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Made in Japan

August 02, 1992|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Remember "Shogun" fever? Millions caught it on Sept. 15, 1980. That's when NBC premiered the $22-million, 12-hour dramatization of James Clavell's massive bestseller set in 17th-Century Japan.

Twelve years later, "Shogun" fever is about to strike again. The Family Channel is repeating "Shogun" Sunday and Aug. 9.

"Shogun" told the colorful, action-filled romantic saga of the West's first encounter with feudal Japan of the 1600s. It had a little something for everybody: exotic lands, lavish production values, action, romance, sex and intriguing characters.

Richard Chamberlain cut a dashing figure as Jack Blackthorne, an English pilot of a Dutch ship that wrecked off the coast of Japan. Famed Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, who had starred in such Akira Kurosawa classics as "The Seven Samurai" and "The Throne of Blood," gave a masterful performance as the powerful Toranaga, Japan's supreme military ruler, or Shogun, who becomes comes allies with Blackthorne. And Yoko Shimada played Lady Mariko, the beautiful interpreter with whom Blackthorne falls in love.

Shot on location in Japan, the series also featured a strong, multicultural supporting cast: John Rhys-Davies ("Raiders of the Lost Ark") as Rodrigues, a Portuguese emissary, and Nobuo Kaneko as Ishido, Toranaga's archenemy.

"Shogun" was intelligently adapted from Clavell's novel by producer Eric Bercovici and smoothly directed by Jerry London. One interesting note: The Japanese actors spoke their own language throughout the miniseries and subtitles, a rarity on American TV, were used in several scenes. Because some audiences complained they were confused by the subtitles, when "Shogun" repeated three years later on NBC, Orson Welles provided additional narration that clarified the action during those scenes. The Family Channel is replaying the original version.

"Shogun" was an enormous critical and rating success and received the Emmy for outstanding limited series. Needless to say, the paperback sales of "Shogun" soared and interest in Japan reached a new high.

"Shogun" airs Sunday and Aug. 9 from noon to 6 p.m. on the Family Channel.

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