Shōgun First Reviews: ‘A Sweeping Historical Epic,’ Critics Say

By z20z.com 11 Min Read

Shōgun is FX’s long-awaited limited series adaptation of James Clavell’s classic novel about feudal Japan during the pre-Edo period. The primarily Japanese series was created by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks, and stars Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Yoshii Toranaga and Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne. It will premiere its first two episodes on Tuesday, February 27 to FX and Hulu.

Included in the ensemble cast are Anna Sawai as Lady Mariko; Néstor Carbonell as Vasco Rodrigues; Fumi Nikaidô as Ochiba No Kata; Takehiro Hira as Ishido Kazunari; Toshi Toda as Sugiyama; Hiro Kanagawa as Igurashi; and Yuki Kura as Yoshi Nagakado.

There’s a groundswell of hype leading up to the epic series’ premiere. Will it stick the landing? Here’s what critics are saying about Shōgun.


How does it compare to the book and 1980 miniseries?

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

Almost 50 years since Clavell’s Shogun hit bookshelves and close to 45 since it was a hit TV miniseries starring the legendary Toshiro Mifune, it is reborn as a sprawling 10-episode drama on FX. Often violent, sometimes erotic, and at all times magnificent in its pure entertainment factor and period immersion, Shogun clears any rightfully placed suspicions over its ungainly premise to tell a classic tale of understanding and discovery, wrapped up in a complex political thriller.
Eric Francisco, Inverse

 The bulk of the series is presented in Japanese, with English subtitles. Early scenes immediately dig into the nitty gritty of Osaka’s dirty politics, before Blackthorne even has a chance to interlope on the action. Most importantly, Jarvis’s Blackthorne isn’t a dashing hero swiftly adapting to Japanese life, but an opportunist confusedly surfing the waves of fortune.
Meghan O’Keefe, Decider

Adapted directly from Clavell’s novel, this sprawling, 10-part historical drama takes a far broader view than its predecessor, moving beyond the Western outsider’s perspective to survey a fracturing society that is just as baffled by this interloper’s ways as he is by theirs.
Judy Berman, TIME Magazine


How is the cast?

Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in Shōgun (2024)

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

In recent years, Sanada has shown up briefly in titles such as Westworld, John Wick: Chapter 4, and Bullet Train, and basically stolen the show every time, so it’s a real treat to see him in such a meaty role here.
Amy West, Total Film

Shōgun star and EP Hiroyuki Sanada brings his trademark blend of danger and gravitas to Toranaga, turning him into a titan just with his presence alone. Raised by Wolves alum Cosmo Jarvis lends Blackthorne his gravelly voice and quirky onscreen presence. It’s a combination that turns a character who could have felt like a two-dimensional white savior trope into a complex human being.
Meghan O’Keefe, Decider

The breakout star, though, is Anna Sawai as Mariko, Blackthorne’s translator and a sort of right-hand to Toranaga, a meaty and sometimes unwieldy role that Sawai embodies with grace.
Brandon Yu, TheWrap

Anna Sawai is alluring as the pillar-like Mariko, a high-class noble and translator (and inevitable love interest) for Blackthorne. Tadanobu Asano, who got a serious short end of the stick in the Thor movies, shines as the brash samurai lord Yabushige, risking his head in playing both sides of a bubbling civil war. Nestor Carbonell, as a Spanish sailor and rival to Blackthorne, makes for an overall entertaining foil, lending a touch of anti-heroic whimsy reminiscent of a Pirates of the Caribbean baddie.
Eric Francisco, Inverse

Tadanobu Asano as Yabushige, Toranaga’s shifty commander, is a standout. There’s a consistent mirth in his eyes, and his demeanor works for the occasional comedic relief, but Asano understands the balance Yabushige must have for it to work.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant


Does the writing and directing deliver?

Yuka Kouri as Kiku in FX's Shogun.

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

Shōgun‘s story goes hard at every turn, gleefully serving up gore alongside eloquent sequences of poetry contests.
Meghan O’Keefe, Decider

In terms of storytelling, viewers’ ability to understand what the Japanese characters are saying to one another opens up Shōgun’s world immensely. We get private conversations, backstories, access to the inner lives of scheming double agents and ambitious courtesans and sons impatient to prove themselves through combat.
Judy Berman, TIME Magazine

The high stakes and sense of danger, which looms over every plotting conversation, are palpable, which adds intrigue and thrill to the dialogue-heavy proceedings.
Amy West, Total Film

There are so many moving parts, but the writers carefully craft a story that never overwhelms. Watching Shōgun’s story unfold is a slow, sizzling burn in the best possible sense.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant


How is the production quality and world-building?

Hiroto Kanai as Kashigi Omi in FX's Shogun

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

Marks and Kondo, with the help of a stable of directors across the season, have overseen a period piece of awesome scale and impeccable detail. Forgiving a couple moments of iffy visual effects, the production and costume design are wonderfully immersive, and a booming score reinforces the gravitas of the show’s large canvas.
Brandon Yu, TheWrap

Cinematographers Sam McCurdy (Game of Thrones), Marc Laliberté (Gen V), and more limit themselves on sweeping vistas – and let’s face it, what could have been dodgy VFX – and instead, favor framing that highlights the exquisite work done by the production design, makeup and hair, and costume departments. High-contrast lighting adds to each episode’s moody and intense atmosphere, while composers Nick Chuba, Leopold Ross, and Atticus Ross’ score accompanies the aesthetics perfectly.
Amy West, Total Film

Fittingly, the show looks great—the sets, the landscapes, or the costumes—and boasts of attention to detail.
Akhil Arora, AkhilArora.com


How are the action sequences?

Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige in FX's Shogun.

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

The visceral quality to the show’s violence can be exciting or horrifying, sometimes both, but Shōgun never spills blood just for the sake of shocking us.
Ross McIndoe, Slant Magazine

The resources to portray such battles are far greater in 2024 than the previous 1980 miniseries adaptation of Shogun. But, Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks’ adaptation is equally focused on the brutality of the politics, with cable/streaming allowances for language, sex and violence.
Fred Topel, United Press International

There is a decent amount of action and violence, though that is not the story’s focus by any means. Instead, it is about the way all the characters are navigating the violent forces of fate that will cast them aside without a moment’s notice.
Chase Hutchinson, Collider

Shogun is a blend of period drama with bloody violence while never taking for granted the realism this story needs to deliver its narrative. There are battle sequences that are stunning to watch as well as a fair amount of nudity.
Alex Maidy, JoBlo’s Movie Network


Any final thoughts?

Fumi Mikado as Ochiba no Kata in Shōgun (2024)

(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

Shogun is a rich, textured, even sensitive grownup drama that knows how to strike the razor-thin balance between spectacle and spectacular.
Eric Francisco, Inverse

Shōgun is in many ways all about death, and specifically how different cultures and religions view it. But it’s also a sweeping historical epic, with all the intrigue, plotting, and clashes of arms you could hope for.
Travis Johnson, Flicks (AU, NZ, UK)

Even if the payoffs aren’t always there, “Shōgun” stands to be one of the most engaging, impressive shows of the year.
Brandon Yu, TheWrap

At a time when so many of TV’s biggest swings, from Amazon’s The Rings of Power and Citadel to Netflix’s Stranger Things and The Crown, have yielded at least partial misses, FX’s Shōgun stands apart as a genuine masterpiece.
Judy Berman, TIME Magazine

Shogun is instantly a masterpiece and supplants the 1980 version of the story. This series is beautiful, powerful, stirring, and engrossing and gives the great Hiroyuki Sanada a long-awaited lead role for a global audience.
Alex Maidy, JoBlo’s Movie Network

The decision to use Mariko and Toranaga as central characters alongside Blackthorne, who was the sole protagonist of both the book and the acclaimed 1980 TV adaptation, is an effective way to avoid the “white savior” tropes that the tale dances with. And it’s ultimately the thing that makes this Shōgun more than another elegantly staged historical drama, using three distinct perspectives to turn it into a rumination on life and death.
Ross McIndoe, Slant Magazine

The latest FX series (also set to premiere on Hulu) is ripe with political tension and treachery, a chessboard of moving pieces that change up the game and create obstacles within relationships and alliances that will leave you waiting to see what happens next. If there’s any series that has come close to being what Game of Thrones once was, it’s this one.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant


Thumbnail image by FX
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