Shogun Matches Game of Thrones' Brilliance

There are three great tragedies in life. The loss of loved ones, having to work yourself to death just to live, and figuring out that Shogun is a miniseries and not a recurring show. If you love the first four seasons of Game of Thrones then Shogun would perfectly fit

into your zone of interest. They’re both very similar in that of how the story is presented, the vast web of intricate political dynamics, characters that have extreme depth, and a narrative that is consistently surprising. The general direction the story goes is somewhat predictable and there’s never a Ned

Stark-esque moment, but the way in which the creators go about in executing the story constantly keeps you on your toes. The direction can drastically change course at any moment and there’s even a scene with an earthquake that both metaphorically and literally changes the landscape of the story. Since

I think Shogun is very special, I don’t want to go into any major story spoilers in the off chance you haven’t seen it, but there will inherently be some minor things here and there like seeing some of John Blackthorne’s transformation. So the first major aspect of Shogun that

shares some brilliant DNA with Game of Thrones is how entangled the story is with complex politics and conspiracies. Going in I thought there would be lots of action given the poster of the

show and that would be the primary draw, but the opposite is true. The narrative has

this magnificent depth that is perfectly realized and uplifted by so many characters that have their own complicated motivations. Literally everyone in the show serves their own goals and seeing them all weave together in this masterfully crafted maze of a story is wholly engrossing. And then even past that,

there are constant reveals in which some characters are just pulling the strings for certain events. Which further advances the story into so many unpredictable directions. One of the main characters that’s responsible for this is Lord Toranaga. He’s a constant enigma and is always adding intricate schemes to the

story to further his goals. He’s like a protagonist version of Littlefinger. He’s very smart, every breath he takes is calculated, and he’s the embodiment of the show’s intellectual brilliance. Seeing the elaborate politics like in Osaka where formalities and good manners mask sinister motives was just so engaging for

me as a viewer. You’re constantly trying to discern the dark intentions of different characters and this kind of participation and nuance within the story is evidence of great writing. Characters lying or refusing to give away information speaks volumes and so much of the information we gather comes from

the performance of the actors. Which speaking of that, there’s not a single misstep in the entire cast and everyone is amazing. There’s a definite highlight, but I’d be getting ahead myself by going into that now. In essence, the political intrigue for Shogun is genuinely outstanding and I think

easily matches the level of quality of Game of Thrones, at least when it was at its peak. Just the premise alone in which there’s a power vacuum of a ruler dying and he has to force his 5 closest advisors to swear fealty to his son until he comes

of age, is a recipe for a great story. It allows the ambitions for different characters to flourish which in turn cultivates a story with rich conflict. I think that alone along with other aspects obviously, really captured my attention and instantly hooked me into the show. It just has

this perpetually high quality of dialogue and you can come out of every episode with a wonderfully witty quote. Some of my favorites are “The man who stands at the greatest height is the loneliest man in the realm” with this shot that perfectly punctuates that point. “Fate is like

a sword. Useful only to those who can wield it.” Or lines that convey so much meaning like comparing controlling fate to that of wind or there’s even some very profound poems like “Flowers are only flowers because they fall.” The writing in this show is simply breathtaking and constantly

conveys deep messages. Like after finishing the final episode I had to lie down and digest everything from how perfectly resolved it all was. Which speaking of the ending vaguely, it may come across as underwhelming for some people, but I actually find its direction to be masterfully reserved and

has a far greater and more profound impact. The whole emphasis of the show is on the politics, intrigue, conspiracy, betrayal, and the way the show ends is a perfect send-off that highlights each of these aspects to their best capabilities. Action is not the main highlight of this series

similar to Game of Thrones and instead, it’s the riveting drama that’s cemented with incredible characters. Also to add one more point before going into the character work, when starting Shogun I was very overwhelmed because on top of having this complex plot, we’re also submerged in a foreign culture

and there were so many aspects of this culture that were new to me. So on top of all of this already complicated plot, there’s also just a lot of learning that you do as a viewer from the meticulous detail within the show. It’s genuinely astounding and the showrunners

did such a great job of creating an authentic environment. Along with obviously adapting the story in an expert fashion and I wouldn’t be surprised if Warner Bros tries to get them to adapt a Game of Thrones spinoff show. Or hell maybe even a remake, I wouldn’t be opposed

to that. But I found the overall Japanese culture to be incredibly immersive and I think what especially helps someone of my demographic is how the story is presented through the perspective of John Blackthorne. His overall arc I found to be perfect, but along this arc, we’re also learning

the different ideals and customs of Japan’s culture. So not only is the character growing but as a viewer, we’re also learning as well. And I think this specific aspect adds a level of educational quality that you don’t really get from other shows and this inherently comes from the

sheer authenticity of Shogun. That and John Blackthorne for most of the show has an extreme clash with Japanese culture and this fundamental contrast elevates the entertainment value of so many scenes. Whether he’s completely disrespecting the way people eat their food, him speaking out of line, or even hanging

up a bird to marinate and then that even funnily enough brings about dire consequences. Literally, everything that John Blackthorne does is contested and his base existence is even an insult to some characters. So this entire dynamic fuels so many great moments within the show and it never feels

like there is any downtime because of this. Especially during the halfway mark where the plot development dies down a bit, but we have this cultural clash that infuses every scene with character building along with the audience learning. So throughout the show, as John Blackthorne is becoming more informed

and is learning the language and customs, we as viewers also feel like we are growing alongside him. We feel their misery, sorrow, excitement, and every step of the way you are fully attached to the characters. Which now I think is an appropriate time to talk about Mariko, easily

the best character in the show. Coming into Shogun you don’t really expect a character like Mariko to be the show stealer and expect that to be Toranaga, which he is a fantastic character, but there’s this utterly massive depth to Mariko. There’s so much under the surface complexities that

are constantly driving the emotion of Mariko’s character. Whether that be conflicting love, her dark past, or the weight of honor, loyalty, and fate. Her face is a constant battleground of ever-changing intricate emotions and analyzing her in any scene is insanely engaging. The acting here is astounding and when

she inevitably wins her emmy for best actress in a mini-series, you could essentially pull clips from any of her scenes. That’s how incredible she is. It never feels like she’s overacting in any moment and there’s such an extreme amount of nuance that is always oozing out her character.

That and during that halfway point in the show where the characters were explored more heavily, I just became enraptured by her and John Blackthorne. Their dynamic has so much depth as she acts as his translator, but they can’t help but get closer to one another. This in turn

also introduces more conflict into the narrative in an already massive and grand show. This small-scale exploration of characters I found to oddly be the best highlight within Shogun and that’s pretty impressive given how amazing the whole political and conspiratorial side of the story was. Their duo is so

alluring and the conflict that generates between them feels eternal and could last for multiple seasons if this wasn’t a mini-series. That’s why it saddens me so much that Shogun is a mini-series. Just when you come to adore each of the characters, the show comes to an end. During

the final episode, I kept checking how much time there was because I wanted to cherish the remaining moments I had left. But going back to Mariko, her entire ending put me into a medically induced coma of depression. It was so fucking gutting and I wish I could go

into the emotional rollercoaster that was said ending. But to say simply, it was utter perfection and the amount of extensive buildup done throughout the season gives her character an explosively outstanding resolution. I was wholly and utterly glued to her in the final episodes and her character alone essentially

encapsulates the climax of the show. Which pinning that much weight and story emphasis on one character and them delivering on that ten-fold with outstanding acting is just pure bliss to me. Then the reveal in the end that essentially went over all these story repercussions hits a level of

catharsis that feels nothing more than euphoric. Again, going back to Game of Thrones I just love this pure raw emotional emphasis that the creators put on the characters. They carry the show and it definitely helps that the surrounding story is also riveting. Also, the supporting cast is very

colorful and essentially highlights different perspectives within this kind of story. Like Yabushige playing a personally motivated character who isn’t purely driven by loyalty. Which I think adds an essential contrast to the other more loyal characters within the show. But Yabushige because of this was always able to have

such a fun time and seeing this journey unfold was a blast. And speaking of fun, there’s a surprising amount of levity and humor in Shogun. Like this is a very dark and mature story, but there’s this undercurrent of subtle humor throughout that honestly made me laugh on numerous

occasions. One moment that wasn’t technically subtle, but the punchline was subtle was the scene where Blackthorne teaches Toranaga how to dive. The funny scenario here is obviously that Toranaga forces Blackthorne to keep diving over and over, but to me, the funniest aspect was that after all of this,

Toranaga just flat-out belly flops. The creators don’t put emphasis on this moment and is only there in the background if the viewer is paying attention. But yeah, I find this overall brighter side of the narrative to contrast very well to the otherwise dark and tragic undertones that permeate

throughout the story. Then one more thing I want to go into is the outstanding production value. I can’t really find anywhere what the budget of the show was, but every penny was definitely put to good use. From the constant usage of awe-inspiring location-based shooting, cinematography that looks so

crisp that you just want to eat every frame, set design and wardrobe that probably cost a fortune from how authentic it always felt, and perfectly integrated and seamless VFX. Besides a couple of moments like at the end of episode 3 where they were on this ship and you

could see the greenscreen matt lines. But besides that, the VFX was very impressive. The moment that immediately sold me that the mouse was opening up the banks was during the first episode where our characters were trying to survive a storm while on a ship. The blend between the

practical set and everyone getting obliterated by water canons combined with the VFX background of water and really compelling wide shots, simply sold this as being real. I feel like the creators knew precisely when to go big on budget because a lot of the show takes place in interior

sets. So this essentially allows the showrunners to save money and really pop off and elevate the execution of the more action-based scenes. Like I imagine the whole scene where Blackthorne has dinner with Mariko and her husband was able to be produced for a small amount, which then allowed

them to incorporate bigger and more bombastic moments with VFX. That and every action scene with any swordplay was aided expertly with VFX and it never felt jarring because sometimes blood VFX can look pretty wonky. Which speaking of the action briefly, I wish we had at least one duel

or a larger action set piece, but I can be at peace with not having that given how amazing the story and characters were. Then the last great aspect of the production is the music. It’s been a pretty long time since I refused to skip the main title sequence.

I just love the woodwinds and how they communicate this serene tone while also still being able to capture this vast epicness. That transition is amazing and I think it’s really clever how they combine the sea and the Japanese garden. But yeah, every single production aspect of this show

essentially blows every other competing show out of the water. The producers knew how great this show was and even spent 7 million dollars on a Super Bowl ad for Shogun. It’s utterly flooring how outstanding this miniseries was in just 10 episodes and it feels like so many shows

take multiple seasons to barely even graze the excellence that Shogun was able to achieve in a fraction of the time. So to me, I think Shogun easily equals the brilliance and quality of Game of Thrones, and if anything, it definitely surpasses it in some areas. Thank you for

watching and check out my Letterboxd, Patreon, and Discord links in the description. As always, thank you so much to Logan Farmer for being a top tier patron.

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