In present, 21st century times, a television mini-series is an event to behold. Certainly that is the case with the recent highly successful runs of self-contained multi-episode shows like the Emmy-nominated True Detective and Fargo. But just because the format is pulling off excellent television in current times, does not mean that what came before failed to make a similar impact. Case in point is Shogun, a 1980 multi-hour, five episode creation that was based on the best-selling book by James Clavell and directed by Jerry London (Hogan's Heroes, The Rockford Files).
Shogun is the story of an English sea captain named John Blackthorne (The Towering Inferno's Richard Camberlain) who becomes shipwrecked with members of his crew on the coast of 17th century feudal Japan. Before long, Blackthorne becomes embroiled in a conflict between two warlords vying for the title of 'Shogun' which would give them military supremacy in the country. Things escalate when Blackthorne falls for the wife (Lady Mariko) of one of the contenders, Tornanaga, and works to become the first ever foreigner to be made a samurai warrior.
If you've never seen Shogun before, it is instantly epic in scope and ambitious in nature even at almost 35 years old. The production value is incredible considering the times (filmed on location in Japan with Toho Studios) and although the age of the piece is present in its tone and presentation, the execution is still highly commendable. In 1980, Shogun even pushed the envelope of content on television that many shows today owe their controversial natures to.
Within the first hour, one man is beheaded for failing to bow on command, another is boiled alive off-screen to the sound of screams and Blackthorne himself is pushed to the ground and urinated on when he insults his samurai captor. This was pretty bold stuff for television just exiting the disco-era of the 1970`s. It is arguable that the show even served as inspiration for the 2005 film The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise.
The Shogun 3-disc Blu-ray edition comes courtesy of the collaboration between Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios, set for release on July 22nd, 2014. For those unaware, Paramount and CBS are responsible for the excellent remastering and upgrade presentations found on other television Blu-ray releases, such as the Star Trek: The Next Generation series. For Shogun, the picture image has been incredibly cleaned and enhanced for much more definitive presentation than ever seen before, perhaps even too perfect for its own good.
When Blackthorne meets his warrior captors, the Japanese characters are all noticeably wearing skull caps and hair pieces that do not match their natural skill tones on their faces. On a lower-graded image (like Shogun`s standard definition release in 2003), this would not be much of an issue, but it is a glaring and amusingly funny one in high-definition. The show has also been given an immersive and prestigious DTS 5.1 Master Audio track upgrade over its natural English 2.0 Mono.
The new HD edition doesn`t arrive with anything new in the way of supplemental material, but what is provided (ported over from the standard definition set) is extensive. Disc 1 contains at 13-segment Documentary on the production and reflections on the project from the actors and producers. Disc 2 houses three Historical Persepective featurettes looking into the Japanese culture within the show, including the concept of the Samurai, the tea ceremony and geisha`s in particular. Disc 3 rounds out with audio commentary on select scenes by director Jerry London, which is an interesting listen for a viewer to hear the creative thinking that went into those sequences.
Shogun is certainly a show that has aged but it is a vintage example of how television storytelling works best when the story is focused over a particular number of episodes and not stretched season over season. For the time, it was big and bold and a shining example of production execution combined with a number of memorable performances, including a career best from Richard Chamberlain (who was cast in a secondary nature behind original target Sean Connery). The Blu-ray technical upgrade presentation is very impressive and the show has never looked better (along with some new flaws) and the edition gives you plenty to chew on for extras. There is no shortage of quality content for this television Blu-ray edition.