Originally broadcast in September of 1980 as a 5-part, 12-hour miniseries, Shogun stood out from the pack of television events at the time with its boldness of action and calculated risks. Based on James Clavell's epic novel, Shogun stars Richard Chamberlain as John Blackthorne, a 17th-century English pilot commanding a Dutch ship that wrecks off the coast of Japan. Viewed suspiciously by local authorities, Blackthorne is at first in some danger of being executed. But with little hope of returning to Britain anytime soon, he begins to assimilate into the feudal society, befriending a powerful warlord (Toshiro Mifune) and wearing the robes of a samurai. Inevitably, Blackthorne begins to think of himself as Japanese, defending his hosts in battle, learning the language, and falling in love with an interpreter (Yoko Shimada). At the same time, his presence there exacerbates a problem with would-be European colonialists gazing at Japan covetously. Directed by journeyman Jerry London, Shogun immediately caught on with its blend of romance, exoticism, and compelling myth of an outsider's reinvention--a story that becomes sadder as it becomes clear that Blackthorne may never see his home again. The production deliberately pushed hard against various television taboos and audience expectations, including the extensive use of Japanese dialogue, startling violence, near nudity, and profane behavior. That all looks tamer now, of course, but Shogun is still a unique entry in the phenomenon of prestige miniseries from the late 1970s and early '80s. --Tom Keogh


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