Where to Watch the Original ‘Shōgun’ (The 1980 Miniseries)

SHOGUN, Richard Chamberlain, 1980,
© NBC/courtesy Everett Collection

In 1980, the five-night, 12-hour, award-winning historical romance Shōgun debuted on NBC. The miniseries starred Richard Chamberlain and was an immediate ratings smash when it premiered on Sept. 15, 1980.

Finding where to watch the original Shōgun or where Shōgun is available to stream today isn’t easy. In fact, it’s nonexistent presently in the streaming world. The best way to watch the original Shōgun (the 1980 miniseries) is to head to your local library. That’s right; you’re going to need to leave the comforts of your home, unearth your DVD player and quite possibly sign up for a library card. We found plenty of copies of the five-part miniseries available at libraries across the nation.

Now, if that sounds like too much effort, you can also head to Amazon and purchase Shōgun, but that’s going to cost you anywhere from $20 to $129.

With FX’s new Shōgun debuting Feb. 27 on the linear channel (next day on Hulu), there’s been a resurgence of interest for the original miniseries (there’s a waitlist at some libraries). And with former heartthrob Richard Chamberlain, who will turn 90 on March 31, doing a recent interview with TV Guide Magazine where he talks about his early days as Dr. Kildare and his epic follow-up to Shōgun, The Thorn Birds, there’s plenty more interest in the star himself.

Chamberlain can’t wait to watch the remake. “That was one of the great experiences of my life,” he shares.

The 1980 Shōgun was adapted from James Clavell’s bestselling novel about 17th century Japan and featured Chamberlain playing the lead character Blackthorne, a navigator on a British ship that’s run aground who’s taken prisoner by samurai warriors.

SHOGUN, Richard Chamberlain, Yôko Shimada, 1980, Blackthorne, a Protestant Englishman, finds himself in an alien culture whose only other foreigners are enemy Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests. He comes under the influence of Lord Toranaga (a majestic Toshirô Mifune), who is competing for the high position of shōgun, aka Japan’s military governor. Complicating Blackthorne’s position in the warlord’s group of advisers is his beautiful translator Lady Mariko (Yôko Shimada), who is married.

Shōgun is a story of Blackthorne’s sail from Holland to Japan in the year 1600 and his astonishing adventures in that fabulous country,” Chamberlain shared, in an article he wrote for TV Guide Magazine in 1980. Chamberlain said his worst encounter filming the series occurred while shooting the sea battles in Nagashima.

“The scene we were filming involved me (Blackthorne) and Lord Toranaga escaping from the evil Lord Ishido by outfoxing Ishido’s army on shore,  and then sailing off into the night aboard Toranaga’s galley. Ishido, however, had planted five fishing boats full of archers at the mouth of the harbor to stop us. Seeing the danger, I ordered 15 samurai with muskets to the bow of the galley. At my command of ‘Now!’ the samurai were to fire at the fishing boats and blast our way to safety,” Chamberlain recalls. “The scene was to be shot in the bay at night. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to shoot, only a half hour of darkness remained. Everyone was tense because of the delays, and Jerry London, our director, was desperate to get the shot before sunrise.

“Finally, Jerry shouted ‘Action!’ from the camera barge, and our galley sailed toward the enemy fishing boats. Suddenly I realized that we hadn’t discussed when to fire the muskets. So I yelled across to him, ‘Jerry, when do you want me to say now?’ All the samurai understood was now, and they began firing the muskets long before we were in range of the enemy boats. Jerry shouted, ‘No, no, no!’ from the camera barrage, but that just sounded like more nows, and the samurai kept firing until they ran out of ammunition. The inevitable dawn peeked over the mountains, and another battle was lost at communications gap.”

To viewers, the final cut of Shōgun was flawless, and it remains one of the top miniseries of all time to this day. Just head out to your local library to find a copy of the 1980 original to enjoy today!

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