4 great movies to watch while you wait for Shōgun season 2

Did you enjoy Shōgun? Are you looking forward to a possible second season? Here are some movies you might enjoy while you await the return of the hit show.
“SHOGUN” -- "Ladies of the Willow World" -- Episode 6 (Airs March 26) Pictured: Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX
“SHOGUN” -- "Ladies of the Willow World" -- Episode 6 (Airs March 26) Pictured: Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Shōgun, the FX/Hulu TV show based on the novel by James Clavell, ended back in April, to rapturous applause. The historical fiction series set in 17th century Japan has been a huge hit critically and commercially, and it looks like the producers are going to expand on the events merely hinted to at the end of the series and turn them into more seasons of the TV show, despite the first adapting the whole of Clavell's book.

If future seasons of the show are as good as the first, we'll watch them eagerly. In the meantime, here are some movies you might enjoy over the upcoming months while you wait for word.

The Last Samurai, 2003

Shōgun ends with a vision of the future where Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) becoming shogun of Japan, which basically means he runs the country. Although the names are changed, that roughly lines up with the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in real-life history.

The Last Samurai takes place centuries later, in the 19th century. In real life, American Commodore Matthew Perry was sent to Japan in 1853 to open up relations with that relatively isolated country. The U.S. Navy is eventually successful in bullying Japan into a couple of treaties. In less than two decades, modernization and industrialization are embraced fully by the Japanese faction that support the Emperor. That means the samurai class is being phased out.

The Last Samurai dramatizes this tension within Japanese culture, taking plenty of historical liberties along the way. It stars Tom Cruise as U.S. Army Captain Nathan Algren, a war veteran sent to Japan to train a constrict army for a Japanese businessman. Ken Watanabe stars as Lord Moritsugu Katsumoto, a samurai in rebellion against these modernist influences shaping Japanese culture. Like in Shōgun, the outsider from the west finds himself getting acclimated to Japanese culture and even appreciating it.

The story in The Last Samurai dramatizes the events of the Emperor wresting power away from the Shogunate and breaking the power of the ancient samurai culture with modern weapons and tactics. It's a great story and Watanabe is terrific. Audiences will get a sense of that culture and how it had evolved over the past two-and-a-half centuries. The Last Samurai serves as a companion piece to Shōgun. Whereas the former shows Japan embracing traditional culture, The Last Samural shows that same culture giving way to changes in the modern world.

Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005

In Shōgun, the character Gin, who operates a small tea house in Ajiro, trades Toranaga information for a favor: set aside a district in his new city of Edo specifically for tea houses where courtesans can develop their art in the Willow World. Eventually, Toranaga agrees to give over that land to Gin.

Memoirs of a Geisha picks up where that leaves off. This heartfelt film covers the life of a woman who as a child is sold to a tea house in the 1920s. She goes from basically being a slave to earning her geisha standing to gaining some popularity in her profession. It also explores the hardships endured during and after World War II, not only in the Willow World, but in Japan in general.

The film and the book it was based on were both weathered controversy. The author of the book, Arthur Golden, was sued by a woman he claimed was his source. He had interviewed her under the premise she would be an anonymous source, but he named her in the book. Her reputation was based on her discretion, and after Golden revealed her ideneity, that reputation was ruined. The case was settled out of court.

The film, produced by Steven Spielberg, took heat for casting Chinese and Malaysian actresses to play Japanese roles. Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh played key roles, though Japanese actor Ken Watanabe took on the role of "Chairman."

The world of the geisha might not strike some as an appealing topic. Geisha were not prostitutes, but women who offered beauty, art, conversation, and companionship. This is key to understanding the plot and the mood of the film. With this understanding, the film becomes one of romance, beauty, hardship and heartbreak.

Letters from Iwo Jima, 2006

This film was the second of two from director Clint Eastwood which depicted the battle for Iwo Jima toward the end of World War II. The first, Flags of our Fathers, is told from the American perspective. It shows the battle itself, following the soldiers who famously raised the flag above the island.

The second, Letters from Iwo Jima, looked at the battle from a Japanese perspective, and also stars Ken Watanabe. Unlike Memoirs, this movie was cast with Japanese actors and, like Shōgun, most of the dialogue is in Japanese with subtitles.

Letters from Iwo Jima is more gut wrenching and heart-tugging than its companion film. It tells the story of the battle and the hardships endured through letters from two men on Iwo Jima to their families in Japan.

The film gives humanity to soldiers who have been historically vilified by American policy, literature, media, and cinema. Eastwood also tries to accurately portray Japanese culture and is able to convey the feeling of hopelessness from characters who know deep in their hearts the war is not going to end in Japan's favor.

It's a brilliant film, and not only the better of the two companion movies, but maybe Eastwood's best directorial work. If you can steel yourself against the backdrop of a bloody and brutal battlefield, it is well worth your time.

Seven Samurai, 1954

No, this movie did not star the incredible Ken Watanabe!

If you like the classics, you are in luck. Seven Samurai, directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, is one of the most respected films of all time. It was nominated for two Oscars, and many movies in the 70 years since its release have used its simple, yet effective plot template.

Seven Samurai takes place less than two decades before the events in Shōgun. It's about a village whose people seek out a samurai to help protect them from a group of bandits. The samurai recruits six friends and they teach the villagers how to defend themselves. A great battle ensues, and against great odds, the peasant villagers beat back the bandits.

That is a very tiny summary of a movie that is over three hours long. There is much more to this film, including superb character development, cultural revelations, and emotion. The storytelling is patient and timeless. Like Shōgun and Letters from Iwo Jima, it has subtitles.

Seven Samurai's influence can be felt through the decades. The 1960 western The Magnificent Seven — which itself was remake in 2016 — is a direct homage. Most recently, we can see the structure of the movie reflected in Zack Snyder's Rebel Moon films. In an article about the movie, Yasuko Sato points out that Star Wars creator George Lucas was undeniably influenced by Kurosawa's masterpiece:

"Seven Samurai exerted indelible influence on George Lucas’s Star Wars, which delineates the Jedi Knights, guardians of peace and justice. They are specially gifted and trained, even to the point of detecting invisible threats. Especially notable are the similarities between Kambei and the legendary Jedi Master Yoda, the samurai sword and the lightsaber, the bandit leader and Darth Vader, bandits and stormtroopers. Interestingly, Jedis are clad in samurai-/monk-style robes. "

Yasuko Sato

Whether you are a film buff, you want to know more about Japanese history, or you just love a rousing good tale, there is just so much good in this movie. It's a fantastic film with a timeless, relatable theme, and it should be added to your must-see watchlist.

Next. All 6 books in James Clavell's Asian Saga (including Shōgun) ranked worst to best. All 6 books in James Clavell's Asian Saga (including Shōgun) ranked worst to best. dark

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