Critics hail FX's new samurai drama Shōgun as a "masterpiece"

Will FX and Hulu give us our next epic obsession?
Shōgun - Official Trailer | Hiroyuki Sanada, Cosmo Jarvis, Anna Sawai | FX
Shōgun - Official Trailer | Hiroyuki Sanada, Cosmo Jarvis, Anna Sawai | FX / FX Networks

Tomorrow, a new show called Shōgun will drop on FX and Hulu. Based on the 1975 novel by James Clavell, it's a historical drama set in 17th century Japan, previously turned into a miniseries in 1980. Shōgun revolves around an English sailor named John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) who is ship-wrecked in Japan and gets caught up in the life of Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), who's fighting other lords for control during a period of sectarian violence. They both depend on the translator Toda Mariko​​​​​​​ (Anna Sawai). It sounds pretty cool on its own, and moreso when you realize that critics are absolutely salivating over the series.

As of this writing, Shōgun has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a rare feat. Critics are falling over themselves to praise it:

  • JoBlo's Movie Network: "Shōgun is instantly a masterpiece and supplants the 1980 version of the story. This series is beautiful, powerful, stirring, and engrossing and gives the great Hiroyuki Sanada a long-awaited lead role for a global audience."
  • TIME: "At a time when so many of TV’s biggest swings, from Amazon’s The Rings of Power and Citadel to Netflix’s Stranger Things and The Crown, have yielded at least partial misses, FX’s Shōgun stands apart as a genuine masterpiece."
  • Slant: "The series is more than another elegantly staged historical drama, using three distinct perspectives to turn it into rumination on life and death."
  • Decider: "Shōgun‘s story goes hard at every turn, gleefully serving up gore alongside eloquent sequences of poetry contests."
  • Flicks: "Shōgun is in many ways all about death, and specifically how different cultures and religions view it. But it’s also a sweeping historical epic, with all the intrigue, plotting, and clashes of arms you could hope for."
  • Primetimer: "The action and battle sequences are absolutely stunning, filled with brutal violence and heart-pounding twists and turns."
  • London Evening Standard: "Shogun is prestige drama writ large. Lush locations (it’s impossible to tell that this 16th century Japan was all recreated in Vancouver), superb performances and an engaging story that may take its time but inexorably draws the viewer in."
  • TV Insider: "I never wanted to leave this world and its rewarding storytelling. Please, FX, never stop aiming this high."

Studios dream of this kind of coverage. There are a few more downbeat reviews, but even those are positive overall. For example:

  • TheWrap: "Even if the payoffs aren’t always there, “Shōgun” stands to be one of the most engaging, impressive shows of the year."
  • Total Film: "While... far from perfect, it does enough right to leave us wanting more. If it irons out its kinks in a follow-up, it could very well end up being TV's next big book-based phenomenon."
  • Pittsburgh Tribune: "The love story is perhaps the least convincing aspect of this iteration of Shōgun, but the rest of it feels impressive in its scope, attention to detail and storytelling that sucks viewers in."

As more and bigger shows kept getting made, it does feel like it's harder to produce something that stands out. Perhaps FX has managed it with Shōgun. We'll all find out together when the series drops on FX and Hulu tomorrow, February 27.

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