FX’s “Shōgun” (2024): A Rubbish Adaptation

FX’s Shogun (2024): A Rubbish Adaptation

When it comes to move or TV adaptations of a source novel (or manga), things tend to fall into one of three categories. The first is a faithful adaptation, where very minor changes are made to the source material. Spy x Family falls into this category. The second is a faithful in spirit adaptation, where changes are made due to budgetary or time constraints, but the spirit and flow of the source material remain. The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and the original Shōgun (1980) miniseries fall into this category.

Then there’s the third type of adaptation. In this version, the adapters decide they want to take characters and situations from the source material, but they then craft a new story that only vaguely resembles the source material. Sadly, FX’s 2024 Shōgun falls into this category.

The Story, in Brief

An English pilot named John Blackthorn finds himself and his few, surviving Dutch crew come to Japan. They are thrown into a caged, hole in the ground. The regional samurai lord Yabushige has one boiled alive. However, when his liege lord, Toranaga, sends TODA Hiromatsu to retrieve Blackthorn, now called “Anjin” (Pilot) and take control over Blackthorn’s ship and cannon. Blackthorn, along with Yabushige, go to meet Toranaga in Osaka, where the Council of Regents are meeting.

FX Shogun 2024

Toranaga has Blackthorn briefly thrown into prison, but when rival lord Ishido goes to retrieve him, Yabushige’s forces intercept. Since Ishido won’t allow Toranaga to leave Osaka Castle, Toranaga comes up with an escape plan to sneak out, including resigning from the council. Toranaga has his translator, Mariko, stay with Blackthorn in Ajiro, the town Blackthorn first arrived at. Blackthorn trains Yabushige’s and Omi’s men to operate cannons.

Ishido has Toranaga’s half brother take his place on the council. Toranaga is ordered to return to Osaka for impeachment. However, his son’s death allows him to stall. Instead, he sends Mariko to Osaka. Toranaga’s samurai feel he’s betraying them. As such, Yabushige forms an alliance with Blackthorn. However, Ishido is not impressed. Mariko forces an issue in Osaka, nearly committing seppuku. Ishido backs off to allow Mariko to escort Toranaga’s hostage wives to him in Edo.

Ishido arranges for an attack to happen, aided by Yabushige, in which Mariko is killed. Blackthorn is allowed to leave with Toranaga’s people. He discovers his ship has been destroyed, thanks to an arrangement Mariko had with the church. Toranaga threatens to kill an entire village to find the saboteur, testing Blackthorn. When Blackthorn attempts seppuku, he passes the test. Now Toranaga can go to war with Ishido.

The Good: Adapting Moments

When the original Shōgun miniseries aired, there were a lot of technical and budget limitations that prevented them from properly adapted certain moments from the novel. For example, early in the story when Rodriguez gets swept off the galley, the OG mini-series had to be shot in an interior set. As such, rescuing Rodriguez is simplified in the OG miniseries.

FX’s 2024 series fixes that and gets the scene from the book mostly correct. To that end, we see the galley taken to a place of relative safety, then folks go ashore to look for Rodriguez.

Another big example is the escape from Osaka. The OG miniseries had to change things so the galley goes on its own, and use muskets to blast their way through Ishido’s “fishermen” blockade. Again, FX gets this scene mostly right by having the Portuguese warship run interference while Blackthorn pilots the galley, using the warship as cover. I appreciated seeing the moments FX got right.

The Good: Fixing City/Region Names

Although I don’t like the character name changes (more on that later), I did appreciate FX’s 2024 Shōgun fixing the city names. I never understood why novel author James Clavell felt the need to rename most, but not all, of the Japanese towns, cities, and regions. For some reason, only Osaka didn’t get renamed in the novel. (And as an aside, the 1980 miniseries kept the novel names.)

To that end, Yedo becomes Edo. Anjiro becomes Ajiro. Kwanto becomes Kanto. I don’t remember if other places, other than Osaka, came up in the FX version of the story. As I stated, I appreciated this change from the source material, but it is the ONLY change I liked.

The (Mostly) Good: Visuals

Visually, FX’s 2024 Shōgun mostly looks pretty good. One of the things I appreciate is that the scope and scale of places like Edo or Osaka can be properly expressed visually. In the OG miniseries, CGI wasn’t a thing. As such, Anjiro (Ajiro) was the only place given any kind of scale, and it was pretty small. Osaka and Yedo (Edo) were mostly limited to the immediate area on the castle grounds they were filmed at. And the docks at Osaka were pretty small. Obviously, FX’s use of CGI meant that all of these locations look quite impressive.

FX Shogun 2024

Where I have an issue is that for the most part, FX decided to make things almost always cloudy or rainy in Japan. I have to imagine that the folks running the series wanted to be symbolic, and I guess it worked since so many folks “ikku” over the series. But for me, after a while, I thought, “Why aren’t there sunny days depicted?” In the OG miniseries, there are lovely, sunny days, but there are also some cloudy or rainy days.

When there were sunny days, they always seemed to be shown at dusk for some odd reason, thus lessening them.

The Bad: Renaming Characters

While I didn’t have a problem with FX changing the renaming of Japanese cities and location to their correct names, I did have a problem with character names getting changed in Shōgun. Officially, the people in charge of the show said they wanted names to be more like they would be in 1600. However, since ALL of the characters in the show are fictional version of real, historical people, then why not just keep the novel names?

To be fair, most of the names were kept the same. However, Fujiko got renamed to Fuji for some whacked reason. And I will continue to address Yabu by his novel name, not his extended, FX name.

The Bad: Improper Honorific Usage

This leads me to the honorific usage in FX’s 2024 Shōgun. When characters spoke in English, I did appreciate the fact that they used Japanese honorifics. And I was actually okay with them changing the -san honorific to -sama as that would be correct. Yes, that removes an element from the Omi-Blackthorn relationship, but that’s a small element that I can forgive, if done right. Oh wait, I forgot. Omi and Blackthorn don’t become friends in the FX version (or at least allies if not friends).

FX Shogun 2024

The problem arises when Mariko and Blackthorn talk to each other. In order for FX to elevate Mariko, they took the moment where Omi demands Blackthorn address him with an honorific and gave it to Mariko. She demands Blackthorn address her with the -sama honorific. However, Blackthorn was a hatamoto, so her demand makes no sense. He outranks her, so when she addresses him as “Anjin-sama”, that’s correct.

Unfortunately, FX had Blackthorn address Mariko as “Mariko-sama”. Two people do not address each other with the -sama honorific. In the Japanese, samurai lords of equal rank address each other with the -dono honorific. That honorific provides the same level of respect as the -sama honorific, BUT it does not elevate the other individual. So if FX were being accurate, Mariko would have addressed Blackthorn with the -sama honorific, but Blackthorn would have addressed her with the -dono honorific.

The Bad: Subtitles

Now we come to the inexplicable subtitles in FX’s 2024 Shōgun. On one hand, I appreciate the subtitles. The OG miniseries used narration to cover most Japanese dialog, but some they just flat out ignored. That irritated me. At least with FX’s so-called adaptation, all Japanese conversations get an English translation.

FX Shogun 2024

That aside, the subtitles are trash as far as I’m concerned. For a start, if your characters are going to use the -sama and -dono honorifics when they speak in English, why wouldn’t you continue to use them in the subtitles? The bozo(s) in charge of the subtitles decided when they felt an honorific should get a forced-transtion and when it should be ignored as a glorious, translation decision.

To that end, not only are things inconsistent with what’s said in English, but things are lost as well. The subtitles should have make use of all Japanese honorifics instead of trying to localize it like a bunch of braying jackasses.

Further, the subtitles decided to change “Anjin-sama” to “the Anjin”. What the actual smeg?! I don’t remember FX having the scene where Omi gives Blackthorn the Anjin NAME, and explains it isn’t done as an insult. The Japanese couldn’t pronounce “Blackthorn”, so they named him after his job. As such, “Anjin” becomes Blackthorn’s Japanese name. (And the novel shows the reverse when Japanese converts take on Biblical names.) That’s why the Japanese address him as “Anjin-sama” or “Anjin-dono”.

The Horrible: Weakening Toranaga

One of the absolute travesties of FX’s Shōgun is how they neutered Toranga’s character. In the novel, Toranaga is a crafty character. He’s the head of the Council of Regents. He’s NOT under impeachment ’cause “reasons”. He is a firm believer in karma, a novel theme that the FX version removed. And he thinks long term. He doesn’t want to be shogun, but if that’s his karma, then so be it.

FX Shogun 2024

For example, in the novel, Toranaga throws Blackthorn in prison to thwart Ishido from getting to use Blackthorn. When Ishido later releases Blackthorn from prison, Toranaga arranges for “bandits” to attack Ishido’s men, only to have Yabu’s forces kill the bandits and rescue Blackthorn. To escape Osaka castle, Toranaga had samurai troops secretly embedded in Osaka to act as bandits so that they could clear Toranaga’s galley of Ishido’s men.

Another example is that in Ajiro, Toranaga knows Yabu is treacherous and could turn him back over to Ishido. As such, Toranaga rapidly inspects Yabu’s troops and gets them to show their loyalty to Toranaga. BUT, FX cuts out the part where Toranaga then gives Yabu a prized katana in front of his men. That act helped keep Yabu off balance, and it also put Yabu more in Toranaga’s camp.

As a final example, Toranga’s son Naga doesn’t die in the novel. Hiromatsu doesn’t commit seppuku either. Instead, Toranga uses the unease of his various samurai lords over the decision to surrender in Osaka to smoke out treachery. And to teach Blackthorn a lesson, Toranaga even puts his oldest son (not in the FX version) to a loyalty test by ordering his son to kill his own son. Once that’s done, only then does he reveal his plans to his samurai lords. FX trashes ALL of that leadership.

The Horrible: Trashing Blackthorn’s Story

While FX’s crapping on Toranga in their 2024 version of Shōgun was a travesty, what happened with Blackthorn, and subsequently Mariko, was worse. In the novel, Blackthorn is a strong leader. He has a mission to establish trade relations with Japan and to thwart the Portuguese. Despite the huge culture shock early in his stay (Omi beheading a villager who didn’t show popper respect; Omi urinating on Blackthron for insulting him; etc.), Blackthorn is determined to learn about Japan, the Japanese language, and Japanese culture. This is to aide him in his mission.

FX Shogun 2024

During the trip to Osaka, Rodriguez gives Blackthorn important information on Japanese culture and that the Japanese are “three faced” (which was changed in the FX version). When Toranaga throws Blackthorn into prison, Blackthorn uses his time with Friar Domingo to learn more Japanese and more about the Jesuit presence in Japan. Naturally, FX removed that. Blackthorn learns more Japanese from Mariko, who is his teacher. (More on that later).

Once Blackthorn is named hatamoto, pretty much everything he does is to help Toranaga and his cause. In that way, Blackthorn hopes to ultimately be able to return to England with a trade agreement for the Queen to sign. And then Blackthorn can return to Japan with a fleet to help solidify Toranaga’s hold on the country. But FX removes all of this.

As such, we don’t see Blackthorn “become Japanese” as he does in the novel. Instead, the FX version of Blackthorn is just a mouth breather. He doesn’t want to be in Japan. He’s just forced to do things he doesn’t want to do. Any offers of aide are just to help him get out of Dodge. He’s weak and pathetic in FX’s version and I despise it.

The Horrible: No Romance for Blackthorn and Mariko

Continuing FX’s Shōgun destruction of Blackthorn’s character, let’s add Mariko into the mix. In the FX’s travesty, Mariko is just a reluctant translator for Blackthorn. Then for inexplicable reasons, she has a one night stand with Blackthorn. Otherwise, Mariko doesn’t need any man.

FX Shogun 2024

In the novel, Mariko doesn’t have a positive initial impression of Blackthorn. But when Blackthorn helps Toranaga escape from Osaka, she starts to see him a bit differently. However, it isn’t until they get to Anjiro (Ajiro) that she falls in love with Blackthorn. Once they arrive there, Toranaga has orders for Blackthorn to learn Japanese. Yabu-sama then issues a decree to the village that if Blackthorn hasn’t learned English in six months, he will slaughter everyone in the village.

As part of Blackthorn’s character arc, he realizes that seppuku is the only card he has to thwart Yabu’s decree. It is only Omi’s quick reactions that prevent Blackthorn from killing himself over the decree. Not only did this cause Yabu to declare that the village wouldn’t be slaughtered, but it also gave him great respect with Yabu, Omi, and especially Mariko. At this point, Mariko no longer sees Blackthorn as a gaijin. And it is here that she falls in love with Blackthorn.

As such, when Mariko decides to covertly sleep with Blackthorn, the progression is logical. But in the FX version, Mariko seems to do it on a whim, no doubt because it is an iconic moment in the novel. After that, FX keeps a gulf between Blackthorn and Mariko. However, in the novel, Mariko and Blackthorn have a romantic relationship until her death. And indeed, had Mariko lived, Toranga would have forced Butaro to divorce Mariko and allowed Blackthorn to marry her. Yet FX chose to trash ALL of this, and it sucks!

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

I’ve been working for weeks on this rubbish review of FX’s 2024 Shōgun, so let me wrap up with some final thoughts.

  • While FX brought in all of the other daimyo, they dropped a number of important characters. Indeed, Blackthorn’s crew is quickly forgotten and trashed so that Blackthorn can be trashed. Brother Michael, the samurai Jesuit priest, is removed ’cause “reasons”. Likewise, Blackthorn’s “chief” samurai, Uraga (Urano in the OG miniseries) was removed. He was an excommunicated samurai Jesuit priest who plays an important role in the novel.
  • Fujiko gets elevated to a mini girl-boss in the FX version. In the novel, she doesn’t like Blackthorn, but does her duty. Eventually, she comes to respect Blackthorn and even takes over with “pillowing” Blackthorn after Mariko can no longer provide this service. She’s strong, brave, strong-willed in the novel, but she’s not the same character we see in the FX version.
  • Sadly, Blackthorn’s friendship with Rodriguez is pretty much removed in the FX version. In the novel, Blackthorn comes aboard Rodriguez’s ship because he can get European food for the first time in weeks. Rodriguez saves him from getting turned over to his captain as payment for Blackthorn saving his life. I missed that.

In the end, I know tons of people gush over FX’s 2024 Shōgun. For me, I cannot divorce what I consider to be a horrific butchering of the original novel. Even though it had flaws, the 1980 miniseries at least kept the spirit of the novel, even if in a simplified fashion. FX takes characters and situations to create a Frankenstein’s monster.

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