Nerdist recently had the pleasure of attending a special screening of FX’s new series, Shōgun, at the Japan Society in New York City. Set against the backdrop of a space designed to promote Japanese arts, culture, and more, it was a pleasure to experience a show as immersive and powerful as Shōgun. No spoilers here, but I would hypothesize nearly 80% of the dialogue spoken in the series’ first two episodes was in Japanese. For a Hollywood series streaming on a major US-based platform, this is unprecedented. In addition to watching the episodes, the Shōgun screening welcomed creator and showrunner Justin Marks, co-creator Rachel Kondo, star and producer Hiroyuki Sanada, star Anna Sawai, and producer Eriko Miyagawa to discuss the experience of creating the series. Above all, the conversation centered on the importance of Shōgun‘s authenticity.

Shōgun lord toranaga sitting

Frederick H. Katayama, the moderator for the panel, aptly remarked that, unlike the 1980 Shōgun series, the FX series really brings Hiroyuki Sanada’s Lord Toranaga into center stage. It highlights his perspective and story. Of course, Sanada serves not only as the star of the series but as a very hands-on producer as well, bringing with him a wealth of valuable experience and deep knowledge of the subject matter.

He shared, “At first, I just got the offer as an actor to play Toranaga, but after Justin and Rachel joined the project, they asked me to do the producing as well. And I thought, oh my gosh, it’s going to be a great chance to introduce our culture to the world correctly, finally. So, I said, yes! And we’ve done our best with the western crew and cast and Japanese crew and cast working together to make everything authentic, as much as possible. It was a great experience for me.”


Fellow star Anna Sawai echoed the importance of Sanada’s contribution to the authenticity of Shōgun. She noted, “He was always there. I don’t think I ever didn’t see him. Even on days where I was like, I would just want to do this on my own. He was always there. And that helped tremendously. Because I don’t know what I’m doing. And he does, he can point out the things I’m doing wrong. And not just him.”

Sawai revealed that the whole Shōgun Japanese team could make any changes they deemed necessary to promote an authentic story. Specifically, she recalled that Sanada even pointed out details in the background that were historically inaccurate, and Shōgun would accordingly shift whole sets and shots around.


“There are a lot of rules and customs, especially in the palace setting, driven by hierarchy and customs,” producer Eriko Miyagawa agreed, “So we were constantly having to adjust where would actors sit, where their attendants would sit, or how they would move when they have to deliver a letter to one of the characters. It’s small things, but everything has to be correct. And everything has to be vetted by our experts.”


Sawai further shared another fascinating anecdote from the filming of Shōgun. She explained, “There’s nothing you can just casually do that was done in the 1600s; everything is just so different. Like… it was a scene with Hiro-san. And I guess I was looking at his eyes like a normal person when I was talking to him. And I was corrected that I shouldn’t be looking at his eyes, I had to be looking at his throat. I was like, what? How am I supposed to make a connection with this person I’m talking to and I’m not looking him in his eyes? But you start getting used to that stuff. And he was very patient with me.”


“And it would extend to the broader macro question of what kind of crew we needed to bring from Japan. These are things from a Hollywood lens we don’t really know.” showrunner Marks noted. For instance, Marks revealed they flew an expert in from Japan to assist in tying the obi, a belt worn with the kimono or yukata. “It’s something that takes a lifetime to do well. And not just well, because here’s how it is. But also, here are the tricks. How can you tie it fast? How can you have it so you can remove it quickly? All of these are considerations that go through the production mechanism in Japan.” Kondo finished the thought by noting, “That was the theme of the production; we don’t even know what we don’t know.”


Additionally, producer Eriko Miyagawa discussed the process of creating Shōgun from the perspective of script writing and translation. “It was a lot of collaboration. It was written, it was translated. Dialogue has to be as correct as it can be. And it has to capture all the beautiful lines written by the writers. So it was translated. And then it went to our wonderful Japanese polisher, who is based in Japan and has a lot of experience with Japanese period shows. So she would polish them and make them Japanese period, but also natural, realistic for human beings. That would come back to us, and we’d polish again and again.”

As a little spoiler preview, Marks shares that he cameos as a corpse in the first scene of the show. Meanwhile, Kondo and Miyagawa play “experienced prostitutes” in episode eight of Shōgun, roles they greatly enjoyed playing.

Ultimately, Sanada concluded about Shōgun, “We wanted to change the history of the Samurai drama. Not only for the world market, but even in Japan, too… We needed to create an authentic drama. Not only the history, the heart, acting, passion, emotion, all had to be real. Everything had to be organic on set and in front of the camera.”

You can now watch Shōgun‘s first episodes on FX and Hulu.

Rotem Rusak is a News Editor at Nerdist and absolutely loves a good historical drama, especially one with brilliant and authentic costuming.