This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

Right now, the best show on TV, in my opinion, is a limited series on FX called Shogun. It’s an adaptation of the 1975 James Clavell novel by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks.

The series takes place in the year 1600, when Lord Yoshii Toranaga Hiroyuki Sanada) is figuring out how to survive a hostile Japan while his enemies on the Council of Regents are working to double-cross him. When a ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), reveals a huge secret that could help Toranaga take back his power and flip the script on the council.

The show is exciting, epic, and soulful. It will only last ten episodes, so the time to get on the bandwagon is right now.

Let’s go behind the scenes of the show.


The Making of Shōgun: First Look | Hiroyuki Sanada, Cosmo Jarvis, Anna Sawai | FX

Shogun is another hit from FX Networks, who continues to be a strong, trendsetting voice in TV. John Landgraf, Chairman of FX Content and FX Productions, said of the show, “We have never made a show on this scale before. What’s unique about this adaptation versus the [award-winning 1980 miniseries] is that it tells the story from the Japanese perspective, not just the European perspective. We had two full production crews: one in English and one in Japanese. We hired most of the cast out of Japan, and I think that choice is why Shōgun has one of the best and most indelible acting ensembles of any program FX has ever made.”

What struck me while watching the pilot was just how big the world feels, in an almost Game of Thrones way.

It’s such a huge story, full of worldbuilding, that it’s kind of amazing how they immediately get you to care about the characters and understand the politics of a foreign land.

Justin Marks, the showrunner said of the process, “In this day and age where the reach of a television show is very global, we’re trying to scratch at something that isn’t being made specifically with one culture’s audience in mind.” Marks continues, “With Rachel and I being American, coming to it with a Western sensibility, at no point did I think we could realistically deny our gaze and what we were bringing to this. What we tried to do with that gaze was find a way to transcend culture.”

They actually planned to work on the show in Japan, but were writing when COVID struck, so they had to pivot and write in Los Angeles, working to bring Japanese culture here, and then traveling once the pandemic was over.

Of course, it’s not just the writign that’s amazing, but the VFX as well.

The VFX of ‘Shogun’

Storytelling at this scale is hard enough, but you need the VFX team to back it up so it feels real and natural as well.

In the above video, VFX Supervisor Michael Cliett breaks down the process of resurrecting feudal Japan in over 5,000 intense and strategic visual effects shots.

Creating a world that doesn’t exist anymore requires a lot of visual effects. In order to achieve the look of a large samurai army, they use a drone to give the feeling of multiplying the number of practical people on set.

There are three methods to recreate digital Samurai: scanning real actors, taking photos of actors in a pose, and using a program to build a CG character.

Another example of visual effects is the storm sequence. They use CG rain, CG wind, practical waves, and CG Water Dynamics to create a realistic storm.

Overall, Cliett feels that the show is inspiring and hopes that the viewers are transported to 17th century feudal Japan. And as a viewer, I cannot agree more.

This show is a huge project with a thousand artists and seeing them succeed in tandem is very special.

Are you watching the show?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Some details were sourced from this Disney interview.