"This the kind of mini-series that the networks don't even ATTEMPT anymore!"
Long before the term "mini-series" became synonomous with "annual Stephen King yawnfest" there were a handful of truly monumental productions that represent the absolute pinnacle of what the TV mini-series can be.Sadly, the finest mini-series all came relatively early in the medium's evolution: 1977's Roots capably taught an entire generation of TV fans that, well, there could actually be something of true network quality pouring out of their living room TV set.
Another of the 'founding fathers' of the mini-series movement was 1980's Shogun, which was based on James Clavell's rather popular novel of the same name. Divulging a side of Japanese culture and history generally unseen on North American shores (in 1980, anyway), both the novel and the mini-series were resoundingly successful, sparking a nationwide fascination with a people and a culture generally given (extremely) short shrift by American filmmakers.
Mini-series stalwart Richard Chamberlain is Major John Blackthorne, an English navigator who finds himself shipwrecked and cast adrift in the decidedly unfriendly locale of 17th century feudal Japan. Although Blackthorne and his surviving sailors are originally treated as prisoners-of-war, the Major slowly manages in insinuate himself into the political arena, and is ultimately forced to choose between devotion to his homeland and a newfound respect for the Japanese culture.
One of the best things about a quality mini-series is quite simply that of sheer volume; if you're having a great time with the first hour of Shogun, lucky you! There's over eight more hours to enjoy! And you'll have to search far and wide to find a made-for-television production that boasts this sort of quality. The costumes, the set designs, the majestic Maurice Jarre score, and the obvious respect for even the smallest cultural detail of 17th century Japan combine to create an entirely engrossing, not to mention lengthy, tale. That the viewer is not even offered subtitles when the Japanese characters speak is an indication of the respect the filmmakers have for their audience; those who are paying attention simply won't need the subtitles in order to follow the drama.
With his performances in Shogun, The Thorn Birds (1983), and a handful of other (less celebrated) mini-series, Richard Chamberlain became known as the king of multi-chapter TV dramas, and his work here represents some of the finest of Chamberlain's career. And of course you can expect nothing but a truly regal presence when you have Toshiro Mifune as your intensely noble feudal warlord.
Paramount Home Video is to be soundly commended for resurrecting this well-adored mini-series on the DVD format. The 542-minute epic is spread out over 5 discs, with a sound and picture quality that's probably the finest that Shogun has ever been afforded.And it's great to know that the entire mini-series is now saved for the ages, while that ill-fated and woefully truncated "movie version" (which excised over eight hours of material!) now exists solely as an answer to a trivia question.