“‘Shōgun’ scribes reflect on bidding farewell to Mariko in the ‘devastating’ ninth episode


Can’t shake off the heart-wrenching ninth episode of ‘Shōgun,’ titled ‘Crimson Sky’? Imagine dwelling on it for five years.

That’s precisely the scenario for Rachel Kondo and Caillin Puente, the duo behind this pivotal episode. (Kondo also serves as a co-creator and executive producer, while Puente works as a story editor and associate producer.) The two were tasked with translating one of the most crucial sequences from James Clavell’s original novel into a gripping on-screen narrative: Toda Mariko’s (Anna Sawai) attempt to depart from Osaka.

Across the episode, Mariko orchestrates a diplomatic uproar, undermines Ishido Kazunari (Takehiro Hira), and contemplates seppuku, despite pleas from both John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) and Ochiba no Kata (Fumi Nikaido). After enduring relentless peril, Mariko is granted permission to return to Ajiro, only to meet her demise in a fatal explosion that same night. It’s a gut-wrenching, tragic farewell to one of ‘Shōgun’s central figures, and after years of deliberation, Kondo and Puente knew this was the episode they had to craft.

In a joint conversation with Mashable, Kondo and Puente, self-professed “Mariko and Ochiba’s number one fans,” delved into why Mariko’s final days resonated profoundly with them, how they expanded her relationship with Ochiba, and the pivotal role Sawai played in bringing Mariko to life. The following dialogue has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Anna Sawai in “Shōgun.”
Credit: Katie Yu / FX

Mashable: What was your initial reaction upon encountering Mariko’s gate sequence and her final story arc in the novel?

Rachel Kondo: Reading that sequence felt akin to experiencing an action-packed scene in a novel. The tension is palpable, almost mirroring the pacing of an action sequence, yet it’s crafted with words and refusals. Capturing that essence in a novel was beyond my scope, but what struck me was how the entire narrative hinges on this pivotal moment of a woman passing through a gate.

Caillin Puente: There’s a realization of the brilliance of this scene and its broader narrative context. We aimed to approach it from a fresh angle, particularly by integrating Ochiba more into the narrative. Ochiba, a character often spoken of through others’ perspectives, lacked a personal connection to Mariko in the novel.

Observing the political theater within Osaka Castle, where Mariko orchestrates a diplomatic crisis, it became evident that someone capable of engaging Mariko in a battle of wits was Ochiba. Their interaction in that scene was compelling, prompting us to explore and enrich their relationship further.

RK: We envisioned their relationship and interactions, presuming that, given their ranks, they likely knew of each other, if not each other personally. This aspect was particularly exciting, imagining what could have transpired.


‘Shōgun’ Episode 9: Revisiting Mariko’s Gate Scene from Episode 3. Here’s Why.

One reason I’m profoundly affected by this episode is its fluctuating tension. You anticipate Mariko’s demise at various points, yet it’s continually deferred. However, following Yabushige’s betrayal, her fate becomes inevitable. How did you construct this episode and sustain such tension?

CP: That’s a delicate balance. Following Mariko’s aborted suicide attempt, there’s a poignant realization that she might survive this ordeal. It’s the first time she envisions an alternate future, a glimmer of hope amidst her unwavering resolve. Those subsequent scenes, where she contemplates a different path, are devastating.

Mariko remained resolute in her purpose, unwavering even amidst internal conflict. She comprehended the stakes. Anna Sawai’s portrayal, particularly during Mariko’s attempted escape from the castle, epitomizes the emotional toll of steadfastness. Her performance encapsulates humanity, pain, and vulnerability, elements challenging to envisage during the writing process.

CP: Anna approached her role with unparalleled dedication. We were concerned about the emotional weight of the episode on her, yet she immersed herself entirely, becoming Mariko. Witnessing her transition back to herself post-filming was a gratifying moment.

Filming in chronological order was advantageous, facilitating a deeper understanding of the character. Anna’s perspective on Mariko profoundly influenced her portrayal, enhancing the character’s depth.

Anna Sawai’s perspective on Mariko transformed the character.
– Caillin Puente

CP: Anna’s insights into Mariko’s character were transformative. She advocated for Mariko to wear her cross continually, irrespective of circumstances. Her interpretation aligned seamlessly with Mariko’s final iteration.

RK: Anna scrutinized every line, ensuring it resonated authentically with Mariko’s character. In an early scene, Anna suggested toning down Mariko’s harshness, emphasizing her grace and poise, which enhanced the scene’s authenticity.

CP: Our collaboration extended to scenes involving Ochiba. Fumi Nikaido proposed blocking that emphasized both characters’ perspectives, enriching their dynamic.

RK: This synergy was evident in scenes depicting their camaraderie during training.

Fumi Nikaido and Anna Sawai in “Shōgun.”
Credit: Katie Yu / FX

The poetic aspect of their relationship, particularly in episode 9, was captivating. Mariko provides Ochiba with a poignant line for a poetry contest: “While the snow remains veiled in the haze of cold evening, a leafless branch.” How did you expand upon this line and integrate poetry into their narrative?

CP: Poetry played a significant role, drawing from historical references and Clavell’s novel. Professor Frederik Cryns provided invaluable insights and historical context, enriching the narrative. We adapted lines from the novel, ensuring they resonated within the period and cultural context.

CP: Mariko’s line to Ochiba, “Flowers are only flowers because they fall,” is inspired by Hosokawa Gracia’s death poem. It encapsulates Mariko’s character poignantly.

RK: Incorporating Gracia’s real-life history into Mariko’s character involved meticulous research. For instance, Mariko’s journals in episode 4 mirror Gracia’s handwriting, adding authenticity to the portrayal.

CP: Gracia’s complex relationship with her husband inspired Mariko’s dynamic with Buntaro, albeit less dramatically.

RK: Gracia’s defiance and resilience, epitomized by her retort to her husband, shaped Mariko’s character trajectory.

CP: Gracia’s story, albeit legendary, provided invaluable inspiration, enriching Mariko’s narrative.

All episodes of ‘Shōgun’ are available for streaming on Hulu.”



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