‘Shogun’ Remake: This Time, the White Man Is Only One of the Stars

Gina Balian, a television executive who had worked on the hit series “Game of Thrones” for HBO, had just left to help FX start a new limited series division when an agent sent her a nearly 1,200-page novel.

It was “Shogun,” James Clavell’s 1975 best-selling chronicle of a hardened English sailor who lands in Japan at the dawn of the 17th century looking for riches and ends up adopting the ways of the samurai. Balian’s first reaction was that she had already seen this book on television — back in 1980, when NBC had turned the novel into a mini-series that earned the network its highest Nielsen ratings to date.

Most of what she remembered about the first adaptation was Richard Chamberlain — its white, male star. But as she started reading, she discovered the novel had a much more kaleidoscopic point of view, devoting considerable pages to getting inside the heads of the Japanese characters.

“I thought that there was a story to be told that was much wider and deeper,” said Balian, who is co-president of FX Entertainment. It didn’t hurt that something about it also reminded her of “Game of Thrones,” in terms of the “richness of so many characters’ lives.”

It took 11 years, two different teams of showrunners and a major relocation to bring “Shogun” back to the screen. The 10-part series debuts on Hulu on Feb. 27 with the first two episodes, followed by new ones weekly, and will premiere on Disney+ outside of the United States and Latin America.

Both Hollywood and Western audiences largely have moved beyond viewing the world as a playground where (mostly) white protagonists prove their mettle in exotic lands. Shows and films like “Squid Game” and “Parasite” have shown that audiences can handle Asian characters speaking their own languages.

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