Aired Nov. 30, 2012, on TBS.
This recap contains spoilers for the drama and the manga. Episode 7 recap here; manga analysis here; Ôoku category (film, manga, and drama) here. I am probably never going to recap a show episode-by-episode again…. お待たせしました！
When Oraku falls ill with the Red Face Pox, Arikoto (SAKAI Masato) brings him into Kasuga’s (ASO Yumi) sick room. Gyokuei (TANAKA Kôki) is confused as to why he would help Kasuga, his nemesis, or Oraku, his rival, but Arikoto replies that he wants to be useful. He divides his time between caring for both patients. While Oraku is very ill and has to be fed, Kasuga insists on feeding herself and does not want to be treated like a patient. Oraku asks why Arikoto is treating him with such kindness when no one ever has before, to which Arikoto responds that he is Chiyo’s father. Oraku asks to see his daughter one last time, then stops breathing. “It was a noble end,” Arikoto tells the other men of the ôoku.
Iemitsu (TABE Mikako) seems nonplussed when Arikoto tells her of Oraku’s death; however, she’s very concerned about Kasuga’s health. Arikoto discovers that Kasuga has not been taking her medicine and is hiding it under her futon again because she doesn’t think it will help. Arikoto pretends that he didn’t seen her untouched “stash.” Kasuga tells Arikoto about how her father was executed and how she, as a small child, and her family traveled in exile through the forest. While her sisters complained about the hard journey, she soldiered on, never forgetting that time.
In Iemitsu’s chambers, Gyokuei asks after Kasuga. Iemitsu says that it’d be a lie to say that Kasuga was like a mother to her, but that without her, she would not have become shogun; Kasuga loved her father as a son, and so she was a tool to continue his line. “Because of my father, I was born, but sometimes I think it’d be better if I hadn’t been born like this.” Gyokuei says he’s glad she’s alive. “It’s not that I don’t ever have fun or am not ever happy, but where is the purpose in my life?”
Inaba Masukatsu’s son dies of the pox. His wife Oyuki’s solution is to dress their daughter as a man and pass her off as their son.
At a meeting with her advisors, Iemitsu, the advisors worry that the country will collapse as the pox kills off more and more men. Iemitsu replies, “If it falls, so be it. It’s my duty to protect this country until the last of us dies.”
Kasuga asks Murase to become the official record keeper and keep a journal of all the happens in the ôoku. (It is from him that Yoshimune will receive the records that explain the history of ôoku.) Arikoto visits her; she wonders how many people she has killed in the name of lasting peace. Arikoto tells her that he doesn’t hold a grudge against her; she has caused him pain and sadness, but he is grateful to her for allowing him the chance to help others. (Someone just give this guy Bodhisattva-hood. I can’t even deal with this.) Kasuga is shocked. Her final request to him is that to take over the ôoku in her place when she dies.
In a flashblack, Kasuga tells her son that she is going to Edo to serve the Tokugawa. He begs her to take him with her. He agrees to follow her even though he won’t be allowed to be her “son” anymore, since she will be the wet nurse for the Shogun (Iemitsu I). Kasuga dies with Iemitsu, Arikoto, and her son by her side.
At Terutsuna’s ceremony recognizing “him” as a samurai, Iemitsu, sitting behind her curtain, orders him to rise. The curtain is pulled up to reveal the Shogun dressed in women’s clothing, with combs in her hair, wearing makeup. She descends from her dais, and explains that Iemitsu I died 10 years ago, and that she has been acting in his place. “I am the rightful heir. I was born to his position. If our nation falls, I will go down with it. Is there anyone here who would object to a woman Shogun?!”
The entire rooms bows down to her.
Compared to the manga
My manga is in a moving truck heading for me next week–finally! In the manga, I believe that Kasuga’s flash back is not a story told to Arikoto, but this narrative technique helps smooth some of the transitions that can be unclear to new readers of the manga (flashbacks have a black background for the blank edges around the cells.)
In general, I really liked this episode. The final scene of this chapter in the manga, in which Iemitsu comes out as a woman, is one of my favorite scenes in the series. I thought that Tabe practically yelled her ultimatum, and I thought when I read the manga that it would be more cool and forceful. Yet, since there was always a possibility one of the men in the room might try to kill her, I don’t think it’s a poor interpretation.
The parallels of Kasuga’s regrets and guilt on her deathbed to Gyokuei’s on his as an old man are notable. Every character in the ôoku is there because of her: Inaba, when she went to Edo to work for the Tokugawa; the men of the ôoku, including Arikoto and Gyokuei; and Iemitsu herself. All were brought to this place unwillingly and through coercion and violence. While the same isn’t true for Gyokuei, the affection for and feelings of guilt toward his own daughter, Tsunayoshi, are very similar to those Kasuga has toward Iemitsu, the mother Tsunayoshi barely knew.
I’m saving the big biology-and-choice and mirror-of-fantasy discussions for the final wrap up of the arc, but in the meantime, let me say again how I love that all of Yoshinaga’s characters have such a range of gender expression. Although Iemitsu II cross-dresses to hide her sex when dealing with her advisors (even when they already know), she’s more comfortable wearing the same style of clothing, hair, and makeup as other fashionable and well-to-do women. Whereas we often associate a more masculine gender presentation with power and a bold personality (think Oscar of BeruBara), Iemitsu is an excellent example of a power femme. There is no reason why a leader can’t wear lipstick or skirts or women’s kimono. Iemitsu’s cosmetics seem to be for her comfort and enjoyment, whereas for Tsunayoshi, they are a crutch and a burden, a reminder of loss of fertility and beauty. The talisman of independence for one person can just as easily be the burden of gender norms for another.
Also, the parallels between Iemitsu’s and Arikoto’s similar aesthetic senses (elegant, luxurious, and yet practical and never over the top–a splash of color and the finest embroidery) is such a great visual technique for how well suited they are for each other, and yet so subtle I didn’t even notice it until writing this. Excuse me while I go die of a broken heart.
Next time on Ôoku: you are not prepared for these feelings, part 1.