After Ep. 3, my will to watch this show waned a lot. Fortunately, the drama picks up more in this episode, and there are points I was willing to overlook or accept for the sake of adapting this manga for TV. Arikoto’s cross-dressing scene in Ep. 3 was not one of them, so I’m still a bit sore about that.
Warnings: spoilers for the manga and drama, including some from later episodes/chapters.
More Ôoku here.
Iemitsu (TABE Mikako), now dressing in women’s clothes and make-up when not fulfilling official duties as the Shogun, grants Dejima as a landing place for foreigners. She seems really happy, quite a changed person. Arikoto (SAKAI Masato) tells her about the ocean, and she expresses her desire to leave the ôoku and travel there with him someday. There’s a scene of them chatting in bed and kissing, which was pretty convincing–one of the problems a lot of Japanese dramas I watch seem to have is that the kissing scenes are awkward. Yoshinaga draws really good kisses, but sometimes the actors don’t seem into it when they should be. (I’m looking at you, Horita Maki– that part in vol. 1 when Mizuno kisses Onobu was supposed to be really passionate and you didn’t even kiss him back in the film!)
In the town of Edo, there are women everywhere, not unlike the scenes of town in the first film. Kasuga (ASÔ Yumi), who is angry that Arikoto has not produced an heir, is in her palanquin spying on Sutezô (KUBOTA Masataka), a rakish, devil-may-care young man who is openly walking with and kissing his female escort. (Bravo on the kissing!)
Back at the castle, Iemitsu thanks Kasuga for finding Arikoto for her. Kasuga confronts Arikoto about his perceived infertility and tells him that Iemitsu needs to sleep with other men to produce an heir. Arikoto is heartbroken but tells Iemitsu what Kasuga told him; Iemitsu completely loses it and slaps him around; he doesn’t fight back. She breaks down and asks him, “Will you die with me? When I can’t have children, will you go down with the Tokugawa? With me?” She tells him he might not be the problem; she suspects she has fertility issues since her first child died shortly after birth. The episode ends with a dream sequence of the two of them at the sea.
When Kasuga tells Arikoto that Sutezo will replace him as Iemitsu’s lover since he has failed to produce an heir, he gives a monologue about how he never wanted to come to the ôoku, but by loving Iemitsu, he had found a new purpose in life. Sakai’s performance was spot-on–he looked like he had been punched in the gut and is on the verge of a panic attack. “You’re treating the Shogun as if she were a tool!” he cries. “What is the point of continuing the Tokugawa line?” After he gives this impassioned speech, the camera cuts to Kasuga, who appears completely nonplussed. She sits up straighter, and says, completely deadpan, “For no more battles. For peace.” The contrast between Arikoto’s anger, especially since he rarely raises his voice, and Kasuga’s matter-of-fact tone was great; and the cuts to their reactions, especially his lowering his eyes in realization, really made the scene. I really like the chemistry Sakai and Asô as antagonists.
Compared to the manga
I was disappointed that Iemitsu didn’t ask Arikoto to speak Kyoto-ben in bed. I really liked that part in the manga! Perhaps it’s tied to the masculinization of Arikoto’s character for the drama. Since Kyoto-ben is considered to be feminine by the samurai in the ôoku and Arikoto only speaks it to Gyokuei, I took Iemitsu’s desire for him to speak it in the manga as a sign that she accepts him and his perceived gender expression.
Additions for the drama: Arikoto has a cute scene in which he is reading The Tale of Genji (fanboy) and imagines himself and Iemitsu as Genji and his lover. Oyuki, Inaba Masakatsu’s wife, is a character added for the drama. She actually plays an important role in Ep. 8, so you’ll have to wait for it. The discussion of going to the sea with Arikoto is another addition.
I though Sutezo’s depiction as brazen–kissing in the street, robe open to reveal his chest, red accents on his under-kimono–was really excellent. He’s arm candy and he knows it, and the other women in the street are openly jealous. I also love the dynamic with his father, who slut-shames him, especially in comparison to some of the other young men we see with their parents, all of whom are disappointed with their sons for being too “feminine.” These scenes really bring out the idea of generational gender gaps and highlight the changing times. Sutezo’s father, I should note, is sitting in the dominant position in the room as head of house, a role we will see reversed in other families later, most notably Mizuno’s family in the first film, where his mother occupies the position.
This episode played with the themes of being trapped in the castle. Just like modern royal women, the “gilded cage” is a serious issue. Iemitsu and Arikoto want to be free to love each other, but since the infertility issue is a matter of state, it will eventually destroy their relationship. In the manga, Yoshinaga very skillfully ties this theme to the current low birth rate in contemporary Japan’s being addressed by politicians and the media as something that could take down the state. With the high level of social gender inequity combined with legal gender inequity in contemporary Japan, something I have written about many times here, having children here comes with the high cost of living; the recession making marriage seem fiscally difficult; the often inadequate social structures for childcare; the long working hours and lack of vacation time; the M-curve for women’s employment (working – not working – returning part-time) making advancing in a company difficult or balancing a career and family; the glass ceiling; the sexism against men who take family leave: sexist divorce laws and family registry laws–all of these problems hurt chances of people wanting children (or more than one child) or being able to care for their children, and yet the problem continues to be blamed on women’s education and/or selfishness. Gods forbid women should want to lead their own lives.*
In the drama, I feel like the theme is approached from more of a romantic/love angle: even though Arikoto and Iemitsu would rather have each other at the cost of being childless, they are forced apart by the issue. More importantly, Yoshinaga makes the point again and again that social constructs of gender can evolve and change enormously but that basic biology (read: childbirth) cannot. For Tsunayoshi in the next major story arc, age and infertility are a major theme. As for the current arc, the cruel irony of Iemitsu and Arikoto is that Iemitsu eventually dies from complications from a series of miscarriages–had she and infertile Arikoto been allowed to be together, she might have lived.
Next time on Ôoku: Tanjô: Sutezô’s debut and a whole lot of angst.
*Here’s a link to a recent Japan Times article that addresses the changing face of motherhood if you want to see how matters of women’s roles are discussed in non-academic media. Even in its discussion of sexism in the home, the author fails to address feasible solutions or create a real dialogue. I can’t say I’m surprised, but you can see what we are dealing with here. Speaking of which, according to a new Cabinet poll of the Japanese public, “51% want wives to stay home.” (Who are these 3000 survey-takers?)