Shōgun: Is Saeki Nobutatsu Inspired by an Actual Warlord?

The tide turns completely against Lord Yoshii Toranaga in FX’s ‘Shogun’ when he is betrayed by the person who was supposed to help him win the war in one stroke. At the end of the sixth episode, Toranaga, despite not wanting to be the one to incite war, decides that it’s time for them to mount an attack on Osaka and will have to go forward with a battle plan termed Crimson Sky. Because their own forces are rendered incapable following a devastating earthquake, they will need help, and for that, he contacts his half-brother, Saeki Nobutatsu.

Considering that ‘Shogun’ is loosely based on real events and characters in Japanese history, the arrival of every new character piques one’s curiosity about their real-life counterpart. Who is the inspiration for the fascinating character of Saeki Nobutatsu?

Saeki Nobutatsu is Based on Real-Life Toranaga’s Brother

Lord Yoshii Toranaga is based on the real shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the FX series focuses on his rise to power. The character of his half-brother, Saeki Nobutatsu, is based on Ieyasu’s half-brother, Matsudaira Iemoto, who was also a samurai during the early Edo period. He and Ieyasu were fathered by the same man, but they had different mothers.

Unlike Ieyasu, who became one of the, if not the, most influential figures of his time, Matsudaira Iemoto remains a vague figure in history. Little to nothing is known about him, including his relationship with Ieyasu. However, it is known that Iemoto did not live to see old age. He is believed to have died in 1603, at about the same time when the war of the regents ended, and Ieyasu emerged as the clear winner. This coincidence is enough to make one wonder which side Iemoto was on. Did he die fighting for his half-brother, or was he killed fighting against Ieyasu?

The lack of historical data surrounding Iemoto makes him one of the most malleable characters in ‘Shogun.’ When James Clavell, the author of the book on which the FX series is based, started to write his novel, he deeply studied the history and culture of Japan at the time. He drew upon real-life events as signposts to write the story, but he allowed himself the creative freedom to tweak the events and timeline and gave them a fictional touch to make them more dramatic for the audience. For people like Ieyasu, their place in history gave him a blueprint of where the story was headed, but it was with people like Iemoto that he exercised more freedom.

Called Zataki in the novel, Saeki Nobutatsu’s only confirmed connection to history is that he was the half-brother of the protagonist. However, the blur around his life gave Clavell the freedom to fill his own colors in the character. The novel makes him a dicey character who cannot be trusted, and Toranaga knows it. As happens in the seventh episode of the show, Toranaga’s brother joins his enemies and asks him to surrender or die. But later, it turns out that Toranaga, not unexpectedly, had other plans in mind. The FX series makes some changes while adapting Clavell’s novel for the screen, but it keeps the core of Nobutatsu’s character as was intended by the author. The show elevates the material to make it more edge-of-the-seat entertainment for the audience, who are left guessing: is Nobutatsu a friend or a foe?

Read More: Shōgun: Is Lady Ochiba Inspired by a Real Person?