Now, I bought a copy of this motion picture on video cassette that was released by Thorn-EMI Video, which means that the violence, beheadings, blood, and nudity are all intact as opposed to edited in the TV broadcast version.
The reason why I purchased it: I needed a test tape for VCR repair. For one dollar, you get an old tape where you wouldn't care if the machine decided to eat it!
Anyways, since I bought the tape and have also seen Shogun before, I figured I would give it a whurl. I have watched this movie and I'm glad I only spent one dollar on it!
While the premise of the story is certainly interesting enough, the low budget and TV-like production values doesn't do the premise any justice at all.
The acting feels badly forced at many points, which is also coupled with some rather claustrophobic cinematography, nervous direction, and snapshot editing. (It felt like I was watching a TV show that seemed to almost feel like "Hawaii Five-O" with all the pointless and quick zoom-ins to objects in the frame.)
The pacing felt somewhat uneven, perhaps to where it was trying to rush the story forward to reach the end sooner. This might explain the 92 minutes runtime on something that might have required up to 150 minutes to properly play in order to account for character relation to each other and their settings. In contrast, Paramount wisely produced Shogun as a television miniseries, as the original novel could simply not be condensed to even a four hour epic without losing too much. (Although, the re-editing of the miniseries with only a small helping of new footage in an attempt to make a motion picture out of Shogun was a very bad idea.)
There didn't seem to be very good interplay between the characters. The relationships that you may see develop in this picture tend to develop rather quickly and, therefore, unrealistically. The characters also seem somewhat simple and, in many ways, unbelievable. In concert with the atrocious acting, it made watching the characters about as appealing as watching a bad sci-fi movie without MST3K. In contrast, Shogun had characters that developed intricate interplay over a long period of time. They had shown themselves as complex individuals and continued to develop in the settings and with the other characters throughout the story.
Also, the one thing that caught me totally off-guard was the production company: Rankin-Bass.
Now, Rankin-Bass is a production company that is primarily responsible for children's programming. They had produced the animated version of "The Hobbit," "The Last Unicorn (1980s, ITC)," and "The King and I (1999, Warner Bros)," as well as producing various Christmas specials in the 1960s and 1970s like "Frosty, the Snowman" (Need to get to the north pole before melting), "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" (I don't want to wear a lump of coal on my nose!), "Little Drummer Boy," and "T'was the night before Christmas" (You know, the one with the singing clock to make Santa forgive a city for a letter written by some mouse who used "long words."). To those familiar with the 1980s, Rankin-Bass was also responsible for "Thundercats" and "Silverhawks."
Now, this did give a reason why the movie sucked as a whole: a production company with experience only with children's entertainment cannot hope to produce an R rated picture without creative difficulty.
Now, even though this film was co-produced with a British firm: Trident Films, the producer was Arthur Rankin Jr. himself. Jules Bass apparently did not have any involvement with this production.
Watch out for a cameo by James Earl Jones. Mako, Toshiro Mufune (who played in Shogun as well), and Sonny Chiba are other well regarded actors who starred in this movie.
If anything, try it for a rental and watch for yourself. This is assuming your local video store even has this movie for rent.
This movie does deserve some credit for at least trying to maintain a standard, although I would only give it one and half stars.
I might have given it worse, but watching REAL garbage like "Space Mutiny" and "Strategic Command" does make "Bushido Blade" and even "Xanadu" look decent. - Reinhart