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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Chamberlain’

This Anglo-Japanese co-production, subtitled The Shogun & the English Samuri, is timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the relationship between Britain & Japan. It was all down to a lowly seaman called William Adams who arrived in 1600 on a Dutch ship and went on to become the Shogun’s confidante. James Clavell used this as a starting point for his 1975 novel Shogun (Adams became Blackthorne), the third in his six-part  ‘Asian Saga’, made into a TV series with Richard Chamberlain. Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is also based on the opening up of Japan at this time, but less specifically about Britain. Anjin, cowritten by Mike Poulton and Shoichiro Kawar, is no doubt more historically accurate.

When Adams arrives, the Jesuits are introducing Catholicism and presenting their one-sided picture of Europe. The country is in turmoil whilst its council of ministers, ruling on behalf of the 7-year old First Lord, vie for control. The Shogun Ieyasu has taken control as Regent, much to the annoyance of the mother of young Taiko. Adams mission is trade and once he has a modest grasp of local culture and politics, he befriends the Regent who welcomes his insight into the rest of the world, having never left Japan himself. Despite being a husband and father back home, Adams ‘goes native’, marries and fathers two children. When a British ship finally arrives some 13 years later, he declines to return and stays to facilitate trade between the countries.

It has an epic Shakespearian sweep, which is somewhat appropriate as Will was back home writing plays at the time. It encompasses battles, political manoeuvering, cultural clashes, religious bigotry and oppression and more personal stories. There is much humour, mostly at the expense of the Spanish and the British sailors, but also deeply moving moments; when Ieyasu has to explain to a child why he must be beheaded, it is heartbreaking. I think it could have been edited a little and there were moments when I felt it was too slow, but overall it’s a fascinating story that’s very well told in Gregory Doran’s production (for it is he!).

The production team are all Japanese and Yuichiro Kanai’s sets and Lily Komine’s costumes are gorgeous, with the video and lighting showing them off beautifully. The headwear of the warriors is particularly spectacular! There are a lot of scenes and screens aid the flow between them. The dialogue is both English and Japanese with surtitles for the other and this brings an authenticity to the story-telling. The cast is two-thirds Japanese, led by Masachika Ichimura as Ieyasu and Stephen Boxer as Adams who are well matched and you really do believe in their ‘special relationship’. Yuki Furukawa is excellent as a Japanese Jesuit convert who becomes Adams’ translator and friend and prevents the Jesuits from pumping the Regent with a mine of misinformation.

A very satisfying evening which made me reflect on the similarity and differences between these nations, which in my experience is as special a relationship as the other one!

 

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