Contains major spoilers for Ôoku: Eien (Emonnosuke/Tsunayoshi) (film, 2013) and Yoshinaga Fumi’s Ôoku, vol. 4-6 (manga).
Following the TV drama Ôoku: Tanjô (2012) was Ôoku: Eien (Ôoku: Eternity, or “The Castle of Crossed Destinies”), released in late 2012. The film skips over Ietsuna’s reign as the 4th shogun and Arikoto’s retirement from the ôoku (vol. 4, ch. 2) and picks up a few years after Tsunayoshi’s reign has begun.
We start the film with some shots of women GETTING STUFF DONE before we close in on Edo Castle. Tsunayoshi (Kanno Miho) is shogun and Gyokuei, now known as Keishôin (Nishida Tokiyoshi), is back in the ôoku as her father.
One of the aspects I like most about the film is the visual shorthand. We have this idea from the first and manga that the shogun going into the ôoku to pick her concubine for the night is sort of A Big Deal, both politically and socially. In Tsunayoshi’s case, her father and her husband are both trying to win her favor and influence her by setting her up with concubines loyal to them. In the first film, Yoshimune’s indifference to the concubines heightened the drama of her first choice.
However, in the first scene, the bells ring, the Shogun’s presence is announced, Tsunayoshi struts through the ôoku–and she yawns. The scene is a shot-for-shot of the manga and sets a very different tone for this arc than the dramatic first meeting of Arikoto and Iemitsu in vol. 2/the drama.
As I’ve mentioned before, Tsunayoshi’s type of beauty is very “in” for the 2000s and ’10s, but is not considered “elegant” for the late 17th century: small, round face, huge eyes, full lips, and a large bust. Kanno Miho, however, does have contemporary elegance rather than “moe”style. This isn’t a criticism of Kanno herself or of Yoshinaga’s art style. Using a moe look for Tsunayoshi, at first indicates to the reader a series of cultural signs about the character’s personality: that she’s childish, uses her looks to manipulate, focuses more on beauty than on statecraft. Yet, Yoshinaga turns those signs on their heads: Tsunayoshi feels that her older sister set a precedent of always saying yes that she has to fight against. The ridiculous laws about protecting animals are not because she is childish and impractical but a challenge to those who don’t respect her as well as a way of showing affection to her senile father, who is the only one who loves her. Her beauty practices are not for herself or for fun but out of fear that her concubines will not want to be with her if she isn’t beautiful.Kanno doesn’t have that kind of face, but she more than compensates with her dead-on facial expressions and demeanor. The way she “coquettishly” interacts with her concubines, pouting and acting helpless, contrasted with her spectrum of disgust at boredom, and particularly her expression of having an existential crisis about the meaning of her life and her Shogunate are superbly acted.
I really like Sakai Masato, who also played Arikoto in the drama, better as Emonnosuke. He’s the correct age for the role, and it’s nice to see him in less of a “nice guy” role. Having him and Kanno both play unlikeable characters who like each other is a delight.For a film about a Shogun who has a lot of glamour and a lot of sex, the film never feels as if it’s lead by the male gaze. For example, in the scene in which Tsunayoshi appears in her under robe and meets Aguri’s son in the hall, Tsunayoshi walks down the hall, drifting in and out of the lamplights. Although the camera focuses on her shadow, then her exposed collarbone and cleavage, then her shadow again, it doesn’t pan or linger the way it might as if she were an object. In that sense, choosing to treat her as a complex character in the manga and film instead objectifying when she feels like nothing but an object reinforces the point instead of trivializing her plight.
Additionally, Tsunayoshi’s comment to Emonnosuke that she’s not a ruler but “no better than” a sex worker (which is a privileged to say but not entirely inaccurate) echoes her mother Iemitsu’s words when she was just the means to an heir–all Kasuga and Keshôin care about is continuing the family line, destroying the lives of the Shogun who has to bear the heir. In the manga and this film adaptation, Yoshinaga delivers another emotional rollercoaster of an arc that features a complex look at both historical and contemporary gender norms surrounding the birth dearth, reproductive rights, and family lineage.
Bonus: “I keep expecting Emonnosuke to have a Twin Peaks line up of wagashi.”
The most notable differences between the plots:
- The film ends after Emonnosuke’s death, just as Tsunayoshi is going to see him. Perhaps it’s more of a dramatic end to the film without Keishôin’s decline and death, all the discussion of succession (there’s a lot in the manga), and her own death, which might have been too dark to end the film on. Though it’s pretty dark as is.
- Arikoto never comes back to visit Keishôin, which he does in the manga, finding Keishôin senile and remorseful for his indulgences.
- The robe scene. In the manga, when Tsunayoshi finally breaks free of her father’s influence and names a successor, he grabs her outer robe as she leaves the room, visually freeing her from the duties of the Shogunate. In the film, she drops the room herself as she runs through the inner chambers to see Emonnosuke.
Best scene: Tsunayoshi and Emonnosuke flirting via a discussion of the Mandate of Heaven.
I’m looking forward to continuing this series into a 6th(?!) year. Next time, we’ll head back into Tsunayoshi’s reign to discuss actual MRA Lord Asano.
All images: (C) 2012 男女逆転『大奥～永遠～［右衛門佐・綱吉篇］』製作委員会.