‘Shogun’ Premiere Recap Summary: Will Toranaga Survive The Regent Council Conspiracy?

Aside from the Meiji Restoration Period, which saw the Empire rise to power by shaking off its symbolical garb and take the Land of the Rising Sun to great heights of modernization, the Edo Period was the most pivotal era in the history of Japan. The era not only marked the end of the cataclysmic, war-torn Sengoku period and unified the nation under a new shogunate, it also saw the beginning of an age of peace, creativity, and refinement, which provided the country with much-needed stability, allowing it to keep sporadic attempts by European colonizers to weaken the state at bay. However, the foundation of any form of longstanding peace is built upon sacrifices, conspiracies, strategies, and bloodshed, and the Edo period was no exception in that regard. Former POW and prolific writer James Clavell’s bestselling historical novel Shogun is a meticulous assessment of that foundation that strengthened Japan, and FX’s recent TV series adaptation of the same name does a fantastic job of recreating the intrigue of the era with a star-studded Japanese cast, as observed from the premiere of the series. 

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Despite including some fictionalized elements here and there for greater narrative effect, Shogun puts greater emphasis on authenticity in highlighting Japan’s turbulent the then socio-political condition, which is the USP of the first two episodes. Assisted duly by proper direction, great cinematography, and set design, there is every possibility of the series reaching the heights of historical epics like “Tudors” or “Vikings” in due time. 

Spoilers Ahead

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How Did The Regent Council Crisis Shape Up?

As the series begins, viewers are given a brief overview of the period the narrative focuses on: the year 1600, a year after the death of the second great unifier of Japan, the Taiko, and in the absence of a competent centralized power, four of the existing Regent Council members—the lords of the nation’s major provinces—have started making their move to capitalize on the opportunity. The only member of the Council who is not ambitious enough to aim for the seat, despite having a rightful claim to become the nation’s supreme leader (Shogun) is Lord of Kanto, Yoshii Toranaga. Belonging to the prestigious Minowara clan, which had adorned the title of supreme military general and governed Japan for centuries, Toranaga is a direct threat for the rest of the Regent. On his deathbed, Taiko had instructed his trusted friend Toranaga to protect his young son, Yaechiyo, and accordingly formed the Regent Council for an equal distribution of power until his son came of age. However, with the protector of the Osaka Castle (Taiko’s seat) and Council member Ishido Kazunari’s greed unifying the rest of the members—Lord Kiyama, Sugiyama, and Ohno—against Toranaga, the safety of Yaechiyo is put into question as well. 

Toranaga is summoned to Osaka Castle in front of the Regent Council, where he is accused of increasing his strength against the Regent Council through gathering more fief. Additionally, he is questioned for keeping Lady Ochiba (the wife of the late Taiko) hostage at his castle in Edo. Even though Toranaga explains that Ochiba is assisting her sister (Toranaga’s daughter-in-law) who is in labor, the Council dismisses the justification by stating it is merely a ploy to gain leverage for his own safe return. Using the vote of the council, Ishido decrees Toranaga’s impeachment as a penalty and grants him  a week to return Lady Ochiba to Osaka before his own fate is decided by vote. The accusation of treachery brought against Toranaga infuriates his clan, especially one of the samurai, Tadayoshi, who almost draws a sword against the Regent but regrets it immediately due to acting out of turn. The stringent laws and decorum of the bushido are merciless, a testament to which is shown as the Tadayoshi declares his will to commit seppuku to make amends for his action. 

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How Does John Blackthorne Reach Osaka?

The opening scene of the pilot episode follows a battered, ghostly ship across a fog-covered open ocean, somewhere near Japan Bay. It’s a Dutch ship, Erasmus, carrying European Protestants who seek to find the country of Japan, whose location is a secret well hidden by Portuguese and Spanish Catholics, who have monopolized the extremely lucrative trade by managing to sell Christianity to the people of the land. In a desperate attempt to cross Magellan Pass, this Protestant merchant (plunderer) fleet, which was previously five ships and five hundred men strong, has been reduced to a single ship and a little over a dozen starved, almost senile, anorexic men. The navigator of the ship is John Blackthorne, a determined Englishman who is fuelled by a burning hatred of the Catholics, whose outposts the crew has ransacked during their journey. Despite facing a near-death experience at the moment, John is adamant in his belief that things will turn around once he reaches Japan and his country manages to wrest control from these ‘savages’. Little does he know that this cloistered part of the globe is different from the places where the Crown has put its stamp. At long last, Erasmus reaches the shores of Ajiro, in the province of Izu, and the ruthless local warlord Kashigi Yabushige (Toranaga’s underling) arrives to assess the situation. 

Acting hastily and rising up against the four Lords of the Regent Council will mean suicide, which is why Toranaga has no option but to remain in Osaka with his clan for the time being. Despite knowing that after Lady Ochiba’s return, the Council will vote for his death, Toranaga remains surprisingly composed. Through his sources, Toranaga learns about the European ship’s arrival at Ajiro and immediately sends his most trusted friend and his clan’s second in command, Hiromatsu, to investigate the situation. By then, a Portuguese Catholic priest in the region had tried to incriminate Blackthorne after learning of his Protestant faith and have him executed by making Yabushige believe that he was a pirate. The sadistic, death-obsessed warlord shows his deplorable mindset by boiling one of the Erasmus’ crew alive, making it seem that John will meet the same fate soon enough. Yabushige knows that a Protestant ship carries ‘Christian weapons’ like cannons and muskets, which will be crucial in the ensuing struggle for power as, after Toranaga’s death, the Regent Council will definitely engage in a civil war. To stand against Christian regents like Kiyama and Ohno, these foreign weapons will be necessary, which will make Yabushige a valuable ally even after his clan’s lord perishes. However, the timely arrival of Hiromatsu foils Yabushige’s future plans; he seizes the ship and its contents and takes the captive Blackthorne, along with Yabushige, back to Osaka. En route, a Spanish translator, Rodriguez, gets acquainted with Blackthorne. The Englishman lies about getting stranded by accident, and as the ship gets caught in a tumultuous sea storm, Rodriguez falls into the ocean. Reaching the shores, Rodriguez is found unconscious under a cliff, and Blackthorne insists on saving his life by rescuing him. Yabushige puts his life at risk to do so, and John is greatly amazed to see Yabushige prepared to take his own life by committing Seppuku when the situation goes south. However, Rodriguez gets a hold of John’s journal, which details his Catholic outpost pillaging history and provides a proper account of Catholic conspiracies that are happening right under the nose of the Japanese bureaucracy. 

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Why Does Toranaga Save Blackthorne Multiple Times?

We are introduced to Toda Mariko, daughter-in-law of Hiromatsu, a wise, pragmatic lady, a devout Catholic, and a former warrior who is still grieving not being allowed to join her father in death sixteen years ago. As Tadayoshi’s grieving wife tries to commit Seppuku after failing to cope with the horrid fate of losing both her husband and their newborn child (due to Tadayoshi’s vow), Mariko’s assistance comforts her and stops her in the act. Toranaga seeks assistance from Mariko, asking her to verify the translator’s legitimacy who will translate for Blackthorne.

Rodriguez takes Blackthorne’s journal to Father Dell’Acqua, the Catholic Cardinal at Osaka, who gets shocked to see that the entries also contain details about the secretive Catholic operation in Macao. He instructs Martin, the local priest and tutor of Mariko, to take care of the situation while acting as Blackthorne’s translator. However, while acting as a mediator between Toranaga and Blackthorne, Martin is kept from misinterpreting the Englishman’s words as Mariko’s presence at the court prohibits him. Later, Ishido learns about the Englishman’s presence at Osaka Castle, and as he expresses his disgust, Toranaga agrees to let Ishido’s men imprison Blackthorne. 

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Like many others, Hiromatsu remained confused, as, with his death knocking at the door, why is Toranaga so concerned about this foreign merchant all of a sudden? It is revealed that, despite not knowing much about the Protestant-Catholic dispute, Toranaga knows that Blackthorne’s presence irks the Portuguese (as his sources in Ajiro informed him), which means the Christian Regents will be dissatisfied with his presence at Osaka. Grasping the bigger picture, Mariko quickly shares his realization that Toranaga seeks to sow a seed of dispute among Ishido and the rest of the council, using the Englishman. It is quite clear why the Taiko trusted Toranaga’s wisdom with such conviction, and why Toranaga does the same with Mariko. 


Will Toranaga Survive The Regent Council Conspiracy?

Inside the prison, Blackthorne meets a Portuguese Protestant priest who has been incriminated by the Jesuits like many others of his followers. After learning that Toranaga brought the Englishman to Osaka, the priest brings Blackthorne up to speed with the Regent Council conspiracy and warns him about the intricacies of their political game. From the priest, John also confirms the update he had learned about the Catholics building a power base in a fortress island near Macao—where, unbeknownst to the bushos on the mainland, hundreds of ronins and warlords have been converted to Catholicism and the Church is supplying arms to bolster their power—so that when the time is right, they can revolt against the center and seize power. Blackthorne realizes this information could be his way out and the key to survival in this alien land. 

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As predicted by Toranaga, the presence of Blackthorne creates unrest among the Christian Regents, Lord Kiyama and Lord Ohno, who demand Ishido have him executed with urgency. Ishido meets Yabushige, his former war ally, and tries to sway his allegiance from Toranaga, but instead gets played himself as Yabushige successfully planting suspicion against Kiyama and Ohno and presenting Blackthorne as a valuable ally. As Blackthorne gets escorted to the execution site, Yabushige rescues him at the nick of time and brings him to Toranaga. This time, without depending on an outside translator, Toranaga asks Mariko to help as a mediator. 

With the opportunity of a lifetime in his hands, Blackthorne details the Macao Catholic fortress, the treaty between the Spanish and Portuguese kings that ordains every non-Catholic land fit for seizing, and the fact that, according to their self-professed division of the New World, they believe Japan ‘belongs’ to them—in short, the entire scheme of colonization to Toranaga and his clan. Realizing the true hideousness lurking behind the benevolent façade of the preachers, Toranaga, as a still-acting president of foreign affairs, halts the trade chain by denying the Black Ship the right to leave Japan. Martin, the recipient of the bad news, informs Dell’Acqua, who in turn informs Lord Kiyama, who promises swift retribution. Later, Blackthorne thanks Mariko for truthfully translating for him and warns not to trust the words of the Catholic priests.

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That night, Toranaga arranges for Blackthorne’s stay at the castle to protect him against a possible attack, but switches places with him. One of the maids, Kayo, launches a vicious stealthy attack, killing everyone in her path to reach Toranaga, but ultimately fails as, anticipating an attack, Toranaga kills her. As Blackthorne and the concerned clan gather around and consider the attack to be orchestrated by Ishido, Toranaga corrects them, stating that the maid targeted Blackthorne, not him, which is now clear as daylight after the update about the switched rooms is known to all. As the second episode ends with the focus zooming out from the slain maid lying bloody in the well-preserved karesansui garden, the imagery forebodes a disturbing cataclysm that will malign the orderly state of things in the nation’s politics. The history of Japan is going to change forever, thanks to the wit of the veteran Lord of Kanto and the appearance of a Protestant Englishman. 


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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