<I>Shogun</I>: Editors Maria Gonzales &  Aika Miyake
Marc Loftus
June 12, 2024

Shogun: Editors Maria Gonzales & Aika Miyake

FX’s Shōgun premiered back in February on both Hulu and FX. The 10-episode series is an adaptation of James Clavell’s bestselling novel and is set in 1600s Japan at the dawn of a civil war. Hiroyuki Sanada stars as Lord Yoshii Toranaga, who is fighting for his life as his enemies on the Council of Regents unite against him. When a European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) comes bearing secrets that could help Toranaga tip the scales of power.

Maria Gonzales and Aika Miyake both served as editors on the series, and recently shared insight into their approach and workflow.

How did you both get involved in working on Shogun? Did this show require a specific approach?

Maria Gonzales (pictured): “I first worked with (co-creator) Justin Marks on the Starz TV show Counterpart, which he created and ran for two seasons. I had the pleasure of working on both seasons, and the good fortune of starting the show as an assistant editor and finishing it as an editor. During the second season, Justin directed one of the episodes I was assigned to. We found that we worked well together, which I think is why he thought of me for Shogun.

“Regarding my approach, I can’t say I did anything different than I would do on any other show. I generally prepare myself by getting to know the script well, and once the dailies start coming in, I let the footage guide me in shaping the story. In this case, I also had to consider the source material —  the famous James Clavell book — but I didn't have time to read it before starting on Shogun. Eventually, I rationalized that the show and overall story would be better served if I only considered the material I was given: the script and dailies. I didn’t want any story points explained in the book or omitted from the book to influence my take on the footage I was entrusted to make work.” 

Aika Miyake: “I received a DM on Instagram from Jamie Wheeler, the post producer. She had come across a 2019 article about my move from Japan to Los Angeles in search of better film projects and decided to reach out to me. Jamie and the showrunner, Justin, were eager to find an editor who not only speaks Japanese, but also has a deep understanding of authentic Japanese culture. During our interview, Justin emphasized the importance of the show being culturally Japanese while incorporating a more Western cinematic style. Hearing his vision of blending true 17th-century Japanese period scenes with the epic filmmaking of Hollywood was incredibly exciting. As we discussed his visions, I realized this project perfectly aligned with my skills and background. It felt like exactly what I had been seeking when I left Japan, and I was thrilled about the possibility of contributing to their team.

“Before starting, I read numerous articles and historical websites to educate myself, as I wasn't very knowledgeable about the actual history. Additionally, I listened to the audiobook of Shogun and researched the impact of the 1980s version, which was groundbreaking for its time. But I remember, at the time, I had no idea of the scale and ambition of this project. As I started to receive dailies, the magnitude of the production became clear. I was astounded by the sheer size and scope of the project, and was amazed by the extensive production and meticulous acting practices that went into creating this new version of Shogun. The attention to detail and the dedication of everyone involved were truly inspiring, making me even more excited to be a part of this remarkable endeavor.”

What would you say were the biggest challenges of working on this series?

Maria Gonzales: “One of the challenges for me was the language. I don’t speak Japanese, so I had to rely on our fantastic team of assistants to create all the subtitles before I could start cutting a scene. Beyond the language, Shogun was a massive undertaking. By design, the show had a wide range of intriguing characters whose motives, desires and secrets make for a very complex story that could have easily gone beyond the ten-episode framework we were working in. In that respect, the biggest challenge was ensuring every character and performance gets its due while keeping the story engaging. A big part of the job was allowing the story to unfold at a steady pace while determining when the right moment was to take a breath and let the audience enjoy the beautiful Japanese culture displayed in our show.”

Aika Miyake (pictured): “I come from a background of editing hundreds of commercials and branded content, so my biggest challenge with this project was adapting to the extended length — the length of each shot, the scenes, the episodes and the overall duration of my work on the show. I ended up working on this project for 19 months and loved every minute of it, although the initial adjustment was significant.

“I had to remind myself that breaking down an episode into scenes, usually ranging from two to ten minutes, is something I've done many times in my career. Ultimately, I found it incredibly fun and rewarding to weave storylines and character developments into the edits, building each episode piece by piece. Most importantly, it was deeply satisfying to have the time to build emotions within the scenes because emotions take time to develop effectively in films, and that is something difficult to achieve when you are editing a :30 commercial. Being able to explore and delve into the characters' emotions and narratives was a fulfilling experience that I cherished throughout the project.”

Can you share some details about gear and software you were using?

Maria Gonzales: “The show began filming in September of 2021 on location in Vancouver. Picture editorial was in Los Angeles while our VFX editorial team worked out of their homes in Vancouver. We had three editors, five assistant editors, one VFX editor and two VFX assistant editors, so we needed a reliable remote setup. There was no real discussion about which software or system we should use, as everything was set up by our post producer, Jamie Wheeler, well before we started. We worked on Media Composer 2018, and our systems were PC-based. We used Parsec to access the drives in a server room our vendor kept in Hollywood. This allowed us to access the server whether we were working from our respective homes or our cutting room in South Pasadena. For remote collaboration with directors and producers, we used Evercast.”

Do you have a scene or episode that you would point to as an editorial challenge or highlight?

Maria Gonzales: “I rarely talk about it, but the Onsen scene between Blackthorne and Mariko in Episode 4 was very fun to put together. Thanks to Fred Toye and Sam McCurdy, the director and DP on this episode, this scene is a study in proxemic patterns. The beautiful coverage allowed me to play with different approaches to the scene, and I explored many of those avenues while working with Fred. The final version of the scene is fairly traditional in the way it unfolds. The awkwardness of their encounter plays out in the wides and some overs, and as the scene becomes more confessional and their connection more tangible, we move into tighter coverage. What made the scene particularly challenging was the blocking. For the bulk of the scene, especially towards the end, Blackthorne and Mariko are facing away from each other. My concern was that we would lose the emotional connection between the two, which is not only an important part of this scene and episode, but the overall arc of their love story. I believe I successfully address this by playing fairly-lengthy parts of the scene on Mariko, and by doing so, allowing the audience to witness her guard come down. I also didn't shy away from keeping the natural pauses Cosmo and Anna built into their performance on the day. I believe this added to the growing tension between these two characters.”

Aika Miyake: “Episode 2 hinges on two pivotal encounters between Toranaga and the newly-arrived Blackthorn. These scenes, packed with political intrigue and character revelations, mark their first meeting. They also introduce the crucial role of the translators: Alvito in the first scene and Mariko in the second.

“The opening scene with Alvito translating begins traditionally. However, as the conversation reaches a critical juncture, the translations subtly fade out, heightening the tension and drawing the focus to the raw intensity of their direct exchange. Director Jonathan van Tulleken masterfully guides the audience through these shifts with visually engaging camera angles, like off-kilter shots and an arc shot around Toranaga, to build anticipation, leading up to a series of fast-paced, extreme close-ups between the two leads. Despite the shift in focus, the scene subtly conveys Alvito's continued presence in the background, silently facilitating communication.

“The second scene presents a different challenge. Here, Mariko translates and interprets Blackthorn's explanation of a map of the world to Toranaga. The scene's length demanded meticulous control of pacing within each section to ensure the audience remained engaged. Anna delivers a captivating performance as Mariko. Despite her unwavering commitment to faithfully translating the information, her Catholic beliefs are clearly shaken by Blackthorn's revelations. Through subtle expressions that belie her composed exterior, we witness Mariko's internal conflict. While the conversation between Blackthorn and Toranaga takes center stage, the scene also subtly conveys Mariko's dawning realization and internal turmoil without her uttering her own words.”