Recreating History: Shogun


Nietzsche once said that only strong personalities endure history, the weak ones are extinguished by it. The same can be said for directors who tackle the many challenges inherent in a period film, in re-creating a time, a place, a group of people long since faded from memory.


The challenge in any historical re-creation is to duplicate an experience, regardless of time or budget. Jerry London was allotted $12 million ($1 million per broadcast hour) by NBC and Paramount, and 133 shooting days, to film James Clavell's epic novel of samurai Japan, Shogun. It was a huge budget, even in 1980 dollars, yet it still fell short of London's needs. With both Paramount and NBC unwilling to extend, author James Clavell raised an additional $8 million in pre-sales to international TV outlets so London could complete the shoot. With another $2 million spent on publicity, the grand total for Shogun was more than $22 million. As London tells it, nearly every single dollar showed up on-screen.

"I give much of the credit for the historical accuracy ofShogun to my American art director, and a team of Japanese art directors," London said on the eve of Paramount's DVD release of Shogun. "The art department had done impeccable research for more than five months prior to my arrival in Japan. Since we built nearly all the key sets, shooting in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Nagashima, my job was simply to choose the best visual match from what they provided."
London's job to restage 17th-century feudal Japan brought culture and geography into play. Although he condensed his shooting schedule for weather concerns, a typhoon still swept down after his final day of shooting in Nagashima, stranding his crew and washing sets away. Typhoons seem almost minor compared to London's descriptions of "the culture gap." For Shogun's pivotal earthquake scene, for example, small chambers were dug out of a valley, covered with trap doors and dirt, and set to detonate via linked charges. When the charges failed on two attempts, Shogun's effects supervisor went underground to remedy the situation. The trap doors collapsed, burying the man alive, as Japanese and American crews exacerbated the crisis due to the language barrier. He was eventually pulled to safety, but the next day Japanese crewmembers refused to work. "They said there was an ill omen hanging over the location and they would not go back to work until a Shinto priest had blessed the site," London said.

Shogun's culture gap challenged the very essence of London's job � communicating directions. He used female interpreters, many of whom London called "the very best in the country." Yet Shogun still fell behind schedule after the first week. "Every direction I gave to the interpreter would then be repeated in Japanese to the crew, who would talk about it, and then relay back questions to her, which she would then translate for me," London explained. "There was too much back-and-forth and I was losing days. I decided to give my directions directly to the crew in English, and she would immediately translate. After the second week, I was back on schedule. One day over lunch, I bragged to her about how I had saved all this time speaking directly to the crew, and she said: 'that had nothing to do with it. They just didn't want to take orders from a woman.'"

(c) DGA Magazines, David Geffner -- This republishing is intended only for academical purposes as a citation

Nessun commento: