Is the Shogun series entirely in Japanese?

Shōgun was released on Disney+, presenting a dark political intrigue set in the heart of 1600s Japan: is the series entirely in Japanese?

Adapting James Clavell’s 1975 novel, the plot of Shōgun will follow the journey of two ambitious men from different worlds, as well as a noble lady with many hidden talents.

John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) is English, shipwrecked in an unknown land. As for Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), although powerful, he must face dangerous political rivals. The series also features Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai), a noblewoman whose assets are overshadowed by her ties to her dishonored family.

The production is keen to present the story of the novel in an authentic feudal Japan, mixing fiction with history. From then on, the casting was the subject of particular attention, and the choice of the language used was crucial: is the Shōgun series entirely in Japanese?

What language is spoken in the Shōgun series?

The Shōgun series does have its main actors speak Japanese, but the rest of the cast speaks in English, or French depending on the dubbing you choose on Disney+. But be careful: even if you activate the VF, the language of the samurai will not change.

What may be surprising in the first episodes is that the characters mention Portuguese on numerous occasions: however, the language is never used, except in a few injunctions from Vasco Rodrigues (Nestor Carbonell) who enjoys mixing all styles. When the casting announces that they are translating Japanese into Portuguese, it is actually in English that the speech is transcribed.

According to producer Eriko Miyagawa to Town & Country, this is nevertheless great progress. She points out that if the series had been produced 10 to 15 years earlier, English would most likely have been favored.

“I think in this day and age, audiences are more open to reading subtitles, and seeing actors who speak their native language for their performance. The time was right for this level of authenticity.”

For showrunner Justin Marks present at the same interview, using Japanese was also a way to expand the cast to other actors, and to remain consistent with the point of the story: “It’s a series that speaks of translation. The story shows how much we miss in the process, what we don’t fully understand when we watch someone else translate our words and give their own perspective. We couldn’t have achieved all this using only English.”

The first episodes of Shōgun are available on Disney+.

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