Aesthetic Palette of Shogun: Why It's Dim? And Will There Be Season 2?

Shogun miniseries 2024

We will try to answer two questions often asked by viewers about Shogun. First, its aesthetic color palette and second will there be a season 2? 

As this historical miniseries continued to fascinate drama viewers due to its rich details about feudal Japan, curiosity also began to grow on other aspects of the series.  The aesthetics for instance.

To most of us who are used to watching vibrant visuals of costume Chinese or Korean dramas, the Shogun's aesthetics seem to bring some discomfort to our eyes. 

So to those who are watching Shogun, are you comfortable with the dark, grey, or dim aesthetic color palette of the series? I found it less than fascinating at first and I thought maybe because it was set in 17th-century Japan?

Shogun miniseries 2024
Warm visuals of the interior of the meeting place of the Council of Regents. Credit: Unit photography by Katie Yu. All images courtesy of FX

But there are other historical series or films set in the Middle Ages or even the early century that used crisp and bright colors, for example, Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers, a wuxia movie set in the Tang dynasty period in the 9th century, it has crispier colors and the visuals were really captivating.

Ancient costume dramas, in which Shogun also falls (because it is set in the 17th century), often have the best artistic styling both in costume and production design, and the visuals are always vibrant.

But why does in Shogun the environment seem to be always grey?

Shogun miniseries 2024
Photo credit: Screenshot of Shogun episode

The use of colors in movies and series is always a decision of the cinematographer and director to create a specific visual style or mood of the drama. 

But Shogun looks like always in the early dawn or in the twilight mode. Sometimes other elements in the environment are no longer visible due to the dim tone. 

The exemption is when the scene shifts to the interior of the house or when the Council of Regents conducts a meeting inside the castle, the visual would turn warm and cozy with a little sunshine flowing in.

So why does grey seem to be the chosen color for this series?

Trying to look for an answer on the web, I stumbled upon an article in the American Cinematographer Society, explaining the aesthetics of Shogun through an interview with its cinematographers.

Shogun miniseries 2024
Behind the scene, Credit: Unit photography by Katie Yu. All images courtesy of FX Network

According to the article,  the cinematographers of Shōgun were tasked to deliver a fresh take on classic source material by transporting the viewers into the environment of the Edo period Japan (in the year 1600), which seems to be like an emerging civilization, and the environment looks like a bit subdued and melancholy due to the constant conflicts among the samurai clans. Edo is the old name of Tokyo where the story of Shogun is set.

Christopher Ross, BSC, one of the cinematographers of Shogun, said that to re-create the story’s feudal-Japan setting, the production set up shop at big studios in Burnaby, British Columbia (Canada) to take advantage of the region’s forests, fields, and coastline.

He said that he and Jonathan Van Tulleken, Shogun's director and executive producer,  talked about the level of detail they wanted in the wilderness images, the feeling of really being in nature, the smoke and the roughness of medieval life.

The series’ overall palette is muted (meaning toned down or subdued), with gold and woody hues sometimes integrated to blend with the production design's period architecture. 

Shogun miniseries 2024
Behind the Scene. Crew members prepare to shoot scenes from Episode 7, which features imagery heavily steeped in mist. Credit: Unit photography by Katie Yu. All images courtesy of FX

In Episode 7, the filmmakers emphasize the presence of an ominous force, suggested by the mist. After Toranaga’s army has been decimated, he calls on his half-brother, Saeki, for help, and Saeki arrives with his own army and unclear motives.

So with this explanation from Shogun's cinematographers on why the visual is dim, we won't expect that the aesthetic palette of the drama would turn brighter as the miniseries approaches its finale. It's forever early dawn, with mist billowing in the surroundings. 😂

Second question: Will there be a season 2?

With Shogun's global popularity, commercial success, and positive reviews from critics, viewers are wondering if the showrunners are thinking of creating a season 2.

However, Shogun co-creator and producer Justin Mark, said in a statement - there's none. There will never be season 2. 

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Justin Mark said: “We took the story to the end of the book and put a period at the end of that sentence. We love how the book ends; it was one of the reasons why we both knew we wanted to do it — and we ended in exactly that place.”

It was also made clear at the start or when the series was announced that it is a "limited series", meaning it is only good for one season. The script already covered everything in 10 episodes. 

Doing more would require the production team to go beyond what the novel presented, which would go against the context presented throughout its story.

So the answer is None. There's no season 2 of Shogun.

Expectations as the finale approaches

With just two more episodes left, some viewers expected that the series would really show real fight scenes or scenarios on the battlefield and not just narration or flashbacks.   

The journey of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the prototype of Yoshii Toranaga's character) to the shogunate was one of the most compelling events in the early part of 17th-century Japan. He had won numerous battles and led several military campaigns successfully. Samurai clans were in constant conflicts, and wars were common everywhere. However, in Shogun, we haven't seen any breathtaking fight scenes among the samurai. 

Shogun miniseries 2024
Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga

It is very strange to watch a historical drama about samurai and shogun, and the warring period in feudal Japan without a single episode devoted to a fight scene or warfare. 

Most Japanese films about samurai or shogunate in the past were nail-biting due to the jaw-dropping fight scenes, the lengthy actions, and the full display of sword skills.

But so far, FX's Shogun has no intense fight scenes. They just focused on politics with lengthy conversations that sometimes made us fall asleep. 

Shogun miniseries 2024
Takehiro Hira as Ishido Kazunari
So, hopefully, they will show us real scenes of the Battle of Sekigahara, because this event was one of the most important battles during feudal Japan and the defining moment of Tokugawa Ieyasu's glory and power as a military strategist. 

His victory during the Battle of Sekigahara against the forces of Ishida Mitsunari (the prototype of Ishido Kazunari's character) allowed him to consolidate Japan in the coming years and made him rise into power to be appointed as Shogun, which began the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. 

Also in this adaptation, John Blackthorne is more like a side character, not a huge one. He has no proper character development, as the story focuses more on the power struggle among the regents.  

Related: An Overview of Japan's Samurai and Shogunate Period

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