Shogun – Destiny, personal ambition and the useless hero



Welcome to the Shitty Diary of a Wannabe Cinephile. Today we’re going to talk about the series Shogun, or Shogun—I think in Japanese the original is Shogun. Anyways, today is the second episode about Shogun. In the previous one, I talked about why Hollywood doesn’t use Portuguese actors, and today is going to be a general review of the series. Not a review, just some things that I found quite interesting in this series.

So, what are they? First, I really loved that the supposed main character, the one we follow from the beginning, isn’t the hero of the story. Actually, he’s useless. The whole story is about how he doesn’t control his destiny, and that’s part of what I thought is very unique about the series. This ties into what I think is the main argument that this series makes: the contrast between personal achievement, personal destiny, personal desire versus a society where you, as an individual, have a greater role within the greater society. So, it’s not about personal destiny or personal fate but about your role in the community. I think this is the main argument that the series is making or questioning, because at the end, we have a spoiler review. We have a question of how personal fulfillment contrasts with fulfilling your role in the community.

This is very interesting because it contrasts some main ideas. I don’t like these terms, but in lieu of a better term, it opposes this Western idea of personal fulfillment being more important than community and playing a role in society with this more Eastern idea. I won’t say oriental—Eastern, because I think you also have countries like India, where you have this idea that your role in life is to help society as a whole. It contrasts through this mechanism of the series, where you have this English person, the first Englishman, who ends up in Japan. There’s a battle between the English and the Portuguese who are already there, the Portuguese obviously looking to enrich themselves from the Japanese, and the Englishman too. Then you contrast this man, the main character—I think it’s John, I forgot his name right now—the barbarian or the gaijin in Japanese, as they call him, the foreigner, the gaijin-sama.

Anyway, you have him arriving in a place and having to understand the world not through the concept of fulfilling your personal destiny or looking only towards yourself because he is constantly faced with Japanese values. These values dictate that your role in life is to fulfill a greater role, in this case, to the lord you are a vassal to or to the lord you serve. You can even do this through death; serving in death is more important than living your own life and fulfilling your own desires. This is very interesting. You have this happening throughout the whole series from beginning to end. Let’s talk about two points. First, you have Mariko-sama or Maria, her Catholic name, the translator. We figure out in the end that she’s also the daughter of one of the lords who betrayed the heir. Her whole life is to serve Lord Toranaga. She constantly begs to die, even to Lord Toranaga, but he doesn’t let her die because he has a role for her to serve him. In the end, she dies, but she dies in a meaningful way that solves all of his problems.

Then you have Mariko-sama’s husband, Buntaro-sama, who also dies, or at least we think he dies, to serve his lord. Step by step, this contrasts the Western idea of personal fulfillment with the Japanese idea of serving society through serving your lord. What’s interesting is that it’s not black and white. Towards the end, in the last episode—spoiler alert—Yabu, the openly ambitious servant to Lord Toranaga, is the antithesis to those who blindly devote their lives to Lord Toranaga. Yabu plays both sides, trying to figure out what’s best for him. In the end, when Lord Toranaga finds a subterfuge through Lady Mariko to avoid war, Yabu is ordered to kill himself. He decides to serve his lord and asks about Toranaga’s plan. Toranaga explains his grand vision of bringing peace, but Yabu questions if Toranaga simply wants to be shogun himself. This open question is one of the most interesting aspects of the series. It questions whether serving society truly means improving it or just serving the desires of the powerful. This series doesn’t provide easy answers but leaves you with thought-provoking questions.

This contrasts with the current Western society where leaders openly seek personal fulfillment, bending societal conventions. The series subtly parallels this with its portrayal of power dynamics. The series leaves this question open, which I commend. It questions the nature of serving society versus personal ambitions. The other strong point I liked is the portrayal of a main character who is essentially useless. The Englishman, whom we initially believe to be the hero, doesn’t control his destiny or change the outcome. He’s a distraction, a joke, who brings comic relief through cultural adaptation. This drives home the point about personal versus societal destiny. It’s similar to Dunkirk, where main characters are just pawns in a war. The Englishman’s minimal character arc, where he accepts he can’t control his destiny, contrasts the Western dream of personal achievement. This idea is echoed in the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, which challenges the notion of changing one’s life. Bringing a Westerner into Japan to explore these themes is very interesting. The series makes this point thematically, through events, rather than overtly.

If I have to point out something negative, it’s that aesthetically, the series is very beautiful but sticks to a classical cinematic language. It could have experimented more with the language of cinema, but it focuses on the narrative. This is a decision I respect, though I personally like more experimentation. In the previous episode. I’m still a little bit buggered about not having any Portuguese actors for the Portuguese roles. It got me thinking, you know, if nowadays you use a clearly American person to play a Spanish role, is it still possible? That’s a question. For example, if I cast Andrew Garfield as a Spanish person, as a Latin person, maybe? I don’t know, I think it would be really badly received. But for some reason, we can do that with Portuguese roles, no?

Anyways, that’s all I have for now. I hope you liked it. If you did, you can go to my website,—M-A-T-H-E-U-S-S-I-Q-U-E-I-R-A-W-X-2-G-Z. No, I’m just kidding. You can find my website and get in contact with me. If you liked this, please subscribe, like, comment, and review it wherever you’re listening to it. And why not tell a friend about this podcast?

That’s Matheus Siqueira for you. Thank you very much for listening. Till the next time.

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