Anna Sawai proves she's Shōgun's secret weapon in Episode 9, "Crimson Sky"

The penultimate episode of Shōgun is full of gripping moments, bloodshed, politics and tragedy, as Mariko walks the razor-thin line between life and death.
“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (C): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. CR: Katie Yu/FX
“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (C): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

The penultimate episode of FX and Hulu's Shōgun is out now, and there's a feeling that the end looms for characters like Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), and especially Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai). "Crimson Sky" sees Blackthorne, Mariko and Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) head to Osaka, where Mariko makes a daring gamble with life and death stakes.

Read on for our review of "Crimson Sky." As always, there will be SPOILERS.

“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (L-R): Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Shōgun Episode 9 review: "Crimson Sky"

So far, Shōgun has been an absolutely top notch historical drama, expertly adapting the 1975 novel by James Clavell with poignant storytelling, great attention to detail and a keen eye for cultural authenticity. It should come as no surprise that "Crimson Sky" continues that trend. The show hasn't really missed a beat all season and it's not about to start now.

"Crimson Sky" takes place almost entirely in Osaka Castle, where Mariko, Blackthorne and Yabushige have come to relay Toranaga's formal declaration of surrender. The lord himself is still mourning his son, Nagakado (Yuki Kura), who died in Episode 7 after slipping and cracking his head on a rock while he tried to kill his uncle, Saeki (Eita Okuno). Or at least, that's what Toranaga wants the powers that be in Osaka to think. He doesn't appear in this episode at all. Instead, "Crimson Sky" focuses on Toda Mariko. It's a huge episode for her, and actor Anna Sawai absolutely makes the most of it.

The episode begins by showing a crucial turning point in Mariko's life: when one of her escape attempts was thwarted following the death of her father, 14 years prior to the start of the series, and how Father Alvito (Tommy Bastow) first began converting her to Christianity. It's important to see Mariko in this early stage so we feel the contrast with where she ends up by the end of the episode.

“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (C): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Nearly the entirety of "Crimson Sky" revolves around a daring decision by Mariko: she has returned to Osaka, but must immediately leave again to escort Toranaga's wife and daughter to Edo. That's a problem for Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira), since he's keeping everyone confined to the castle while denying that any imprisonment is going on. Mariko has orders to leave from her liege lord, so she either dishonors him by staying, or Ishido by leaving.

The scene where Mariko delivers this information is one of the best of the episode, which is saying something considering how many exceptional scenes there are in "Crimson Sky." Throughout the season, we've gradually come to understand that Mariko is no simple translator; she is the daughter of a samurai who helped Toranaga overthrow the previous regime, part of a long and proud family line of Japanese lords and ladies. Mariko dons this identity like armor, cutting Ishido off and generally putting him back in his place after he's let the power of his coup in Osaka go to his head. Needless to say, he doesn't take it well.

Mariko tries to leave the city anyway, which leads to another showstopper of a scene where she and a small group of samurai fight their way through the narrow confines of the Osaka castle gate. We already know they won't make it, and that this is a gesture meant to show the nobility of Osaka just how powerless they are in the face of Ishido's coup. Mariko even gets her own hands dirty, taking up a bladed polearm to fight against Ishido's soldiers. Though they have orders not to kill her, they still cut down all of her soldiers and bar her from leaving. Mariko then declares she'll commit seppuku at sundown in protest, since they're forcing her to disgrace Lord Toranaga by failing to follow his order to leave.

The entire thing is obviously one big power play from Mariko and Toranaga, and it works. It's compelling, and dangerous, and the whole time it's happening you desperately hope it works out in some way that doesn't end in Mariko's death. Shōgun is a limited series, and here we are near the end of it. If you haven't read the novel, these twists and turns hit like hammer blows. The production values are also outstanding, from the pitched fight through the castle gates to moody, sunset-lit views of the city as Mariko awaits her fate. Shōgun is a beautiful show to look at. Just don't think that means anyone's having a good time in the series, because at this point things have been pretty damn dour for quite a while.

“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (C): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

The fate of Toda Mariko

Mariko's declaration that she will kill herself opens the door for a bunch of emotionally wrought scenes; between Mariko and Blackthorne, Mariko and her childhood friend Lady Ochiba (Fumi Nikaido) and more. Though multiple people try to talk Mariko out of the seppuku, her mind is set; this is how Toranaga wins the support of the nobles in Osaka, and she's been waiting to die an honorable death for a long, long time.

The moment where Mariko prepares to end her life left a pit in my stomach, in that way only good television can when it forces you to watch something you wish you wasn't happening. The Christian regent she had asked to second her doesn't show, which is extra difficult because Mariko is Christian, and killing yourself is a mortal sin in the eyes of Christianity; only with a second to take off her head before she expires will she be allowed into heaven. She yanks off her cross and prepares for the deed. But Blackthorne isn't about to let this woman he loves face it alone; he volunteers to be her second. This entire scene had me on the edge of my seat.

At the last minute, Lord Ishido walks in, throwing her permit to leave the city on the ground in front of her. This opens the floodgates for all the other noblewomen in the room to ask if they can leave as well. He tells them they can, but do we believe him?

“SHOGUN” -- "Crimson Sky" -- Episode 9 (Airs April 16) Pictured (L-R): Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige, Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Alas, just when it seems like we might have a reprieve, Shōgun pulls the rug out from under us. Mariko and John Blackthorne spend a last, tender night together...while Lord Yabushige finally makes some power moves. All season, this guy has been trying to play both sides of the conflict in order to secure his own position. In "Crimson Sky," he chafes at the fact that Mariko clearly knows something about Toranaga's plans that he doesn't. However, by the end of the episode he proves once and for all that Toranaga is right not to trust him with crucial intelligence about his schemes.

Yabushige opens the door to the villa where Mariko and the rest of Toranaga's retainers are staying, allowing a bunch of Ishido's ninjas in to attack. Mariko outmaneuvering Ishido didn't go over well, and he's not about to take the loss lying down. The chaotic battle that follows is thrilling, as Blackthorne and Mariko fight side by side in an attempt to escape the trap. Yabushige is with them too, offering terrible advice and trying to sabotage their escape by acting too scared to help in crucial moments.

As the ninjas blast down the door behind which Mariko and the rest have barricaded themselves, she stands in front of it, allowing the blast to kill her in protest of Ishido's underhanded attack. He may have been able to explain away capturing her, but it's hard to imagine how he can sell murdering Mariko in the safety of her own villa in the middle of the night to the rest of Osaka's nobility.

It's a heartwrenching ending that had my jaw on the floor. Damn you, Shōgun! Does anyone get to be happy on this show for more than two minutes? I loved it, I hated it, I didn't want it to end. One more episode left!

Shōgun Bullet Points

  • Mariko and Buntaro have a son, who is also pretty Christian. I can't remember if he was introduced earlier, but it was almost a little shocking to see him in this episode since he's been in the show so little. I wish that relationship had been mentioned more often so that it didn't feel so out of left field.
  • Anna Sawai has been getting a lot of Emmy buzz for her performance in Shōgun, and this episode proves it's justified.
  • Fumi Nikaido also really stood out as Lady Ochiba. Every scene she had was riveting — especially those where she and Sawai were acting opposite one another.
  • Speaking of, I need to call out the insanely cool framing that was used during Mariko, Ochiba and Blackthorne's meeting. There's so much emotional weight and history between those two women, and I love how the camerawork underlined it.
  • I also enjoyed the poetry Mariko comes up with in this episode, and how various characters latch on to different parts of it.
  • Yabushige really stabbed the hell out of that first guard when he was kicking off his betrayal. I feel like that was one part adrenaline over what he was doing, and one part letting out pent up frustration with how he's been kept out of Toranaga's inner circle all season long.
  • Blackthorne and Mariko's tragic romance has been beautifully conveyed throughout the season. Even though it ended badly in this episode, I liked that they had a chance to reconcile before the end.
  • It's interesting that we don't see Mariko's husband Buntaro at all in this episode; presumably, he's off making plans to invade Osaka with Toranaga. That gives Mariko and Buntaro's tea-drinking scene in Episode 8 more weight, since it was in essence their bitter goodbye.


In a season filled with excellent episodes, "Crimson Sky" stands as one of Shōgun's best. By centering Mariko at this crucial juncture, it gives the limited series a powerful tee-up for its finale while adapting a chain of key events from James Clavell's Shōgun novel. If Anna Sawai doesn't have people beating down her door with job offers after this episode, I'll be shocked. She delivers an absolutely masterful performance in a masterful episode of television.

Episode grade: A+

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