Shogun is bringing its historical English-Japanese culture clash back to television on FX.
Back in August 2018, FX initially announced that it was rebooting Shogun as a new 10-episode limited series. The classic property first arrived in the form of James Clavell’s 1975 novel, Shogun, which was subsequently adapted by NBC as an ambitiously epic 5-episode television miniseries, starring Richard Chamberlain, which aired through the week of September 15, 1980. The miniseries was the first major U.S. production to be shot entirely on location in Japan. Likewise, the new series is eyeing a shoot in Japan and the U.K.
While FX’s touted Shogun “re-adaptation” got put on hold in 2019, it appears that it will be back on track in 2020 with the network’s appointment of a new writer in Justin Marks, who wrote the screenplay to director Jon Favreau’s 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, for which he’s also working on a sequel. Marks also helped write upcoming long-awaited sequel Top Gun: Maverick.
Marks has already written the first two episodes of Shogun with his wife (who is of Japanese descent), Rachel Kondo, who also serves as a supervising producer. However, the project, which is obviously eyeing a shoot in Japan, faces logistical obstacles with the 2020 Summer Olympics coming to Tokyo. As FX president Eric Shier explains:
“We are actively exploring production options, and there is also the fact that if you want to shoot in Japan, you can’t shoot in Japan this summer during the Olympics,” adding, “But we are exploring it and it’s something we are really excited about.”
New scribe Marks has replaced the writing team of Ronan Bennett (Public Enemies, Top Boy) and Rachel Bennette (NW, Bel Ami). As FX Networks Chairman John Landgraf explained to Deadline during the Winter TCAs of the project’s hiatus and subsequent writer shake-up:
“It’s a big re-adaptation in a sense that we had many scripts and were in pre-production, and we ended up for various reasons deciding that we didn’t believe in the production plan and we didn’t think the scripts in their current form were as good as they could be,” adding, “The writer (Bennett) was no longer available to keep working on those scripts, so we took it down to the studs, we started from scratch. Now are well into development, and are really excited about the scripts that are coming out of that. We have read multiple scripts, multiple rewrites of scripts, multiple outlines.”
Marks will also serve as an executive producer, joined by Tim Van Patten (The Sopranos, Game of Thrones), who will serve as an executive producer and direct multiple episodes. Also onboard are executive producers in Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich of DNA TV, Michael De Luca, Eugene Kelley and the original author’s daughter, Michaela Clavell. Interestingly, Macdonald and Reich will serve as executive producers for another new FX project in the limited series, Devs.
As Landgraf stated of the Shogun reboot project in the 2018 announcement:
“The story of Shōgun has captivated audiences since James Clavell first released his epic novel more than 40 years ago. The themes of an outsider encountering a new culture are as relevant today as then.”
The story of Shogun, set in the early 17th century, centers on Pilot-Major John Blackthorne (Chamberlain), navigator of the Dutch trading ship, Erasmus, which becomes stranded on the east coast of Japan after a storm. Blackthorne, initially held captive by samurai, is forced to assimilate into Japanese culture amidst a period in which the country’s identity is rapidly changing as Catholicism makes a formidable presence, compounding the difficulty for the English Protestant. However, Blackthorne’s bravery gradually wins over the influential Lord Toranaga (Kurosawa samurai movie icon Toshirô Mifune), who bestows him property and a ranked foothold as a hatamoto (retainer) samurai. However, as Blackthorne finds himself targeted by Toranga’s enemies, he also forms a forbidden romantic relationship with his already-married (Catholic-converted,) assigned interpreter, Lady Mariko (Yôko Shimada).
The 1980 Shogun miniseries – following in the event TV footsteps of Roots and Jesus of Nazareth – was a ratings and cultural phenomenon, yielding awards season accolades in the form of several Emmy nominations, with three wins, one of which was for Outstanding Limited Series. It also procured a Peabody Award and key Golden Globe wins, notably for Best Drama Television Series and performance wins for Richard Chamberlain and Yôko Shimada. Shogun also released a heavily-edited 159-minute version for theaters, which bore nudity and non-broadcast-TV-safe violence.
We will keep you updated here on FX’s Shogun series as things develop!