‘Shogun’ Episode 1 ‘Anjin’ Review: A Captivating Series Premiere

‘Shogun’ Episode 1 ‘Anjin’ Review: A Captivating Series Premiere

  • By michael@trendteeshirts.com
  • |

Complex feudal politics. A ship lost at sea, most of its crew dead from starvation, scurvy or worse. A nation on the brink of war. Strange customs and perilous encounters as cultures come crashing together like waves on rock. The end of one era and the beginning of another. Feudal Japan in a time of upheaval, its Catholic Portuguese allies and the newly arrived English and Dutch protestants at one another’s throats, and some of the best cinematography, costume design and acting I’ve seen in ages all conspire to make Shogun an instant hit—breathtakingly beautiful, tragic and gripping all at once.

I have not read James Clavell’s 1,152 page book upon which this new show is based, though I have started it and gotten a tiny bit of the way in. This time around, rather than skip the original source or focus on comparisons between the source material and the adaptation, I plan to read along as the episodes air each week on Hulu. This means that unlike a lot of other shows I cover, I’ll be reviewing this one without having to compare it to the novel, but I’ll still read along and try to keep up. That way I can speak to both but have no predisposed attachment to the original, freeing me to look at this show on its own merits.

Besides, a book that length is not a quick read (and I have to read Three Body Problem soon too). That’s okay! Sometimes it’s fun not to know about the source material. For instance, I’m sure I would be enjoying the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender more if I hadn’t seen the animated original.

In any case, I realized after watching the first episode of Shogun that FX and Hulu had actually released the first two episodes at once, but I’ve committed to reviewing each episode of this show so the following post will cover only the series premiere “Anjin” and I’ll follow up with a second review for that episode tomorrow. Then I’ll be posting weekly recap/reviews here on this blog. And I’m really excited about it because I’ve been so letdown by just about everything I’ve been covering lately (not you, Slow Horses!) that it’s a breath of fresh air to be really excited about a new series. In any case, let’s talk about . . . .


shogun 1Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne.

I’m not going to recap much. Let’s just get the basics out of the way. “Angin” in Japanese means “pilot” and that refers to one of the show’s chief protagonists, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). I think it might have a double meaning, however, and also refer to the show’s other chief protagonist, Lord Yoshi Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) who is trying to steer Japan toward a better future. The odds are stacked against both men, who eventually come face to face just as the series premiere ends.

The year is 1600—we’re told this in a title card at the beginning of the episode, which I appreciate because I’d really rather dispense with setup exposition quickly and efficiently so we can get on to the good stuff—and the Portuguese (a word I will learn how to spell without spell-check by the time this series is over) have a lucrative trade relationship with Japan. They’ve also installed many Catholic missionaries and a good chunk of Japan has converted to Christianity.

Blackthorne is an Englishman working for the Dutch, and their mission appears to be to figure out where Japan is and begin the process of wresting it from Catholic control. The protestant colonialists want a piece of the pie. So far the Catholics have had the entire pie to themselves. Actually, it appears the protestants want the whole pie, and they’re out to find it. The only problem? The voyage was hard. Several ships and almost every man was lost along the way. Just a dozen remain, including Blackthorne, now their de facto leader, when they’re found and rescued—and then promptly imprisoned—by the Japanese.

Curiously, both groups of people refer to the other as “barbarians” or “savages” quite frequently, and you can see why: The sailors are filthy, ill-mannered and wild. The Japanese have customs that include seppuku. In this episode, a young man named Tadayoshi, in the service of Lord Toranaga, has an outburst during a meeting of the five regents of Japan. Ashamed of his actions, he not only promises to kill himself, but to also end his line—which means killing his baby as well. As horrific as this is, it’s not the most terrible thing we see during the series premiere (mostly because we don’t actually see the baby being killed).

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