A run-down and thoughts on the drama Ôoku: Tanjô, episode 1 (aired 12 Oct. 2012 at 22:00 on TBS). Spoilers!
Plot: Vol. 2, Ch. 1-2.
As the Red-Face Pox spreads throughout Japan, Arikoto (SAKAI Masato), the young head priest of a temple, and his monks Myôkei (SURUGA Tarô) and Gyokuei (TANAKA Kôki) travel from Kyoto to Edo. Kasuga no Tsubone (ASÔ Yumi), Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu’s nurse and the real power behind the shogunate, kidnaps the three of them in order to add the beautiful Arikoto to Iemitsu’s harem, the ôoku. When he refuses to break his vows by sleeping with the prostitutes procured from the Yoshiwara, Kasuga has Myokei and one of the prostitutes killed in front of everyone. To save Gyokuei’s life, Arikoto decides to stay in the ôoku, sleeping with one of the Yoshiwara women and growing out his hair. Gyokuei is free to go but decides to stay as Arikoto’s servant. Though the real Iemitsu died some years ago of the pox, Kasuga has managed to keep it a secret: her son Inaba Masakatsu (HIRAYAMA Hiroyuki) usually masquerades as the now-dead shogun for formal occasions. Arikoto finally meets the real Shogun–and is shocked to discover that “Iemitsu” (TABE Mikako) is a young woman.
Compared to the manga
I’m really confused about what is going on with the actors’ ages here. Of the mismatched ages, the one I’m most willing to overlook is Tanaka’s for Gyokuei. In the manga, the character is about 14-15 at the beginning. However, Tanaka is an excellent choice for the character both in terms of performance and appearance–he looks just like manga!Gyokuei at about 18–so it seems less problematic.
Kasuga is much older-looking in the manga, an effect that could have been achieved with a grey wig and a little makeup. I’m bothered that a character who had such a distinctive feature that would be extremely easy to replicate (she has to wear a wig anyhow) was changed for no apparent reason.
As I mentioned before, Sakai, despite being a good actor, is suffering from stage-Romeo-&-Juliet syndrome: by casting an actor who looks too old for the role and an actress who is and looks exactly the right age to be romantic leads, the pairing gives off a lopsided vibe. When they meet, Iemitsu II is 16; Arikoto is 18. If they both looked their age, this would seem like a perfectly normal age gap; however, casting a man who looks 30 at best with an actress who looks 16 and even younger in drag comes off as mismatched.
Some of the casting choices in the film included actors that didn’t look like the characters, particularly Sugimoto and Fujiwara. (Making Sugimoto more distinctive as a non ikemen type actually made narrative sense, though.) Still, when a character is defined in part by his appearance, appearance is important. It’s not enough for Arikoto to be handsome–he is supposed to be very androgynous, particularly so at this age, too. He and Iemitsu are two of the most androgynous characters in the entire manga series. Plot points depend on it! I know Ninomiya Kazunari was already in the first Ôoku movie, but someone like him, with a more delicate facial structure and slighter build, would have been more convincing as an androgynous 18-year-old. Sakai’s build and facial structure are more suitable to Emonosuke, who is also closer to his age, so I’m looking forward to that, but it’s not like Japan has a dearth of attractive young androgynous actors and talents.
As for the actual plot, it very closely follows the manga. The rape scene with Iemitsu I and Iemitsu II/Chiyo’s mother was implied offscreen; the scene in which Iemitsu I expresses his dislike of sleeping with women is a bit longer. A scene in which Arikoto and the monks actually escape but are captured by Inaba was also added. The scene neither added to nor detracted from the plot, and it served to show how close the three men are.
Aside from reprises of the movie music, the other background/incidental music was occasionally strange–tango music in a period drama that has established itself with a more Japanese-style score was jarring.
The acting was all good, but the real standout performance was Tabe as Iemitsu. Her androgynous appearance in costume was fantastic, but what really clinched it for me was her body language and movements. She reminded me a lot of the Mukai Osamu (向井 理)’s portrayal of Hidetada in Gou – Himetachi no Sengoku: the nonchalant, unhindered way she walks and sits; the blasé manner of speaking–she appears perfectly unconcerned with what Arikoto or anyone else thinks even though she hits him in a fit of rage. (This, of course, is only half-truth–Iemitsu can be very passionate but is also practical to the point of being thought cold and ruthless.) Tabe pulled off this scene perfectly, and I’m really hoping her performance continues to be as stellar as her first appearance as Iemitsu II. I really can’t wait to see her interact with Gyokuei, since those characters have such an interesting relationship.
Next time on Ôoku: Tanjô: The sad tale of Wakamurasaki, a.k.a., Oneko-sama!