‘Shōgun’ Just Changed Everything for Toranaga

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Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Shōgun Episode 7.


The Big Picture

  • Shōgun
    Episode 7 places Toranaga in a vulnerable position for the first time.
  • Toranaga’s backstory makes the cunning warlord more human than before, and Episode 7’s setbacks force him to adjust his tactics.
  • Nagakado’s death is a tragic blow that personalizes the upcoming war for Toranaga.

Everyone loves a mastermind — except the people caught in their web. In Shōgun Episode 7, an infuriated John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) deems Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) “the brilliant master of trickery.” Such a brusque dismissal occurs after Toranaga agrees to surrender to Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira), effectively agreeing to his house’s mass slaughter. Already on shaky ground thanks to their varying motivations, with this decree, the loyal vassals Toranaga “broke to his fist” turn from him. Facing a dishonorable death, Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai) again pleads for the right to end her life. The wily Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) still keeps Ishido’s promises in his back pocket. Toranaga’s half-brother Saeki Nobutatsu (Eita Okuno) betrays Toranaga for glory, and Toranaga’s son Nagakado (Yuki Kura) meets a devastating fate during a failed act of valor.


It certainly seems like Toranaga’s plans — whatever they are — are falling apart. Perhaps that’s part of his strategy. One can interpret this episode from two lenses: that the lord “known for his trickery” was caught off guard and flailing at the end of his rope, or that Toranaga intends to sack Osaka from the inside. Either way, Shōgun‘s seventh episode, “A Stick of Time,” reduces Toranaga’s opaqueness for the first time. He becomes less of an indestructible force — a giant boulder rolling down a hill — and more human. The already marvelous Hiroyuki Sanada reveals layers that are distinctly flawed and sharply edged in their seeming spontaneity, a quality one can’t imagine Toranaga possessing, and yet. As the civil war intensifies, peeling back the curtain on everyone’s favorite strategist intensifies the stakes tenfold. Episode 7’s pivotal events deepen our understanding of Toranaga and lend his conflict a personalized, substantive credence.


Shogun (2024)

When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, Lord Yoshii Toranaga discovers secrets that could tip the scales of power and devastate his enemies.

Release Date
2024-02-00

Main Genre
Drama

Seasons
1


Toranaga’s Setbacks in ‘Shōgun’ Make Him More Interesting

Toranaga’s fight was personal from the moment the Council of Regents moved against him. They made it so, their actions shaded by greed and jealousy. Now, the battle has never demanded a higher cost. Toranaga holds everyone at arm’s length, but his brother Saeki’s betrayal (right after Toranaga ordered Crimson Sky, no less) undermines him to a visible low. Toranaga and Saeki’s relationship might be non-existent given their age and status gap, but a blood betrayal cuts deeper than politicking’s norms. Seeing his older brother at his metaphorical feet, Saeki declares Toranaga as having “nowhere to go and nothing left to be” — a cruel, if apt, assertion.


Whether that’s true remains to be seen. However, it’s a new state for Toranaga. His chips aren’t falling; he’s the one chipped away at. Exasperation slipped into Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance before “A Stick of Time,” but the episode encourages new traits to emerge under duress. Toranaga exhibits a heat-of-the-moment hostility, a roughness one imagines he would usually sand away into his smooth, impenetrable armor. His relationships fracture, whether it’s Blackthorne chafing at his restrictions or Mariko resigning herself to a fatalist mindset days after Toranaga revived her will to fight. His apparent indecision propels Nagakado toward fruitless violence. Fascinatingly, Mariko bears the brunt of Toranaga’s exhausted anger. He had reserved his greatest respect and kindness for her, guiding Mariko toward her potential while shaping her into a vital weapon. Perhaps that’s why her backsliding prompts his fury. A Toranaga who falls prey to weakness — who collects himself in the rain — is a richer character than the watchful hawk circling above the world.


‘Shōgun’ Episode 7 Reveals Toranaga’s Backstory

Hiroyuki Sanada in Episode 7 of Shogun
Image via FX

Shōgun‘s backstories have a pattern. The series withheld Mariko’s past until Episode 5 and Lady Ochiba’s (Fumi Nikaidō) until Episode 6. “A Stick of Time” continues the astutely clever pattern. Each aforementioned character practices restraint by necessity. It’s telling, then, that Shōgun depicts Toranaga’s history as a boy warlord from his perspective and through Episode 7’s cold open. The scene is a secret, a confession, and detached from the interference of other characters. Even at 12 years old, the young Toranaga mastered an impassive expression. He learned to survive by outmaneuvering opponents. He commanded battles and his elders’ respect. Even though we doubt his current protestations against being shōgun (what’s more impressive than an unwilling leader?), he avoids the Minowara name because that’s an inherited target on his back. Nagakado’s lack of wisdom exasperates his father because Toranaga knows a battlefield’s soul-deep cost. Throw his time as a hostage into the mix, and what else could have emerged except a man of guarded cunning?


Going one step further: how does a cunning man react when the universe resists his will? On FX’s official Shōgun podcast, co-creator and executive producer Rachel Kondo discussed the moment Toranaga tosses a stone at a Torii gate:

“He is meditating as to what he’s going to do or so his advisors think. […] He’s just, he’s thinking. And the director of this episode,
Takeshi Fukunaga
, had a great idea for this moment. And he shared an anecdote about his childhood in Hokkaido, and he told us how kids used to throw stones up to the Torii Gate and make a wish. And it was just such a small, specific anecdote I think is important to note simply because that was one of the ways in which we could bring in actual lived experience of our crew.”


When Saeki asks, “Stories, legends, or the truth?” about his brother’s fabled deeds, Shōgun doesn’t reveal the full truth. It shouldn’t. The morsels are enough. The standing fact is that it took a pre-teen Toranaga nine strikes to sever Mizoguchi’s head. Everything else is hearsay. Episode 7 lets the great warlord war against himself, against Mariko’s concept of karma, and resign himself to destiny (maybe). He becomes a child again and makes a wish. It’s an empathetic move as calculated as the man.

‘Shōgun’ Episode 7 Challenges Toranaga’s Plans

An unlikely source triggers Episode 7’s stand-out exchange: Gin (Yuko Miyamoto), Ajiro’s brothel madam. Gin recognizes Toranaga as a kindred spirit who bends fate to suit their will. Although he’s a lord, her insight pierces through the titles and honorifics. Much like Lady Ochiba, Gin and Toranaga built themselves empires out of mud, stubbornness, and ambition. She approaches Toranaga as one visionary to another while also entreating him as one of his subjects. Why surrender when he can create a better world? Moreover, how will Toranaga use his stick of time? Will he supplicate before the universe or seize control? He can’t fight an earthquake, but he can take advantage of it.


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For a Toranaga who’s exhausted by the petty Blackthorne-Mariko-Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe) drama, Gin’s challenges reach him. “Only [she] came into his mind and took off his armor,” Hiroyuki Sanada told the Shōgun podcast. As Rachel Kondo likewise observed, “Gin seems to have kind of narrowed in on something, it seems, even his closest advisors and friends and son might have missed. And it kind of… it perks up both Toranaga to her, the case that she’s pleading, but it also perks us up as an audience because maybe she is right, maybe he does have a plan, maybe, you know, we have no idea what is going on in his mind.”


Nagakado’s Death Shapes Toranaga’s Future on ‘Shōgun’

Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga wearing armor and looking down with uncertainty as a fire blazes behind him in FX's Shōgun.
Image via FX

Gin, Toranaga, and Ochiba battle against fate (a recurring Shōgun theme). No universe of Toranaga’s includes Nagakado’s death. If Saeki lives in his brother’s shadow, then Nagakado was raised in his father’s. He strives to match Toranaga’s legacy and establish his identity through violently bold strokes. Unlike his father, he lacks patience, wisdom, and firsthand experience. He meets his end in a senseless accident that accomplishes nothing except tragedy.

No matter how Episode 8 unfolds, Nagakado’s loss reframes the war for Toranaga. As a father, it’s his worst nightmare. As a man shaping his country’s future, his primary hope for continuing that future is gone. To quote Sanada via the Shōgun podcast, “If [Toranaga] created a new world, dreaming world, it can’t be finished in Toranaga’s generation. It’d have to continue.” Simultaneously, Toranaga the character claimed that “even when there’s evil in this land, no one has the right to tear the Realm apart.” Whether or not he was hiding an invasion plan behind those words, the conflict is too personal to keep playing at neutrality. Our nebulous image of Toranaga has cleared. What’s left except for him to tear the Realm apart?


New episodes of Shōgun premiere each Tuesday on FX and Hulu in the U.S.

Watch on Hulu



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