Can you imagine the scene today? An eager, thrusting television executive attends a meeting with their bosses to discuss a proposal for a new television show…
“It’s set in 16th century Japan, during a period of political upheaval between warring feudal lords. A European sailor is shipwrecked in the country, but is unable to speak a word of the language. We follow the journey of our shipwrecked sailor as he discovers more about this alien new country, and learns the customs and language to eventually become an important person in Japanese society.
“Most of the cast will be Japanese, and won’t speak English. The only English dialogue will be between our hero and various interpreters. There won’t be any subtitles or dubbing of the Japanese into English. We will be in much the same situation as our hero, as we begin to learn and understand.
“The plot evolves slowly, there is a little action, a little nudity and scenes of a sexual nature, and most will be shot on location in Japan.
”The show will air in two-hour episodes over five consecutive nights on a national US broadcast network.”
Do you think it would be commissioned today? I don’t think so. Who would want to sit through 10 hours of foreign language dialog without any subtitles?
Back in the late 1970s, however, the show was commissioned. I remember watching it on the BBC in the early 1980s, and being utterly enthralled. I got the DVD box set a while ago, and while we’ve been suffering snow and illness I’ve been treating myself to a Shōgun marathon.
I have to say, it holds up well for being over 30 years old. Being a period drama helps, I suppose. The acting is good, with an adequate smattering of famous actors, and the transcription to DVD (not high definition, mind) is startlingly good. The only thing I dislike is the episodes are munged together, so you either sit through an entire disc at a time, or have to locate the scene where you left off.
I don’t mind. I have been watching a disc at a sitting, cuddling the cat, drinking in the sumptuous costumes, exquisite sets and the attention to detail of everyday mediaeval Japanese life, and picking up a smattering of conversational Japanese. If you’ve never seen Shōgun before, I highly recommend it.
Rippa na riidaa, watashino kji wo yon de kure te arigatou.
(Apologies to native Japanese speakers. The interwebz are only so good at helping non-speakers with such translations!)