Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Taira no Kiyomori: What happened to Minamoto no Yoritomo?

I’ve been watching the first five English-subbed episodes of NHK’s Taira no Kiyomori , until I realised that the 6th episode had not yet been subbed. In fact, no one has subbed the 6th episode onwards since a few months back. The sole translator had been sick (God bless him, may he recover soon), thus we – non Japanese speaker Taiga fans – are left without knowing the details of what happened to Kiyomori (Matsuyama Kenichi), the leader of the Heike clan (Heike literally means ‘the House of Taira’) and the rest of the characters.

Taira no Kiyomori seems to be having low viewing rate. My Japanese friend suggested that its Heian setting seems to be the problem for Japanese viewers, for Heian Era was about 900 – 1,000 years ago and not many understood what really happened then. But then again, wouldn’t it be the good reason to watch it? Other than watching a series of hot guys playing samurai and emperor in ancient garb? Some netizens said that the Heian Era depicted here was too gloomy and dusty, and indeed the samurai and commoners portrayed in this series were in total need of total bath! But that is much more realistic than, say, having them all flashy and neatly dressed a la the Emperor and his cronies.

Anyway, I don’t care. I have Okada Masaki as Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147 - 1199) as the main lure here, though I have to say that the rest of the cast are very appealing as well. Never thought that Matsuda Shota (as Emperor Go-Shirakawa) is so hot! Nakai Kiichi (as Taira no Tadamori, Kiyomori’s father) was very convincing as the elder of the Heike. I even like Matsuyama Kenichi’s Kiyomori, although some netizens said that he wasn’t convincing enough as Kiyomori. But I disagree. I like his loudmouth and uncouth Kiyomori.

So, to quench my thirst of Okada Masaki et al, starting from last week, I actually subscribed to NHK World Premium just to see TNK every 7pm on Sunday. I’m on episode 36 of Taira no Kiyomori now! Yay!

My timing was actually perfect, because Masaki only appeared as a 39 years old Minamoto no Yoritomo for the first three episodes. Then he was off until episode 31 when a 21 years old Yoritomo (flashback, as per the story's fashion) was already exiled in Izu (Shizuoka Prefecture). But I have no complain here, for Masaki kept narrating the series since episode 1. And oh boy, that boy really have a beautiful voice for a narrator!

So, as the story goes, Tadamori (Kiyomori’s father) died in ep 16, and Kiyomori would rise to become an elite samurai of the Heian court. Kiyomori would get along too well with Emperor Go-Shirakawa (Matsuda Shota), to the point that Kiyomori would sacrifice his old frienemy, Minamoto no Yoshitomo (Tamaki Hiroshi), to make Heike the strongest ruling clan in Heian Japan. Then, as history recorded over and over again, Kiyomori ordered the demise of his old pal Minamoto no Yoshitomo (Tamaki Hiroshi) and killed almost all of Yoshitomo’s offspring . Except for Yoshitomo’s three sons: Yoritomo, Noriyori and Yoshitsune. Yoritomo was exiled in Izu, Yoshitsune was confined in Kurama Temple near Kyoto and Noriyori was also exiled somewhere else. Now, since my prime interest is Okada Masaki, herewith I will tell the story of Yoritomo.

In the drama, Yoritomo had met Kiyomori at least twice: once when he was about 12 years old (ep 25), and once when he was about to be exiled after the demise of his father (ep 28). It was wise for NHK to cast a younger actor (Nakagawa Taishi) for the teen Yoritomo; as cute as Masaki was, he just can’t play a 14 years old kid (for one, a 14 years old boy is not usually 180 cm tall!).  After the exile decision, several episodes went on without the story of the Genji side; only telling the story of the Heike, the Fujiwara and the Court. Then in ep 31 (1164 CE), the 17 years old Yoritomo met Princess Yae, the daughter of Ito Sukechika of the Ito clan. As expected, they fell in love and had a cute baby together. I’m not sure if Yoritomo and Yae eventually got married. But their love story was very short; in ep 32 Yae’s father killed the baby on the pretext to save them from the wrath of Kiyomori (watch it here or here). Save them, your @$$! You killed a baby, mate! Still fearing the fate of his daughter, the Ito clan leader took Yae-hime away from her husband/partner, leaving the young Yoritomo in a state of depression. No one could make him smile again, not even Adachi ‘Tō Kuro’ Morinaga (Tsukamoto Takashi), his most loyal aide.

I don’t know what happened in ep 33-34, but I guess Yoritomo either did not appear, or only appeared for 1-2 minutes looking gloomy and depressed. What else can you do when your baby was murdered by your own father-in-law and your beloved was taken away? ... Oh, yeah, perhaps you can train yourself and deal with the main cause of the problem: Kiyomori himself. But it seems that this Yoritomo had no such desire (not that I blamed him). He just wandered around the forest aimlessly... until one day, he was trapped in a net like a hunted beast by a tomboy, totally uncouth, and exceptionally unruly girl called Hōjō Masako!

Yup, that’s ep 35 (1168 CE) for me.  Masako (1156 - 1225), a 12 years old girl whose hair was so messy that she couldn’t comb it through, a girl who liked to hunt wild boars and ran across the field, saw Yoritomo wandering around one day, and decided that it was an evil spirit (mononoke) instead of a human. Masako set a trap, into which Yoritomo conveniently fell later. When she later realised that she had captured a man, she was of course terrified. But to her surprise, Yoritomo did not fight back. Instead, he asked her to kill him instead. I think Yoritomo’s request scared the fearless Masako, and she ran away for her life.

In ep 36, Masako tracked where Yoritomo lived. She saw how desperate he was, not eating, not smiling, not living. She asked her father (Hōjō Tokimasa, a local lord who actually worked for the Taira) of Yoritomo’s identity, but Tokimasa, knowing the painful past Yoritomo had, told his daughter nothing. But Masako would not give up so easily. In ep 37 (1170 CE) spoilers, we see Masako taking a peek at Yoritomo again. We know what will happen later: Yoritomo and Masako would fall in love, get married (1179 CE), take revenge on the Heike, etc. But for now, I’m very interested in watching their love story unfolds. It would be totally different from the poetic love story between Yae and Yoritomo; Masako and Yae are like two ends of the spectrum. But it does not make it less interesting.

If my information is correct, we have at the most 10 years gap between Yoritomo first meeting Masako (1169) and their wedding (1179). When they first met, Masako was just 12 years old. I think it is appropriate (in today’s standard, at least) for her to get married ten years later when she was already 22 years old, and Yoritomo 31 years old. I don’t know though, what happened between 1169-1179. I mean, they were dating, of course, but for ten years? Even for a shy samurai burdened with a heritage problem like the young Yoritomo, that is a long time to wait! But I think what would happen is that Masako’s wild side would ignite the passion to restore Genji’s glory in Yoritomo, and from thereon he would train himself, as well as conduct as many diplomatic talks as possible, to defeat the Heike.

Performance-wise, despite all complains about this series, I’ve been enjoying the performance of all the cast. I agree that the older Kiyomori wasn’t as charming as his younger version, but I enjoy the series nonetheless. I was impressed with Nakai Kiichi’s performance as Tadamori, and Tamaki Hiroshi as Yoshitomo (Yoritomo’s father). I love the way Masaki portrayed an innocent Yoritomo in love with Yae-hime, and later a depressed Yoritomo when the loves of his life were gone. It will be interesting to see how Masaki will develop Yoritomo into the Genji leader who would establish the Kamakura Shogunate.  

Some people complained that Masaki was way too young to play Yoritomo. He is in fact the youngest actor to play the first Shogun so far (he was 22 when he filmed TNK). But in ep 31, Yoritomo was about 17 years old, and Masaki certainly looked the part. In ep 37, Yoritomo would be 23 years old, about Masaki's age. I’d say Masaki did a good job portraying Yoritomo so far. He was mesmerising during the opening scenes of the first three episodes (as the older Yoritomo who just heard of the fall of the Heike). Masaki showed a very depressed Yoritomo after Yae-hime and the baby were gone (he actually played another depressed boy in Antoki no Inochi/Life Back Then, a movie that won the Innovation Award of the 35th  Montreal World Film Festival). The make-up department also did a good job in transforming Masaki into a late 30s guy. They could have put some more wrinkles, but still, Masaki’s portrayal was convincing enough for me. 

I’m also surprisingly impressed with the actress who played Hojo Masako. Guess how old was Watanabe Anne last year as she portrayed Masako? She was 25 years old! Portraying a 12 years old girl. Okay, perhaps she should portray a 15 years old girl instead. But really, one would not guess that the actress was twice older than young Masako. And her appearance, my God! Anne is a model, a very gorgeous model. But looking at Masako, one would not think of a model there. I wonder what traits of Masako’s that Yoritomo was first attracted too. Perhaps her liveliness and wildness...

I will write some more posts every now and then about the fate of Yoritomo and Masako. Stay tuned!

Pic 1: Minamoto no Yoritomo (Okada Masaki) & Adachi Morinaga (Tsukamoto Takashi), NHK
Pic 2: Yoritomo, NHK
Pic 3: Yae-hime, NHK
Pic 4: Yae-hime & Yoritomo, NHK
Pic 5: Hojo Masako (Watanabe Anne), NHK
Pic 6: Masako & Yoritomo, NHK 
Pic 7: Okada Masaki & Watanabe Anne (see how different she is compared to Hojo Masako!)

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