Based on the epic novel by James Clavell, Shogun originated as an epic five-part television miniseries, filmed on location in Japan. Richard Chamberlain stars as John Blackthorne, a 17th century British sea pilot in charge of a Dutch vessel. Shipwrecked off the coast of Japan, Blackthorne is in danger of being executed by the suspicious, reclusive Japanese hierarchy, but before long he has been accepted into the local culture. Accordingly, he begins to think of himself as Japanese, adopting the nation's customs and, while wearing the robes of a Samurai warrior, helping to defend the land against its enemies. The arrival of Blackthorne unfortunately arouses the interest of European empire-builders, who hope to add Japan to their holdings. Toshiro Mifune costars as Toranaga, a warlord who befriends Blackthorne, and Yoko Shimada appears as Mariko, the interpreter who eventually falls in love with the Englishman. When it first aired in September of 1980, Shogun caused eyebrows to raise with its seemingly reckless disregard of certain TV taboos: for example, one man is beheaded in full view of the audience, while another relieves himself on the body of an enemy. Most of the early dialogue sequence are in Japanese, which resulted in complaints from many monolingual viewers. As a result, the 1983 rebroadcast of Shogun included English narration by Orson Welles. The 125-minute feature version of Shogun, prepared for home video, includes English subtitles--as well as several originally excised scenes of nudity and excessive violence.
by Hal Erickson synopsis