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July 06, 1986|Howard Rosenberg

MINISERIES--Three distinctive ones arrive Sunday night.

There have been few TV productions as spectacular as "Shogun," a six-part version of James Clavell's novel about a shipwrecked English navigator named John Blackthorne who becomes a samurai knight in 17th-Century feudal Japan.

KTTV Channel 11 is airing "Shogun" from 9-11 p.m. over six consecutive nights, starting Sunday.

Richard Chamberlain is a credible Blackthorne, getting good support from Japanese actors Toshiro Mifune and Yoko Shimada in this Jerry London-directed, Eric Bercovicci-written production that first aired in 1980 on NBC.

Shot in Japan, "Shogun" is a handsome work that is long on romance, action and political intrigue, but sometimes short on pacing and clarity. It is always watchable, however, and you could do much worse on a summer night.

Jump ahead three centuries and you find the historical turf for two other encoring miniseries, "The Flame Trees of Thika" on "Masterpiece Theatre" and the Australian-made "1915."

Based on Elspeth Huxley's memoir about growing up on a coffee plantation in Kenya shortly after the turn of the century, "The Flame Trees of Thika" is a charming, languid seven parter. It shares many of the appealing physical qualities and enigmas of the recent movie adaptation of Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa." Minus Meryl Streep, naturally.

Slotted for 9 p.m. Sundays on Channels 28 and 15 (8 p.m. on Channels 24 and 50), "The Flame Trees of Thika" first aired on PBS four years ago. It offers nice performances by Holly Aird as young Elspeth and Hayley Mills as her mother, and you'll also be able to see Ben Cross before he hit it big in "Chariots of Fire."

The seven-part "1915" is close to being a page from the outstanding Australian movie "Gallipoli." Or vice versa. The first two 60-minute episodes air back-to-back on Channel 28 Sunday night, starting at 10. Subsequent hourlong episodes will air at 10 p.m. Sundays.

Based on a Roger McDonald novel, "1915" chronicles the search for adventure and glory by two Australian lads swept up in the patriotic fervor of the times. The arrival of World War I gives them their opportunity.

Their euphoria turns to ashes, however, as they find slaughter instead of fun, and their girlfriends suffer a tragedy of their own.

In a sense, "Shogun," "The Flame Trees of Thika" and "1915" all tell epic stories, one a robust tale of earlier Japan, another depicting the struggle against big odds in harsh Africa, and the last showing dreams and lives dashed in senseless battle.

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