Shogun 2024 series: the true story of an English sailor who became a samurai!

Shogun 2024 series: Strap yourself in for a wild adventure in feudal Japan. This lavish adaptation of the classic samurai novel is beautiful, intellectual fare that amply rewards your full attention. But be warned: it’s gruesome from the get-go.

If you have ever wondered what starving sailors riddled with scurvy might look like after months at sea, Shōgun will not keep you in suspense.

Stay with this part of Movies from the series of entertainment in Eternal Pen magazine.

From the outset, this is gruesome stuff, set amid the emerging threat of civil war in Japan in 1600. It adapts James Clavell’s classic 1975 novel with ambition and evident respect for its source material, and given that the paperback is more than 1,000 pages long, it is extraordinary that they have managed to condense it into 10 episodes. The result is peacocking, mesmerising television.

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Shogun 2024 series: Much like Masters of the Air, Shōgun has been years in the making. It was first announced in 2018 and like Masters of the Air, it has been well worth the wait.

This is lavish, demanding drama, to be approached with care and focus. It is largely in Japanese, partly in English, which stands in for Portuguese, at times – this is not as hard to follow as you might think – but it is not the kind of series you can watch in the background as you scroll on a second screen. Sit down, strap in and pay close attention.

Cosmo Jarvis is John Blackthorne, a senior English officer on the good ship Scurvy – actually, the Dutch ship Erasmus – which has run aground on the shores of Japan, despite the crew not quite believing that this rumoured island nation exists.

Shogun 2024 series: They arrive amid conflict with the Portuguese, who have kept the location of Japan secret from their fellow European nations, in order to establish a trade monopoly.

The few survivors of the Erasmus wash up at a tense moment in Japanese history: the taiko, the supreme ruler, has recently died, leaving an heir too young to rule. Five warrior lords make up a council of regents, acting as interim rulers, but tensions between them threaten to explode into all-out war.

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Lord Toranaga (an excellent Hiroyuki Sanada) is the one through which we initially view this brewing conflict. Toranaga is a war hero and a master strategist who has the most potential to assume overall sovereignty, and so is the least popular among his fellow warrior lords. He is told that this is not a time for good men, but for a shōgun, a powerful military leader.

“That title is a brutal relic,” he says, but you suspect not for long. Cannily, Toranaga sees the disruptive benefits of Blackthorne’s sudden arrival and begins to manoeuvre his presence to his own advantage.

Blackthorne is known as either the Barbarian, or Anjin, the pilot, for his superlative sailing abilities; he also provides the rare moments of semi-levity, in his oscillating dazzlement and fury at the culture and conventions of a land that is new to him.

But Shōgun is keenly aware that this cuts both ways; to the Japanese, Anjin is a mystery, too, revolting and uncouth.

He is also a heretic, stamping on a Roman Catholic priest’s cross, and in this, he is useful. The conflict involving the Portuguese and Spanish blurs the lines between religion and commerce, one of many grand themes that Shōgun is unafraid to broach.

It is also about statesmanship, diplomacy, war and, eventually, love, but that takes a back seat in the opening two episodes. Instead, the bloodiness of this world is shoved to the fore.

There are beheadings, swift and merciless. A man is slowly boiled to death, the “special method” of a grinning warlord; as with the scurvy, the camera shows exactly what this looks like.

There is a dizzying array of weapons and a series of beautifully choreographed battles, which flare up like torches amid the expository dialogue. There are assassinations and a particularly horrific act of seppuku, a self-sacrifice with wide-ranging ramifications.

Shōgun reminds me of the heyday of epic 1990s cinema, as did Masters of the Air. Although a world apart in terms of setting and approach, they are, oddly, fitting bedfellows. This, too, is gorgeous television that looks as if it cost a fortune to make.

Wise choices have been made – most obviously, that the audience can be trusted to handle a bilingual story. This seems like common sense in a globalised television landscape but it is not hard to imagine that a modern version of Shōgun could have been made entirely in English, which would have dented the intellect and power of the story.

As it is, this great drama trusts its own composed pace. This makes for good-looking, self-assured and often enthralling television.

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