Shogun 2024 FX TV Series Vs. Book Differences Explained by Producer (Exclusive)

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Shogun logo, Hiroyuki Sanada

The producers behind FX’s upcoming historical epic miniseries, Shogun, commented on the differences between the TV show adaptation and the original book.

The series, which follows Lord Yoshio Toranaga and British sailor John Blackthorne in 1600 Feudal Japan, is based on a book written by James Clavell in 1975. 

The upcoming show will take audiences through its entire story. However, this new telling isn't going to match everything to a tee.

Changes Between the Shogun Book & FX Series

Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Yoshii Toranaga in Shogun

In exclusive interviews with The Direct's Russ Milheim, the producers behind FX’s upcoming series Shogun spoke about how the upcoming adaptation differs from the original source material.

The show is based on a 1975 book written by James Clavell that had its own miniseries in 1980.

Michaela Clavell is the daughter of the original Shogun author and also serves as an executive producer for the new series.

When asked about the changes this new adaptation had to make, Clavell noted that with a book as big as Shogun, they need “to pick pieces and focuses” as they “[couldn’t] show it all even in 10 hours:”

“Well, in a book as large as my father wrote, and I don't know how many pages it was, but it was a couple of 1000 pages. It's a process of taking out what you want. You need to pick pieces and focuses from the book that big you can't show it all even in 10 hours.”

FX was “very confident of doing this version from the Japanese point of view,” she continued, and that they wanted “a more ensemble cast:”

“So when we originally spoke to FX and Gina Balian and John Landgraf, they were very, very confident of doing this version from the Japanese point of view. And I think that the original version had been more from [John] Blackthorne's point of view, the Englishmen coming to Japan. In this version, they wanted a more ensemble cast. And they wanted to show it from Toranaga's point of view, as much as from Blackthorne's point of view.”

Clavell admitted that, in a way, this approach is “more completely accurate to the book:”

“So in that process, different aspects of the novel were highlighted… In this point of view we get, which is in a way more completely accurate to the book, we get everyone's point of view. And my father was really, really multi-layered in how he presented the points of view from 360 degrees from everyone's perspective. And that was always the intent of FX to do justice to that view. And I think that all the choices were made with that in mind.”

Co-creator and showrunner Justin Marks admitted that he and fellow co-creator Rachel Kondo “had never seen the miniseries” or “read the book” before boarding the project:

 “I will say, for starters, I mean, we came to the book. We had never seen the miniseries or hadn't actually, in our case, generationally speaking, read the book before we started this. I would say it was a book that was on everyone's parent's nightstand for us generationally. And so I think because of that, I found a pretty helpful point of view. Because we could see it as a silhouette and engage with it that way.”

Cosmo Jarvis as Pilot Major John Blackthorne in Shogun

In regards to the story, Marks said that he “was conflicted about it” at first due to it following a Caucasian man, like himself, standing in clothing that “doesn't belong to his culture:”

“And in my case, just speaking only for myself, that silhouette was like maybe a little--I was conflicted about it. It was the image of a guy who looks a lot like this [gestures to himself, a Caucasian man]... standing in clothing that doesn't belong to his culture. And there's a representational side to that which I can't really speak to.”

He noted that the team “wanted to stand on [James Clavell’s] shoulders and reach for something even newer, or even more exciting” for this new series:

“But what I can speak to is it felt like a story maybe we'd seen before. And I think that's part of the legacy of the book is that it was so powerful and had such an outsized influence that people have been ripping off from it for a very long time. And so we had to find, I guess, as writers, we say, we're always in search of new cliches. That's what we're after. And so we wanted to stand on his shoulders and reach for something even newer or even more exciting.”

Marks finished by offering more high praise for Clavell’s original book, noting that it’s a great story about “what it means to encounter another culture:”

“And interestingly, what we found was when you read the book, it's all right there. It's actually this just amazingly modern, subtle, kind of stab at exactly these kinds of stories that had been ripped off of it over the years of what it means to encounter another culture, what it means to encounter yourself in that culture, your own agency, and find maybe you have a little less agency than then you thought you did going into it.”

Part of Shogun’s DNA is its incredibly brutal violence and visceral gore that can rear its ugly head from time to time.

Kondo admitted that she can “really struggle with violence and gore,” but they never wanted “to avoid the truth of it:”

“I'll say as a viewer, myself, I really struggle with violence and gore. I feel like I have to have a person with me to watch. I don't know how it mitigates it, but it does. So I learned a lot from Justin on how to kind of approach this because you don't want to avoid the truth of it. Right?”

“That’s what violence is,” she continued, noting that “it’s shocking” and “dreadful:”

“The fact of it is that, unfortunately, it does exist. But what I learned through this production through Justin's approach is how closely to the fact of it are you going to express it? Like, does it feel shocking? Yes. Does it feel like you want it to end? Do you want to dread it? Yes. Because that's what violence is; it's shocking, and it's dreadful.”

Marks explained how he has a particular philosophy when it comes to violence:

“I think I've always had, and I did this on my last show too, this philosophy when it comes to action or violence, that it should be as subjective as possible. Because I think when you get into the mindset of the person who's right there, no one enjoys violence, no one is excited for it. It happens, and you want it to be over as quickly as possible.”

Successfully approaching violence from that angle tends to, in Marks’ viewpoint, make it feel like the story is “not celebrating [violence]:”

“And when you do that, it has this dual effect of one, feels like we're not celebrating it, but also, it does create this visceral surprising, the point of violence, which is to sort of make itself clear as this is a point where all conversation has failed. And I think when you have that, it creates a recipe for something surprising.”

The full interview with executive producer Michaela Clavell can be found below:

Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo's conversation with The Direct can be seen here:

The full conversation with Anna Sawai and Cosmo Jarvis can also be found below:

Shogun premieres on FX on Tuesday, February 27 at 10 p.m. ET.

- In This Article: Shogun
Release Date
February 27, 2024
Cable TV
Anna Sawai
Cosmo Jarvis
Hiroyuki Sanada
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.