Shögun Death Scene
Anna Sawai in Shōgun (Credit: FX)

Shōgun delivered off the most impactful moments of television this year. Lady Mariko’s sacrifice stung to the bone, both for audience and the ensemble of captivating characters. Even though the inevitable demise was desired on Mariko’s part, the Shōgun death scene was a painful loss made more effective by its brute quickness.

Recently, the cinematographer behind the episode, Sam McCurdy, spoke with Immersive Media’s editor, Jack Giroux, about shooting the scene. Similar to the Shōgun ending, there were alternate versions of Mariko’s sacrifice. “It was really interesting actually, because again, there are two versions of the very final shots,” McCurdy said. “When everybody gets into the lockup, we want that energy. We wanted a little bit of energy so that we could almost lose Anna. You’ve got a moment off, where is she? And then again, the camera returns to her and it’s all about her again. Within that energy, we knew we’d be a little more handheld and a little more frantic with the movement. We could then very stoically present her in front of the door. And then that became about there being no other distractions.”

Director Frederick E. O. Toye’s episode, titled “Crimson Sky,” always stayed true to Mariko’s point-of-view. She was the star of the series all along, but this episode cemented that fact. “This was in Fred’s direction and in Fred’s blocking, that nobody was ever going to make it to her,” McCurdy continued, “Even though she talks for long enough, nobody was ever going to make it to her to interfere with this moment.”

Shōgun cinematographer
Anna Sawai and Hiroyuki Sanada in Shōgun (Credit: FX)

There’s nothing romanticized about Mariko’s death, which is too often the case with major character death scenes. The other version shot was a more prolonged goodbye. “We shot a version that was a too romantic passing of Mariko,” McCurdy said. “Again, when it shows you when you are right and when you’re wrong. It shows you when you actually just need to stick to the script. It was right to have it go so quickly. Having shot and seen the two versions, the emotion was already in the buildup and prior [seppuku] scene.”

For McCurdy, the Shōgun death scene was exactly what the character wanted. Staying true to the character, the cinematographer and the rest of the cast and crew framed it as such. “A lot of us have talked about it since rewatching episodes,” McCurdy concluded, “and Mariko needed that moment since episode one. There’s a belief that what happens to Mariko is exactly what she was striving for since episode one. So, to go super fast and kill her so quickly and so brutally is almost kind of a better way for her to go. That’s what she would want as opposed to an overly romantic slow-motion death. That actually isn’t what Mariko would’ve wanted in the first. She just wanted to go.”

Shōgun is available to stream on Hulu.

Miles Kelley
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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.