By Donald Liebenson
What better way to escape from the onslaught of so-called reality
television than to sail away with Richard Chamberlain to "the
Japans" for a little samurai action and some discreet
"pillowing"? From the golden age of the miniseries
comes this television benchmark, the 10-hour, Golden Globe-winning saga
based on James Clavell's bestselling epic.
In his award-winning performance, Chamberlain stars as John Blackthorne,
the 17th-century English navigator on a Dutch trading ship. A storm runs
the ship aground off the coast of Japan, a "torn and cruelly divided
country" locked in a power struggle between Toranaga (the venerable
Toshiro Mifune) and Ishido, two warlords who would be Shogun. Blackthorne
gets over his initial culture shock ("I piss on you and your
country," he defiantly proclaims to his samurai captors, which to his
humiliation turns out to be an unfortunate choice of words) to become a
trusted ally of Toranaga and the lover of the beautiful interpreter Lady
Mariko (Yoko Shimada).
Their forbidden, ill-fated romance--and Blackthorne's total
assimilation into Japanese culture--is set against political intrigue as
Toranaga prepares for the inevitable showdown with Ishido, and
Blackthorne's growing influence threatens the local Jesuits who had built
up a lucrative trade monopoly. Shogun was a production blessed with
good karma, and it remains an awesome achievement from a bygone era when
the miniseries was king.