Plot: Vol. 2, Ch. 3-4
Arikoto (Sakai) and Gyokuei (Tanaka) settle into life in the ôoku. The other three men in the upper levels, who get to see the shogun and from whom she chooses lovers, are introduced and take an immediate dislike to Arikoto and Gyokuei. Iemitsu (Tabe) gives Arikoto a kitten, whom he names Wakamurasaki (Genji nerd!). Arikoto is bullied by the other men and finds a dead rat in his dinner, and after Gyokuei goes to the kitchen to complain, he is ambushed and tortured. He does not tell Arikoto about this but swears vengeance. Arikoto begins martial arts training–the man who killed Myôkei and the prostitute is his sword master. Even though Arikoto has never held a sword before, he forces himself to complete the near-impossible challenge of 1000 strikes before collapsing.
Compared to the manga
First of all, hats off to Sakai for the sword-practice scene. Shooting that must have been horrible even if he didn’t have to do the exercise 1000 times. Using the scene for flashbacks/reflections was a good choice.
The drama does a little more world-building to fill in the extra time. We get to see Gyokuei travel to his quarters on the second floor. Arikoto has a dream about being out in a field with Myôkei and Gyokuei, all dressed in their traveling clothes as they were when they arrived. We also get in this scene more of an idea of Arikoto’s struggle to cope with the loss of Myôkei as well as his guilt over leaving the temple, even though it was by force.
Much improved incidental music, though I really dislike that all Japanese dramas need to play the pop theme song over the last 3 minutes of the show. I am still traumatized from Last Friends/”Prisoner of Love,” thank you very much.
Tabe as Iemitsu is incredible as usual, but I’ll award this one to Tanaka’s performance as Gyokuei, particularly in the post-rape scene and the sword practice scene. It would be easy to play Gyokuei as hysterical and over the top, but Tanaka brings a fine balance of rage and despair to both scenes. I haven’t seen Tanaka in other dramas, but I’m impressed with his finesse so far in playing Gyokuei. All of Yoshinaga’s arcs in the manga have wonderfully complex characters in them (some surprisingly so), but to me, the relationships between Iemitsu, Arikoto, and Gyokuei are some of the most delicate and difficult to portray. Yoshinaga wrote them beautifully, and I’m really happy that Tabe and Tanaka are doing them justice so far.
Next time on Ôoku: Tanjô: Iemitsu’s past, Gyokuei’s revenge, and the drag party!