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‘Shōgun’ Is Awesome—and Shows Why the Second Amendment Is So Important

‘Shōgun’ Is Awesome—and Shows Why the Second Amendment Is So Important

My wife and I are in the process of finishing Shōgun, the new FX miniseries on Hulu based on James Clavell’s 1975 book.

Shōgun was one of the first books that truly captivated me. I read it for the first time when I was 13 years old, and couldn’t put it down.

Set in the early 17th century, Shōgun tells the story of an English pilot—John Blackthorne, a character based on William Adams, an actual English sailor—who is stranded in Feudal Japan when his ship, the Erasmus, runs aground. The plot follows Blackthorne’s experiences in “the Japans” as he becomes embroiled in the political intrigue and the power struggles of rival warlords fighting for dominance over Japan following the death of the Taikō. (The Taiko is based on Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), “the Great Unifier of Japan.”)

Hulu’s adaptation of Clavell’s bestselling book is not the first. A miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain as Blackthorne was released in 1980 and became the second-highest-rated miniseries (behind Roots) ever at the time, attracting some 120 million viewers.

The success of the original miniseries set a rather high bar for the latest adaptation of Shōgun, but FX has not disappointed. The series has proven a hit with critics and general audiences alike, scoring 99% and 90%, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes.

Audiences are right to be impressed. The 2024 adaptation is so good that it just might be superior to the 1980 version (which benefited from the participation of Clavell, who died in 1994).

The latest Shōgun is less grand in scope than the previous one, but it’s also less daunting. The characters are more relatable, and less archetypal. Cosmo Jarvis’s Blackthorne is strong, capable, and savvy, but he’s more human than Chamberlain’s Blackthorne.

One of the greatest strengths of the show is that it takes viewers to an alien land completely different from anything they’ve ever experienced, and the writers make it clear that life in early 17th-century Japan was not for the faint of heart.

Though the Japanese were more advanced than Westerners in some ways, in other ways they were more brutal and barbaric than the European “barbarians” (their term for the English and Portuguese) living among them. We see this early in the show when one of Blackthorne’s shipmates is boiled alive for no apparent reason, and when a villager is beheaded on the spot for not showing the proper respect to Omi, the samurai lord of the village.

All of this should prompt viewers to ask important questions: What makes a society good? What makes it just? Where should power lie?

Though Feudal Japan is not without its charms, we see that there is something not quite right about its political structure. Even those who have power, like samurai and daimyos, are at the mercy of those who have more of it. It’s Game of Thrones but in the Orient; and the powerful have little respect for the individual.

Blackthorne learns this early in the show. After wrecking the Erasmus off the coast of a small fishing village, he and his men are thrown into a pit. When he’s brought outside the pit, he begins to make demands to the samurai who rules the village, Omi. To demonstrate that Blackthorne has no power in Japan and no business making demands, Omi has Blackthorne held down. He then proceeds to urinate on the English navigator.

Things don’t end there, of course. Blackthorne is taken to Osaka where he meets the powerful Lord Toranaga, whom Blackthorne helps escape.

In Episode 4, Blackthorne returns to the fishing village, where he once again meets Omi. This time, however, Blackthorne is hatamoto, an honor he received from Toranaga. He’s also armed with a pair of mean-looking pistols he was able to retrieve from his ship.

Omi doesn’t like any of this. And in one of the best scenes of the show, the samurai tells Blackthorne’s Japanese interpreter that he must turn his pistols over.

MARIKO: “Omi-Sama insists it is forbidden to bring your weapons today.”

BLACKTHORNE: “Nonsense, your people bring swords wherever they go.”

MARIKO: “He says guns are different. You must turn them over.”

Blackthorne refuses, prompting Omi to take a step toward Blackthorne to confiscate the guns. Blackthorne cocks them and points them right at Omi’s head.

“For some reason, I just can’t shake the memory of our first meeting,” he tells Mariko.

The takeaway is clear. Now armed again with his pistols, and bestowed with samurai standing, Blackthorne has no intention of being powerless ever again.

There’s a lesson here. Firearms empower individuals. They offer protection against the tyrants (big and small) who would rule others.

This is why we have a Second Amendment. Our natural and constitutionally-protected right to bear arms has nothing to do with hunting. It’s to protect us from tyranny.

“To disarm the people… [i]s the most effectual way to enslave them,” George Mason said during Constitutional Debates in 1788.

Writing nearly a half-century later, the famous jurist Joseph Story (1812–1845) elaborated on this point:

The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.

Shōgun shows just how important a firearm can be when it comes to protecting one’s rights and human dignity. Blackthorne might have had hatamoto status during his second encounter with Omi, but it was his two pistols that really made the difference (watch the scene below).

Shōgun is a good reminder that the sole moral purpose of government is to protect our individual rights, not to trample them, as it often does.

This article appeared first on FEE.org under a Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0) license.

Image credit: YouTube

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  • Avatar
    Allen Roth
    June 11, 2024, 9:54 am

    Wonderful review

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