The ‘Shogun’ Finale Made It Clear Whose Story the Show Has Been Telling

Plans feel inevitable when they come together as neatly as Toranaga’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) play for power over the throne of Japan. But the team behind Toranaga — and the rest of the characters on FX’s now complete miniseries “Shogun” — had to work just as hard as the warlord to finesse an ending that feels as right as this one does.

Episode 10, “A Dream of a Dream,” was a huge combined effort for editors Aika Miyake and Maria Gonzales, who each worked on three other episodes in addition to their shared credit on the finale. There were the normal challenges of assembling an edit, from placing incomplete VFX shots meant to convey the scale of Osaka to temp sound and score that will hopefully convey the loneliness of Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) missing Mariko’s (Anna Sawai) funeral. That’s a lot for any editor to hold in their mind — in addition to finding the takes that best convey what’s said (and poetically left unsaid) in Emily Yoshida’s and Maegan Houang’s script.

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But Miyake and Gonzales leaned on their combined knowledge of the particular rhythm and Eight-Fold-Fence’d voice that “Shogun” has as a series to experiment with the edit and find the most expressive ending for each character and for the show as a whole. They moved key Blackthorne moments around, for example, so that every step of the acceptance he comes to by series’ end is visually clear.

Originally, a sequence of Blackthorne touching the rock his gardener had placed in front of his house and then meditating was closer to the end of the episode. But while working on the director’s cut with Frederick E.O. Toye, the editing team moved the moment between his last conversation with Fuji (Moeka Hoshi) and his confrontation with Toranaga. It still reads as a quiet emotional beat where the character finds some peace, but now the sequence gives us a sense of the way Blackthorne allows himself to grow closer to Mariko’s strong desire for honorable self-sacrifice just before he offers to die on behalf of the people of Ajiro. “Pulling that moment into the body of the episode really sort of allowed for an emotional beat to come full circle for Blackthorn,” Gonzales told IndieWire.

'SHOGUN' --  "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23)  Pictured:  Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne.  CR: Katie Yu/FX
‘Shogun’Katie Yu/FX

Whether full sequences or single shots, Gonzales and Miyake place lovely breaths throughout Episode 10 of “Shogun.” The transition between a single tear on Blackthorne’s face and dew resting on a tree branch at Taiko’s palace is maybe the standout moment of ma-like space in the episode, but Miyake and Gonzales’ eye for detail helped cement the farewell to a key character on the show: Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano).

The long sequence between him and Toranaga just before he commits seppuku was “massively shuffled,” Miyake told IndieWire. Finessing exactly how much dialog stayed, and where, and when to switch angles were all editing choices that could radically change the meaning of the scene, but something she gravitated towards was a moment just before the end where “Yabushige gives Toranaga that weird Yabushige smile that we also see in Episode 1 when he meets Blackthorn after the cliff moment,” Miyake said.

“When I watched it [in Yabushige’s final scene], I was like, ‘That was brilliant.’ It’s so good. But when we were trying to shorten the scene, it got lost at some point — until really the end of cutting, when I finally told [showrunner Justin Marks], ‘Can I bring it back?’”

That stray smile cements Yabushige’s character and lets him go out on a high note, even at the moment of his death. It’s hard to imagine the scene without it, but Miyake and Gonzales made sure our connection to the character and the things that we love about him didn’t get lost amid perhaps the most epic info dump of the entirety of “Shogun.”

'SHOGUN' --  "A Dream of a Dream" -- Episode 10 (Airs April 23)  Pictured (L-R):   Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga, Tadanobu Asano as Kashigi Yabushige.  CR: Katie Yu/FX
‘Shogun’Katie Yu/FX

It’s also an epic scene that the editors didn’t have a lot of takes to play with. “It shows how great Hiro is because he was fighting against the sun in that scene. He had to nail the take, and we only had a really limited number of takes for him, which was crazy. He had one close-up, and that’s it,” Miyake said. “He nails every moment.”

Blackthorne and Buntaro’s (Shinnosuke Abe) last moment together was similarly a one-off — Jarvis offering Abe a flask of water after dragging a boat on the beach was a surprise to Abe and only captured by the cameras one time. “We just thought there’s no more beautiful moment than that. Of course, we only had that in the master shot. So we used it. It had no close-up of it because it was just an actor’s instinct to find it,” Marks said on an upcoming episode of IndieWire’s Toolkit podcast.

Although the series’ goodbyes to some of its characters included surprises and unexpected grace notes, Gonzales and Miyake chose the last moments of the show to give us the most complete sense of structure, that this is what we’ve been building towards all along.

“I love that we chose to end on Toranaga,” Gonzales said. “In this rendition of the novel, this is our lead character. This is our number one person on the call sheet. And [the ending] bookends the show. The last shot of the pilot is very similar to the last shot of the finale, too, and I just love that. I think it was the right way to go out.”

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