Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you enjoy the final tragic episode of Ôoku: Tanjô, a.k.a. a preponderance of nope. This recap contains (major) spoilers for the drama and the manga. Episode 9 recap here; manga analysis here; Ôoku category (film, manga, and drama) here.
Aired Dec. 14, 2012 on TBS.
Iemitsu gives birth to Tokuko, her third child, Gyokuei’s daughter. Arikoto comes to congratulate him. Gyokuei is excited because not only did he fulfill the prophecy about becoming the father of a ruler, he feels like he and Arikoto beat Onatsu, whom Gyokuei has always seen as his competition. Iemitsu wonders what her life would have been like if she and Arikoto could have had a child.
Tokuko grows up with Gyokuei and Arikoto doting on her. We get some scenes with Chiyo, the eldest daughter (Oraku’s) and Nagako, her second daughter (Onatsu’s). Chiyo, bored with her studies, requests that Arikoto take over as her tutor. Iemitsu asks Arikoto which of her daughters is most suited to being shogun but says they don’t really need to worry about her heir just yet.
Gyokuei tells Tokuko how much he and Arikoto are looking forward to the day when she becomes shogun. (Foreshadowing intensifies.) One day, Iemitsu is playing with Tokuko in the nakaniwa and collapses. She asks Arikoto to take her back to her room; the doctor tells her that it’s just the change of the seasons but tells the advisors she’ll die. She asks Onatsu and Gyokuei that if she dies, which daughter should be shogun; they name their own children. She asks Arikoto, too. She thinks Tokuko might be best, but Arikoto favors primogeniture and Chiyo.
Gyokuei is angry with Arikoto for not making a case for Tokuko to be the heir apparent. By spring, Iemitsu dies; we see her daughters viewing her body.
Teratsuna’s father has been called to serve as an advisor. Masakatsu commits suicide and is visited by the ghost of his dead son Masanori. Oyuki learns of Masakatsu’s death from [that dude] when he brings her the letter Masakatsu left for her.
Arikoto continues to serve as the head of the ôoku; Gyokuei has decided to return to the monastic life, and comes to visit him before he goes. Gyokuei asks for his forgiveness for his actions; Arikoto asks for forgiveness for bringing him to the ôoku in the first place, but Gyokuei thanks him–after all, he became the father of a (possible) shogun. Arikoto thanks him for helping him endure the ôoku.
As Arikoto flashes back to their life together there, his thoughts turn to Iemitsu on her death bed. Iemitsu asks if he remembers their promise to die together, and he says his feelings haven’t changed. She says the time has come, but that he can’t die–he should live and make sure that Chiyo grows up to be a good shogun. Her oldest daughter has no other father left than him, and he needs to live “for Chiyo–no, for me and only for me. Arikoto, I loved you. You were different than the others. You were special to me.” She stops breathing. As the sun rises, Arikoto paints her lips for the last time with the rouge she always wore.
Chiyo approaches him, and he hugs her hard. In the ôoku, Arikoto announces the entrance of the shogun as she takes her first steps into the inner chambers. The introduction to the film (Tokuko/Tsunayoshi’s arc) is a 10 second clip saying that a new tale of the ôoku begins 30 years later. .
Compared to the manga
This section of the manga goes very quickly. After Tokuko is born, Iemitsu dies relatively soon after without any scenes of her daughters’ childhood. Nagako, Onatsu’s daughter, is mentioned in one line; we never see her; and we also never see the daughters interact with their mother. Also, what happened to her in between Ietsuna becoming shogun and Tsunayoshi becoming shogun isn’t explained–my guess is that she’s supposed to be Hotta Masatoshi, a half-brother and advisor to Ietsuna who nominated Tsunayoshi as the fifth shogun. Although I liked seeing their interactions, I felt like Iemitsu’s lingering illness from so many miscarriages and relatively swift death in the manga had a greater emotional impact in so much as it replicated the pain of a sudden loss and drove home the point that even in a matriarchy, biology is still unkind. The official having a biological heir falls on a woman more harshly, and Iemitsu commented several times that she felt that she was being used for heirs.
The “who should be shogun” conversation is actually more similar to Yoshimune’s predicament in vol. 8, where she has three daughters and the oldest doesn’t seem fit to rule.
Ghost Masanori and Masakatsu was a little weird given Yoshinaga’s style. Also, the scene in which Oyuki and Masanori (the daughter) feel Masakatsu’s presence right after he died was such a stereotypical drama trope.
The simplified death scenes in the manga, I thought, were also preferable in that they focused more on Iemitsu’s relationship with Arikoto, especially that last haunting image of him painting her lips–the lipstick that she used to come into her own and assert her sense of self and her gender expression.
The ending of the chapter in the manga was also different. In the manga there is another chapter and a half of content after Iemitsu’s death. Chiyo/Ietsuna grows up and we get to see some of the social and political events of the time. Arikoto carries out Iemitsu’s last wishes: He is a good political advisor and even finds someone willing to die for the shogun’s sexual debut (the “secret swain”). However after he rescues 20-year-old Ietsuna during the Edo fire of 1657, she confesses her love for him. He is shaken since he thinks of himself as her father and leaves the returns to Kyoto to be a monk again. Ietsuna is an ineffectual shogun: she agrees with everything and dies with no heirs. Her sister Tokuko (Tsunayoshi) becomes the shogun, which is where the next chapter and the film begin. None of this was mentioned in the drama, which cuts out after he brings her into the chambers for the first time.
I’ve alread written most of my thoughts on gender throughout the recaps. Narrative-wise, the manga is better. I know people always say that, but I feel like the pacing is better.
I think my overall favorite performance was Tanaka Kôki as Gyokuei. He really captured Gyokuei’s complexities: his undying admiration of Arikoto, his pettiness and competitiveness with Onatsu, and his struggle to reconcile his earthly desires with his hopes to make Saint Arikoto proud of him. I didn’t like Sakai Masato in this particular role, though I thought he was great in Ôoku: Eien (the film) as Emmonosuke. Arikoto is a very difficult role, and I also had trouble suspending my disbelief because of Sakai’s age–he looks like a 30-something, not like a 17-year-old, which was all the more weird with Tabe Mikako (Iemitsu II) looking and being so much younger. Aso Yumi as Kasuga and Tabe were also good, but I feel they would have benefitted from a better script in places.
The first film was the best adaptation because the story was one volume and mostly self-contained. I had really high hopes for the drama because I thought the creators could spend more time with the complex narrative than a two-hour movie could, but I wish that it had been filmed as two movies. The cinematography was not as well done, and the need to fit the chapters into hour-long segments made the pacing strange. Also, I can’t stand the practice of playing the theme music over the final 10 minutes of every single episode. It gives me flashbacks to “Prisoner of Love” and awkward musical times in Last Friends.
My final verdict is that the drama didn’t really do anything better than the manga, and that the manga is ultimately the better version. This is one of my favorite manga arcs. I adore the whole manga and all its characters–even Tsunayoshi, as you’ll see–and how all the arcs have such well crafted narratives and relevant social commentary, but the Iemitsu-Arikoto tragedy is the one that affected me the most.
Next: how does Eien hold as a film adaptation of Tsunayoshi’s arc, and is it possible to like one of the worst shoguns as a character?