Shōgun cinematographer
Anna Sawai in Shōgun (Credit: FX)

Lady Mariko is the real hero of Shōgun. She doesn’t stab anyone in the back. In fact, when she follows Lord Toragana’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) orders, she stabs them right in the front. In director Frederick E. O. Toye‘s fantastic penultimate episode, “Crimson Sky,” we see Mariko’s strength and pain in an emotionally and physically brutal fight scene. Shōgun cinematographer Sam McCurdy kindly broke down the action scene for Immersive Media.

The Emmy-contending Shōgun cinematographer spoke with editor Jack Giroux about the not only thrilling but dramatic scene. Rather than breakdown McCurdy’s explanation in pieces, here’s how the DP wanted to make the point-of-view-driven action scene:

Fred, [creators] Justin [Marks] and Rachel [Kondo], and I, we went into the whole of Shōgun wanting to present a truth and a truth in the characters, and a truth in the story. We would take the perspectives of who in our particular scripts we wanted to follow.

Episode nine is a very fine balance. It could have been shot in so many ways. Knowing that we wanted to keep it very much from Mariko’s perspective, from her point of view, so that it was always people watching her or the camera was always with her, seeing people watch her. It actually was almost as simple as that.

I’m a firm believer in if you make that choice, you make that decision, then we stick with it. That’s the decision we make with the camera, that when you are with her, you are with her. So, the cameras, the ability to move in her world and see everybody around her was always important. So, the luxury of an anamorphic lens is sometimes you can be a little bit wider than you might normally be. It can still be a very cosmetic lens, but it gives you the opportunity to open the background up so much.

Episode nine, in particular, for me, it almost a, this is how you shoot anamorphic. This is how you use an anamorphic lens to tell a story. It allows you to feel like you are very singular in the perspective you are shooting from. And that was all decided in the prep with Fred and I. It was making sure that when we went into shoot every day, that we were very conscious of the lenses we used when photographing Anna, and we were very conscious of the lenses that we used when we were photographing those around her.

Again, it sounds very simplistic, but her point of view would be shot from her point of view. The camera is her perspective. Even if you had people watching, it wasn’t just a cutaway shot of somebody watching; it was actually from her point-of-view. It felt focused. Everybody looking at her felt focused. Everything that she was doing became the purpose of that episode.

Check out our interview with costume designer Carlos Rosario.

Miles Kelley

Miles Kelly is a part-time writer, full-time worrier. He has years of copywriting experience in the entertainment industry under his belt. Miles thanks you for reading his news posts and occasional features.