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Piecing Shogun together with editors Aika Miyake and Maria Gonzales

By Oliver Webb

Image © FX

Adapted from James Clavell’s 1975 novel of the same name, Shogun follows English sailor John Blackthorne as he navigates unfamiliar territory in Japan during the Azuchi–Momoyama period. Meanwhile, Lord Yoshii Toranaga battles for his life as his enemies on the Council of Regents unite against him. Aika Miyake and Maria Gonzales both served as editors on the show.

 

 

 

How did you first get involved with Shogun?

 

Gonzales: I met Justin Marks, the co-creator of Shogun, on his first TV Series, Counterpart, which ran for two seasons on Starz. I started as an assistant editor on the first season, but thanks to the generosity of my editor, Dana Glauberman, who trusted me with cutting and finishing some episodes, I received editing credits on two episodes. This led to me being invited back as an editor for the second season. Justin and I got to know each other pretty well during that second season when we were paired together for the episode he directed. Still, I was surprised to hear from him about Shogun and accepted the offer without hesitating.


Editor Maria Gonzales

 

Miyake: I received a DM on my Instagram from the post producer, Jamie Wheeler. She found the article written by my friend, Kaori Shoji, back in 2019 for the Japan Times, and she contacted me. The article describes how I couldn't find any projects that inspired me in Japan, and I’m moving to the US. It led me to the interview with the showrunner, Justin, and he mentioned that he was looking for someone who had lived in Japan and had an authentic understanding of Japanese culture but also had a cutting style from Western films because Japanese films have a distinctive style different from Western ones. When I heard this, I thought, “That’s exactly me!” because I grew up watching Hollywood movies and TV shows, and they influenced my storytelling style as an editor. I was so ecstatic to get that offer.



Editor Aika Miyake

Did you look at the original 1980 mini-series for reference? What other creative references did you look at?

 

Gonzales: Justin explicitly asked us not to watch the original series. I think neither he nor Rachel watched the show when they set to develop their version of the series. In TV, we have Tone Meetings in which the showrunner goes through the script scene by scene, expressing the objectives of each scene, character intentions, but also inspirations they drew from while working on the script. With Justin, we had a showrunner who had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, so he often spoke about scenes in terms of recognizable imagery from some iconic scenes. For instance, for the moment in which the shoji doors shut on Fuji in episode one after her baby is taken away, the inspiration came from a scene in The Godfather in which Michael has the door shut on Kaye.


In terms of editing style, I like to look at the footage and let it show me what it wants to be. As someone who doesn’t go to set and is not involved with blocking, I see no other way to approach what we do. That said, we often find ourselves in situations in which we have to go against what was shot, but luckily, Shogun wasn’t one of those projects.

 

Miyake: I watched some clips on YouTube, but I also started listening to Shōgun’s audiobook. Additionally, I read about the actual history of Tokugawa Ieyasu (Toranaga) and the Battle of Sekigahara. As a child, I didn't enjoy history classes, so I find it ironic that now, after moving to the U.S., I needed to learn about my ancestors in Japan. The birthplace of Ieyasu is 20 minutes from where I grew up, and I could hear some of our regional accents in Toranaga’s dialogue as well. It made me feel connected to my own culture, and I was blessed to be able to rediscover the rich history of Japan and the beauty within it.

 

One discovery that stood out to me was Hosokawa Gracia (Mariko). I had no idea who she was until now, and her story and strength were incredibly refreshing. It made me wonder why I had never heard of her growing up in Japan. The stories of women are often hard to find in history books, and I was hopeful then that our Shōgun adaptation will shine a light on these amazing characters.

 

Lastly, I watched Harakiri by Masaki Kobayashi and a few other samurai movies before editing Hiromatsu’s seppuku scene in episode eight. This scene revolves around Bushido and Hiromatsu's self-sacrifice for the greater good. The acting and emotions are incredibly raw, and I wanted to enhance this with a range of rain sounds, from gentle rain to thunderstorms. In older movies, the sound quality was often rough due to technological limitations, but I find these sounds raw and nostalgic. The prominent rain sounds in the background push and pull our emotions along with the characters like Hiromatsu, Toranaga, and Buntaro. It became one of my favorite scenes.

 


How important was it to keep in flow with the novel’s structure?

 

Gonzales: The structure of the show was worked out masterfully in our writer’s room, and for the bulk of the show, they stayed pretty faithful to the novel. It was in episode seven that they started taking some liberties; killing Nagakado as well as focusing on Toranaga’s story and not as much on the Mariko and Blackthorne love story or the Portuguese trade strategies, which the book covers quite extensively. It’s important to note that Michaela Clavell, James Clavell’s daughter, was one of the producers on the show and had a say in its execution. So, it was very important for Justin and Rachel to preserve the essence of the book. 


Yuki Kura as Nagakado in Shogun. Image © FX

 

Miyake: As an editor, I felt my job was to provide the best film experience possible for the audience. For me, it was more important that the story and characters made sense in our episodes rather than strictly adhering to the novel’s structure. I wasn't afraid to ask questions, whether the details were in the book or not. As the famous saying goes, 'A movie is made three times: when it’s written, in production, and again in post', I respect what’s written and shot to a great extent, but when I have the footage in front of me, my primary goal is to tell the story in the best way possible.

 


What were your initial conversations about the show?

 

Gonzales: Other than what was discussed in the tone meetings, Justin didn’t have separate conversations with us, which is understandable given the number of responsibilities a showrunner carries during production. Occasionally, he would highlight something for us, like when he doesn’t want to use music for a certain scene or if there is a pivotal line we should note, but our conversations really start once we finish the directors’ cuts and we start refining the episodes with him.


Aika and I, on the other hand, had a lot of conversations from the very beginning. The first shooting block covered episodes 1 and 2, so we were getting footage concurrently and we had lots of impressions to talk through; essentially comparing notes on what we felt was working or not working with the footage. We often ran the scenes by each other and made sure as two editors with different styles and backgrounds we were creating a cohesive show.

 

Miyake: I honestly didn’t know much at first. I knew Hiroyuki Sanada was starring and that FX was producing and shooting in Vancouver. As I received the dailies day by day, it was fascinating to gradually understand the level of detail and the immense amount of production effort involved. Once I received most of the scenes for episode two, I knew it was going to be something special. I had never seen anything Japanese on this scale in Hollywood before.

 

 

What was the most challenging sequence to put together?

 

Gonzales: It’s hard to answer this question. The show overall was challenging, episode one was particularly demanding, so it’s hard to pinpoint one scene. But I will share with you a relatively short scene which the audience would be surprised to learn caused us many headaches. I’m talking about the opening scene of episode ten, in which we see Blackthorne’s dream about his future self. Initially, this scene had about two pages of dialogue in which Blackthorne reflects on the person he was when he first arrived in Japan. It was a soliloquy that ultimately felt very long and needed to be trimmed up. This was particularly challenging because we didn’t have much in terms of cutaways. Aika and I did many, many passes on this scene, separately and together and every iteration generated a whole new set of notes. At the time, it felt like we would never get it right. Ultimately, the best version was when we managed to take out all of the dialogue and still create a very touching scene.

 

Miyake: Editing episode eight was challenging for me, as we had nearly 40 hours of footage to sift through. My initial cut was over 100 minutes, but we needed to condense it to around 55 minutes, all while preserving crucial scenes like the tea house scene with Mariko and Buntaro and Hiromatsu's seppuku scene. Navigating through such a vast amount of material was both intensive and demanding, but it was really difficult to let go of some remarkable scenes.


Hiromatsu (Tokuma Nishioka) in episode 8 of Shogun. Image © FX

What was your favourite sequence to put together?

 

Gonzales: I have to say any scene, including Tadanobu Asano (Yabushige), was an absolute joy to work on. We were blessed with an incredibly talented cast, but he embodied this role so well that he very quickly became the cutting room favorite. So, a very fun scene to put together was when he challenges Blackthorne to a sword fight in episode seven. The footage was playful, and both actors were game to add some comedy to it, which I took full advantage of. This was a much-needed moment of levity for an otherwise downbeat episode.


Miyake: I had the privilege of doing additional editing on episode nine, and crafting the fight scene where Mariko attempts to leave Osaka Castle stands out as one of my favorite experiences. To intensify the moment, I made the cuts much faster than they were originally acted, which made the choreography appear shorter. I extended the scene by nearly doubling its length using different angles and layering audio under the reaction shots. It was important to portray Mariko's strength, both in skill and determination, while also grounding her as a relatable and realistic woman. Finally, when I added Mariko's screams at the end, I felt that she had given absolutely everything. Achieving that feeling was crucial for the scene. Anna Sawai's portrayal of Mariko, balancing strength and vulnerability, was outstanding, and I’m thrilled with how the scene turned out. As a Japanese woman, it was revolutionary to see female characters in Shogun written with such agency and depth, and I’m immensely grateful to have been a part of creating this series.


Anna Sawai as Mariko in episode 9 of Shogun. Image © FX

How was the soundtrack integrated to boost the story?

 

Gonzales: Very good question. We had an amazing music team helmed by Atticus Ross, which included the incredibly talented and thoughtful Leo Ross and Nick Chuba. One of the requests Atticus and Leo made when joining the show was for us not to use temp score, not even their own work, so our initial cuts ran dry. However, the composers ended up creating a couple of dozen pieces inspired only by the scripts without seeing a frame of film. I had never experienced this workflow, and I have to say it was an honor to work with such talented artists. We used these “inspiration” cues for our temp, which was amazing because it brought us, the editors, into the process of discovering how their cues could serve the story. Once the cuts were locked and we had our spotting sessions (which included music and sound together in order to have the two elements speak to each other), a lot of the discussion centered around how the music should reflect our characters’ psychology. Maybe the best example of this is in episode seven, which centers around Toranaga’s state of mind and which was scripted to take place in a very foggy Ajiro. Atticus, Leo, and Nick created an amazingly brooding and tonal score, which brilliantly highlighted the weight of Tora’s thoughts and even the fog itself. It truly shows what an amazing contribution they had to the show.

 

Miyake: I strongly echo Maria's sentiments. It was an absolute pleasure to work with such remarkable pieces of temp music, and witnessing them evolve into something even more incredible with the addition of authentic Japanese Gagaku instruments was truly inspiring. I love how they managed to capture the essence of Japan in a unique and original way, even though the sound is quite different from traditional Japanese music, such as shamisen, koto, or shakuhachi.

 


What did you enjoy most about working on the show?

 

Gonzales: As much as I love the editing process, the lasting memories come from the relationships formed on the show. This post team worked together for a year and a half, some even longer, and I love the connections formed with everyone from the PA’s and Post team to all of the editors and our assistants. Extremely hard working, talented and smart group of people and I will always cherish the time shared on this very special show.

 

Miyake: I wholeheartedly enjoyed every minute of editing this show. It was a true privilege to work with such high-quality footage and alongside such a talented crew. Bringing to life authentic Japanese culture through strong, multi-dimensional characters and having the opportunity to meticulously refine every aspect until the very end was an incredibly fulfilling experience. I am also proud to represent as a Japanese woman in the post production.

 

 

 

Shogun is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK and on Hulu in the US

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