Shōgun creators explain the need for adapting the book for a new generation | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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Shōgun creators on the need for adapting the book for this generation: ‘Where have we gotten it so wrong over the years’

Feb 23, 2024 06:09 AM IST

In this exclusive interview, Shōgun creators Justin Marks, Rachel Kondo, Michaela Clavell talked about the research that went into the making of the show.

Shōgun, the new FX mini-series which is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar is massive in scope and ambition. Based on a 1975 book written by James Clavell that had its own miniseries in 1980, the revival comes from the author's daughter Michaela Clavell, who, along with Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo have expanded the world of the show, set amidst the power politics in 17th century Japan, for a new generation. (Also read: Expats review: Nicole Kidman leads Lulu Wang's poignant and well-crafted series)

A still from Shogun.
A still from Shogun.

In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, creators Justin Marks, Rachel Kondo, Michaela Clavell opened up about constructing the show with a keen eye for language and heritage, while adequately focusing on enhancing the perspectives in this version.

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The need for another adaptation

The 1980 version was very well received. So a modern rethinking about the adaptation of the same subject matter is bound to pick interest. When asked about any particular aspects about the book that they wanted to bring about this time, Michaela Clavell says, “I can speak to why we made it… or felt that it was authentic to make it again is that you know, we have come a long way after the version that released for than forty years ago, in so many ways. In our ability to tell a complex story, such as this book. Technologically, a lot more possibility. Also, the audience is much more receptive now to complex layers of history and storytelling."

To this, Rachel adds the importance of subtitling. “There's a lot of openness and appetite for subtitling these days," she says. Justin adds there are a lot of insights within the book that warranted attention. “All the rest of the ensemble, you get their inner thoughts and their secret hearts. There's an opportunity today when you can tell the story in subtitled Japanese and to bring the audience closer to those characters,” he adds.

Perhaps the point of view is also another major and fascinating concern. Michaela says, “It is very much inclusive of the Japanese point of view. It is as much Toranaga's (Hiroyuki Sanada) story, as much as it is and maybe even more, John Blackthorne's (Cosmo Jarvis). So it is a very different and worthy perspective.”

The research and perspective

When the topic of paying so much attention to detail in bringing that world of 17th Century Japan is thrown in, the creators cannot help but let out a momentary giggle. “A lot,” Rachel adds, saying that the research was extremely important to bring authenticity to the character and the story. “When we started the process none of us knew how to do it. We just had the intention to try. There was a lot of trust in our collaborators. We had to build the machine of telling the story while we were using it!”

Justin adds the first conversation began with star Hiroyuki Sanada, who was also a producer of the show. His experience in Hollywood informed how the project evolved. “Where have we gotten it so wrong over the years? What mistakes have we made and how can we avoid making those mistakes again? We owe it not just to Japan or the culture of the story where we were allowed to be guests in and tell, but to audiences. We owe it to try and make better versions of the same story.”

Where is that revision leading to? Justin adds, “On one level it is very simple, where you hire Japanese crew and consultants on a very deep level; but we also had to marry that with a East meets West sensibility. It was a long journey and it requires in the part of our Canadian-American crew an openness to listening and on the part of our Japanese crew a willingness to speak up when things were wrong, and to do so with generosity.”

“There was a great sense of making this,” Michaela adds in conclusion. “I, as an outsider, going to the set you can see and feel it in the room. People were really encouraged to participate because of the generosity of Justin and Rachel, and then FX encouraged the best from each other. It does not mean that it was always easy but it was an incredibly creative atmosphere. The book was there as a guide in the room, as a road path and I think it made for an extraordinary magic on the set. People cared. It is special.”

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