and his position against allied enemies from the Council of Regents. At this moment, a mysterious European ship is found near the Japanese coast. Its appearance could cause a drastic change in the political situation. The English pilot, John Blackthorne, knows secrets that could help Toranaga change the course of the inevitable war and thwart the influence of the Catholic Portuguese, whom he opposes.


It sounds like the script of many stories, which is why everything unfolds here in the details, between the main thread of events. Delving into the humanistic dimension of “Shōgun” is material for another story. In terms of storytelling itself, the creators have achieved an almost perfect balance between meticulous exposition of samurai culture, setting up successive pawns on the chessboard, and building tension. It’s not a production characterized by a high narrative pace; it’s rather leisurely, yet surprisingly poignant. The stakes constantly rise, and the impenetrable mind of Toranaga, his genius, are very interestingly juxtaposed with Blackthorne’s slow discovery of his intricacies. But that’s not all, because secondary characters are equally important here, especially the brilliantly written, extremely dramatic and tragic character of Mariko-sama, her husband, and surroundings. She’s a heroine who hypnotizes and fascinates.

The last aspect that absolutely captivated me is the acting. The casting for “Shōgun” deserves all the awards and accolades. Heck! I suggest introducing a statutory obligation for Hiroyuki Sanada to wear a kimono and carry a katana for life. He doesn’t play a samurai. He is a samurai. He was born for it. His portrayal of Yoshii Toranaga is mesmerizing, it’s perfect. The reincarnation of the legendary Toshiro Mifune. There are moments when the famous Japanese actor expresses a multitude of emotions with just his facial expressions. There’s so much play without words here, subtle capturing of deeply suppressed emotions, hiding true plans and intentions. The cliffhanger from the eighth episode literally blows your mind. One of the best television episodes I’ve seen in recent years. Toranaga is incredibly contrasted with our sensitivity, which in turn is represented by John Blackthorne. His astonishment, incomprehension, and attempts at adaptation thus become ours. Cosmo Jarvis in this role is simply great and intriguingly corresponds with the iconic Richard Chamberlain, who previously portrayed this character. I’m very pleased that different accents were put here – more vulgarity, explosiveness, instead of the charming charm of a 1980s heartthrob. Anna Sawai as Mariko and Tokuma Nishioka as Hiromatsu are also outstanding.


Historical cinema (though it’s a series) on the scale of the greatest productions of the genre – brutal, incredibly faithful to the times, excellently acted and plotted, restrained, yet surprisingly real, uncompromising, humanistic. It will proudly stand alongside productions like “Seven Samurai,” “Braveheart,” or “The Last Samurai.” I honestly can’t wait for you to experience the spectacle that is “Shōgun.” It will be one of the best series of the year. If not the last few years. And I can write this boldly after watching eight out of ten episodes. The finale promises to be spectacular, and I suffer knowing that I’ll have to wait until April for it. On the other hand, I’ll gladly rewatch all the episodes again and prepare for the finale.

Marcin Konczewski

Marcin Konczewski

The founder of the Kon (Horse) Movie fanpage, where he transforms into a film animal who gallops with pleasure through the multiverse of superhero productions, science-fiction, fantasy and all kinds of animations. If he had to say something about himself, he would say that Kon is a pop culture lover, a self-proclaimed critic constantly looking for a human in cinema, a fan of non games, literature, dinosaurs and Batman. Professionally, a teacher (by choice), always opposed to the concrete education system, strongly pushing alternative forms of education. He quietly writes fairy tales and fantastic stories for his little son. A Polish philologist by education. He collaborates with several publishing houses and YouTube channels.

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