Shogun (1980)
Paramount Home Video
Extras: Featurettes, Historical Featurettes, Commentary, and more

It had been many years since I last saw "Shogun" during its initial television broadcast but I had very fond memories of this adventurous series that was filled with thrills, conspiracies and the mysteries of a feudal Japan. I had all but forgotten about the show until Paramount announced its DVD release and from there on I could hardly wait to get my hands on this box set. And here it finally is. Impressive in its presentation and contents.

English pilot-major John Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) is taking his Dutch vessel through a secret passage across the ocean to Japan – which was mostly unexplored in the 1600s and kept secretly hidden from the world by the Portuguese and Spanish in an attempt to exploit the country and people of its riches in the name of God. During a storm he loses control of the vessel and shipwrecks in the small village of Anjiro. There he and his surviving crew are imprisoned and accused of being pirates by the local Jesuit priest, who of course, recognizes the Englishman as his mortal enemy. But even the liege lord of the region, Toranaga (Toshirô Mifune) takes an interest in the pilot. Naming him Anjin-san – the honorable pilot – he tries to hear both sides of the story and gives Blackthorne the chance to tell his story. Intrigued by what the Englishman tells him, he puts the Lady Toda (Yôko Shimada) at Blackthorne’s side as his permanent translator and tries to learn as much from the Englishman as he can. Before Blackthorne realizes it, he is being dragged into a complex web of political intrigue. When Blackthorne helps Toranaga escape from the grip of his enemy Ishido, he comes to honors and over the course of time, Blackthorne becomes a more and more influential and respected member of the Japanese community – a culture he has trouble understanding, though. All too often he is shocked about the behavior that he considers barbaric at times, but the Lady Toda keeps teaching him the language and the culture, one step at a time, and as Blackthorne becomes more and more a close confidante of Toranaga, he also develops feelings for the Lady Toda. But will he ever be able to return home or will he be forever marooned in Japan as a stranger in a strange land?

Based on James Clavell’s novel of the same name "Shogun" is a sensational mini series. With a remarkable cast that keeps surprising viewers with their performances, the film is clearly a must-see experience. I did not remember Blackthorne to be as much of an ignorant and gruff character as he initially is, but Richard Chamberlain’s portrayal is spot on. Toshirô Mifune is marvellous – as always – in his dignified presence. One of the most outstanding performances comes from Yôko Shimada however, who as the Lady Toda, introduces not only Blackthorne but also the viewer to the wonders and mysteries of feudal Japan, trying to put things into context for one unfamiliar with the culture and its ethic codes. He remarkable portrayal finds an incredible climax during the seppuku scene on the fourth disc. But whether it is John Rys-Davies as Rodriguez, Yuki Meduro as Omi-san, Damien Thomas as Father Alvito or anyone else for that matter, every part is perfectly cast and portrayed.

The film also boasts an incredible look that takes you away to Japan in an instant, with lush outdoor shots and detailed interiors. But ultimately it is the story that keeps you glued to the screen for the entire 10 hours of the series. Perfectly told and balanced, the film never appears slow despite its running length and it has many turns and twists that will come as an unexpected surprise. Only the ending of the film feels a bit rushed and, personally, I find the film’s conclusion unsatisfying. Too little of a pay-off after the incredibly dramatic turns we saw come to a head during the movie’s third act. Still, it is an impressive achievement and one great adventure story, masterfully told.

Paramount Home Entertainment has prepared a beautiful transfer for this DVD. Though occasional grain is evident and some shots are bit murky, it is evident, that these are deficiencies stemming from the original elements. The print is mostly clean and clear and highly detailed without blemishes. Only the slight image wavering – result of worn sprocket holes I suppose – is noticeable at times and other than that, the presentation is extremely pleasing with warm, rich colors and a high level of detail. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression has been handled very well.

The DVD comes wit ha <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> remix as well as the original mono audio track that has been cleaned up. The audio presentation is impressive as well, making the best of the original elements, giving it a very natural feel. Occasional sibilance is still evident, however –a result of the production’s original technical limitations – but it is never distracting in any way. I found the music to be a bit over-mixed when compared to the volume of the dialogue, but that’s certainly a matter of taste.

The fifth disc of this release contains a number of great featurettes. Featuring new interviews with the cast and crew members, the featurettes cover a variety of aspects of the making of the movie as well as the historic background of the film. Especially the cast featurette is incredibly exciting, and particularly hearing everyone talk about Toshiro Mifune, who is probably one of Japan’s greatest actors ever, is definitely worth checking out.

But all the other featurettes are equally well produced and offer a wealth of insight and additional information, so make sure to check them all out. They will help increase your understanding of the Japanese culture at the time and also give you more insight into some of the key aspects of the production.

Director Jerry London also offers insight into the production on a <$commentary,commentary track> for selected scenes on this disc. Featuring some of the key moments from the film, the commentary is extremely insightful and adds great value to the release.

Paramount is delivering a spectacular package here. As if the film alone wouldn’t be staggering enough, for a change, Paramount has added some spectacular bonus features. They are exceedingly well produced and will please every fan of the film with their insightful look at the film. "Shogun" is clearly a must-buy, must-own DVD. It is a spectacularly rich movie and an impressive DVD release that deserves our highest award!