Shogun (Miniseries Version) (1980)

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Released 2-Mar-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-13
Featurette-The Samurai, The Tea Ceremony, The Geisha
Audio Commentary-On Select Scenes (7), Jerry London (Director)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 526:19 (Case: 547)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (5)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jerry London
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Richard Chamberlain
Toshirô Mifune
Yôko Shimada
Frankie Sakai
Alan Badel
Damien Thomas
John Rhys-Davies
Vladek Sheybal
Yuki Meguro
Hideo Takamatsu
Nobuo Kaneko
Hiromi Senno
Michael Hordern
Case Custom Packaging
RPI $76.95 Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Arabic
Bulgarian
Czech
Danish
Greek
Spanish
French
Hebrew
Croatian
Icelandic
Hungarian
Dutch
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Slovenian
Serbian
Finnish
Swedish
Turkish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Long before Tom Cruise produced and starred in The Last Samurai, there was Shogun the TV mini-series, based on the novel of the same name by James Clavell. Some people (including myself) consider Shogun by far the superior story, and therefore the availability of the entire series as a DVD box set is good news indeed.

    Shogun is arguably James Clavell's best novel, and when it was first published in 1975 it sold millions of copies. Part of its popularity was no doubt its excellent representation of the clash of multiple cultures - feudal samurai Japan against Catholic Spanish/Portuguese against Protestant Dutch/English. The novel took the approach of being told from the perspective of each major character in turn, and thus we learn the innermost thoughts and secrets of the characters. This turns out to be crucial to help the reader not only unravel the various sub-plots and strategies (it helps if you have read Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which James Clavell was a big fan of) but also gain an insight into how each culture viewed the others. Thus we get a peek into how the Japanese view the Europeans and vice versa.

    Given the popularity of the book, it was eventually made into a lavish 5-part 12-hour TV mini series in 1980 (not to mention a computer game as well as a board game). The series was also extremely popular, and watched by millions of viewers around the world.

    The story is set in 1600, when Japan had a strictly hierarchical feudal society, consisting of royalty, the samurai ruling/warrior caste, the peasant working class, and the lowly etas. Pilot-major John Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) is an Englishman who managed to pilot a Dutch trading/fighting ship called Erasmus into Japan in the middle of a thunderstorm. He and his crew are accused of being pirates by a Portuguese priest called Father Sebastio (Leon Lissek) and imprisoned by the Japanese in a village ruled by a samurai called Omi (Yuki Meguro). Soon the local King, or daimyo, Yabu (Frankie Sakai) arrives and eventually Blackthorne meets the Lord Toranaga (Toshirô Mifune), one of the five Regents ruling Japan on behalf of the boy Emperor. Toranaga asks Mariko (Yôko Shimada), the wife of one of his generals (Buntaro (Hideo Takamatsu)), to act as Blackthorne's interpreter in order to discover who Blackthorne really is and why he has come to Japan.

    Soon Blackthorne becomes a pawn in a fierce rivalry between Toranaga and a fellow regent called Ishido (Nobuo Kaneko), both of whom are vying to become Shogun, the ultimate ruler of Japan. Blackthorne gains the confidence and trust of Toranaga when he helps Toranaga escape from Osaka Castle, controlled by Ishido.

    It's a gripping story of plots, subterfuges, intrigues and betrayal against a love story featuring Blackthorne and Mariko. Will the pair be able to fulfil their "forbidden" love for each other? The Catholic priests are also determined to kill Blackthorne, whom they perceive as a heretic (for Blackthorne is Protestant), as well as someone capable of attacking their Black Ship which carries a huge cargo of trade. Mariko is also a Catholic Christian, and soon she has to choose between her duty to Toranaga, her loyalty to the church, and her love for Blackthorne.

    Unlike the novel, which shares with the reader the innermost thoughts and desires of each of the major characters, the mini-series is entirely told from the perspective of John Blackthorne. All the Japanese characters speak in Japanese, and their words are deliberately left untranslated, so we are supposed to deduce their words either from their body language or paraphrased by another character or by the narrator Orson Welles.

    The story is loosely based on historical events and characters. John Blackthorne was based on William Adams (1564-1620) who arrived in Japan on April 19, 1600 on the 'De Liefde'. He and his crew were initially imprisoned in Osaka Castle by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, but eventually gained the confidence of the Shogun and became Miura Anjin, the samurai who married Oyuki and had a fief in Hemi. Toranaga of course is based on Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) who defeated his key rival Ishida Mitsunari in the Battle of Sekigahara on 21 October 1600 - one of the greatest battles in Japanese history involving over 160,000 men. He then founded the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for over 250 years until the Meiji restoration in 1868.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is full frame, which is the intended aspect ratio as the mini-series was produced for TV broadcast. The original five part series have been re-edited as one long feature (with one set of opening and closing credits) spread across four discs each slightly over 2 hours in duration:

    Hang on! Isn't this supposed to be a 12-hour TV mini-series? Well, yes ... by the time you include commercials. As it is, even after removing duplicate opening and closing titles, we still get nearly 9 hours of pure viewing pleasure.

    This is a transfer based on a lovingly restored 35mm print. Detail levels are good, well, near-perfect, with no visible compression artefacts (apart from some minor Gibbs effect around captions).

    Some of the outdoor scenes look a bit murky or over-exposed, but colour saturation for the indoor scenes (obviously shot in a studio) appear perfect. I suspect the transfer may be slightly contrast enhanced, but certainly not at the expense of losing shadow detail.

    Grain appears to be present in small to moderate amounts, particularly around the outdoor scenes. However, I did not find grain annoying. There are some very minor instances of macro-blocking, but again never to the point of annoyance.

    The film source looks exceedingly clean, with only minor black marks and occasional vertical lines marring the perfect frame. I also noticed a discoloured vertical band running down the frame from about 65:21-65:29 on Disc 1.

    Quite a few subtitle tracks are available: English, Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Greek, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Croatian, Icelandic, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovenian, Serbian, Finnish, Swedish, Turkish, and English for the Hearing Impaired. I turned on both English subtitle tracks briefly. They appeared to be identical except for the presence of additional dialogue attribution and non-verbal utterances on the latter.

    In keeping with the intent of the filmmakers to provide the viewer with Blackthorne's perspective of the events, all Japanese dialogue is not translated - only the English dialogue and voiceover narration are transcribed. Occasionally the subtitle track authors will translate an odd line of Japanese or two - particularly in the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitle track, but not entire lines.

    The first four discs are all single sided dual layered discs (RSDL). The fifth disc containing the extras is a single sided single layered disc. The layer change for the first four discs occurs in a similar spot on all the discs: at the end of Chapter 5 during a fade to black (so the layer change should be unobtrusive). The location of the layer changes are:



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio tracks on this disc: English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s), and French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track looks like it has been completely remixed and remastered from the original source elements, and sounds wonderful.

    Dialogue is crystal clear throughout, and Maurice Jarre's original music score comes through very well. I did not notice any issues with audio synchronization. The overall sound of the audio track was well balanced, with reasonable low and high frequency extensions.

    The surround channels are well utilized during the thunderstorm scenes, but otherwise they are mainly used for background music ambience. As you would expect, the soundtrack is fairly dialogue focused, but the 5.1 remix neither goes overboard nor consistently uses the surround channels.

    The subwoofer was only very lightly utilized, and on most of the discs switched off about halfway through the presentation.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are mainly featurettes and are all contained on the fifth disc. The featurettes are all subtitled in various languages (including English) which is a nice touch.

Menu

    The menus are full frame and static, but the main menu includes background audio.

Featurette-Making Of- 13

    This is a comprehensive and very interesting retrospective documentary, presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). It is divided into the following sections:

    Interviews include:

    This is an excellent documentary, covering from the genesis of the production (including the transition from novel to mini-series) to public reception of the series when it was first broadcast. There are many interesting anecdotes captured in the various interviews, including filming in Japan, casting, costume and stage design, and production issues.

Featurette- The Samurai (5:34), The Tea Ceremony (4:34), The Geisha (4:55)

    These are "historical perspectives" featurettes, all presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). They feature interviews with Paul Varley (Sen Soshitsu XV Professor of Japanese Cultural History, University of Hawaii) and Christine Yano (Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawaii) and are essentially monologues on various aspects of Japanese culture.

Audio Commentary- On Select Scenes (7), Jerry London (Director)

    This features the following scenes, all presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s), with accompanying commentary by Jerry London. Commentary subtitles are available in German, English, Spanish, and French:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

    I would rate both releases as substantially equal in terms of extras.

Summary

    Shogun contains the entire 12-hour 5-part TV mini-series produced by NBC based on the novel of the same name by James Clavell, spread across 4 DVD-9 discs, together with a fifth disc containing various extras. This is a must-own disc set if you are a fan of either the novel or the mini-series.

    The video transfer quality is excellent, based on a restored film source.

    The remixed and remastered 5.1 audio track is also excellent.

    Extras are on a fifth disc and include an extensive retrospective documentary, several featurettes and director's commentary on specific scenes.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Sunday, March 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDCustom HTPC (Asus A7N266-VM, Athlon XP 2400+, 512MB, LiteOn LTD-165S, WinXP, WinDVD5 Platinum), using RGB output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum/AVIA. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and surrounds: B&W CDM7NT, front centre: B&W CDMCNT, surround backs: B&W DM601S2, subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Japanese dialogues are translated with subtitles in the Region 1 release -