FX's 'Shogun' brings a new, epic version of James Clavell's novel to life: What to know

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FX's battle for "Shogun" supremacy is about to commence.

The sprawling 10-episode limited series, which flexed a Super Bowl, trailer, has been billed in advance reviews as "Game of Thrones" set in feudal Japan — with looming war, life-and-death palace intrigue, plotting and politics.

"The big difference is that the dragons are within our 'Shogun' characters rather than stretching across the sky," says Rachel Kondo, who wrote and executive produced the series with her husband Justin Marks.

There is subtlety in power and action, but also sweeping grandeur and battling armies in the period drama heralding a new TV version of James Clavell's 1975 historical fiction tome, which was also adapted into a hit 1980 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in "Shogun."
Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in "Shogun."

FX Networks chief John Landgraf touted his network's most expensive, decade-long project at this month's Television Critics Association press tour: "In my 20 years at FX, we've never undertaken an epic of this scale," he said. "This is a long-gestating labor of love."

Here's what you need to know about "Shogun."

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Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in "Shogun."
Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in "Shogun."

When does 'Shogun' start on Hulu and FX?

The first two "Shogun" episodes premiere Tuesday, Feb. 27 on FX (10 p.m. EST/PST) and Hulu (12:01 a.m. EST). The remaining episodes will be released weekly on Tuesdays until the finale on April 23. "Shogun" stream in more than 100 countries around the world, including Japan, on Disney+.

Is 'Shogun' a remake?

"Shogun" is an original adaptation of Clavell’s bestselling novel, starring Hiroyuki Sanada as the embattled Yoshii Toranaga, who shrewdly enlists marooned the English pilot John Blackthorne (Jarvis) into an evolving plan to help tip the scale of power in 1600s Japan with their translator, Mariko (Sawai).

Clavell was an executive producer of the 1980 NBC nine-hour miniseries "Shogun," an epic TV event watched by one-third of TV households at the time. Richard Chamberlain became an international star as Blackthorne in the story that focused on the romance with his translator Mariko (Yốko Shimada). Iconic Japanese actor Toshirố Mifune starred as Toranaga.

The 1980 series is credited with opening American viewers' eyes to Japanese culture, but has been criticized for focusing on a Western point of view through Blackthorne, and his romance with Mariko. The new series tells a story exploring the complicated fabric of Japanese life through a Japanese perspective, as reflected in the novel.

"Our process was going straight to the text and listening to the story that was being told to us," says Marks.

"We see the story through Toranaga's eyes, Lady Mariko's eyes, so many Japanese eyes," says Sanada. "That's the intention of this version, to not see this story through one set of eyes this time. And to it make as authentic as possible."

Interview: 'Shogun' star and producer Hiroyuki Sanada's greatest battle was for epic authenticity

Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in "Shogun."
Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko in "Shogun."

Who are the stars of 'Shogun'?

Sanada, 63, who recently starred as Scorpion in 2021's "Mortal Kombat" and in Brad Pitt's 2022 movie "Bullet Train," steps into a career-defining role as the powerful Toranaga. The prolific actor was also a hands-on producer who weighed in on training the stunt soldiers and insisting on specific Japanese thread for the intricate handmade period costumes.

"Hiro wasn't just No. 1 on the call sheet, but he was our true producer partner," says Marks. "He found all the experts, the movement advisers, language advisers, costume advisers, wardrobe consultants, stunt coordinators that he has known through his 25-year career."

New Zealand-born actress and singer Sawai, 31, who appeared in 2021's "F9" and starred in 2023's Apple TV+ series "Monarch: Legacy of Monsters," portrays Lady Mariko.

The ensemble cast also includes Tadanobu Asano (Hogun in the "Thor" MCU universe) as back-stabbing Kashigi Yabushige, and Takehiro Hira ("Snake Eyes") as Toranaga's chief rival, Ishido Kazunari.

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne.
Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne.

Who plays the 'Shogun' role made famous by Richard Chamberlain?

Actor and musician Cosmo Jarvis, 34, who was born in New Jersey before moving to the U.K. as a child, stars as Blackthorne, the role made famous by Chamberlain. Best known for playing Captain Wentworth in Netflix's 2022 film "Persuasion," his relative anonymity is effective for the story, says Marks.

"We wanted the character to bring a certain unpredictability, and the only way to do that is to bring someone fresh, less familiar to American audiences," says Marks. "You have to let the actor steal the role from your imagination and make it something else. And that's what Cosmo did."

Where was 'Shogun' filmed?

Initial plans to shoot "Shogun" in Japan were scrapped due to the logistical complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, 17th-century Japan was recreated near Vancouver, Canada, with 30 acres of a studio lot transformed into villages, forests and fields while 300,000 square feet of stages were used for castle sets and painstakingly detailed interiors.

The story's main city setting, the Japanese port city of Osaka, was recreated near Port Moody, British Columbia, and a scale model of a complete Japanese galley ship was built in a parking lot.

"There's nothing that exists, not even in Japan, that looks like it looked in 1600. So you really are building it from scratch," says Marks. "But that was nothing compared to getting 300 extras out every day in full outfits, looking absolutely right and moving right."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How FX's 'Shogun' series brings epic James Clavell story to life