Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

J TV Dramas: Atsuhime & Shinsengumi

I have been watching the NHK drama "Atsuhime". Here in Los Angeles it is playing on a local cable channel. Before I had even heard of the show, I had been reading about the time period in Japanese history that the show covers.

The first episode was pretty cool because I kept saying to myself, "I know that character". I have read about the people portrayed in the show including Sakamoto Ryoma, Saigo Takamori, Katsu Kaishu, Tokugawa Yoshinobu and others. It seems to be a pretty amazing coincidence that this show is airing at the same time as I have been reading so much about this time period in Japanese history.

The show is pretty good but some of the characters do not live up to what I expect. They have been made to seem silly or a little goofy. I think this is common in these types of Japanese dramas. The actor portrays Sakamoto Ryoma in a fairly silly or goofy way. Even more so Saigo Takamori. The real Saigo was a man over 6 feet tall and with a strong but quiet or reserved personality. But the actor also portrays him in funny and silly way. And the actor is short. Not what I would expect from what I have read about Saigo, who was the inspiration for the movie "The Last Samurai."

However, I still like these Japanese historical dramas. Of course since I am interested in history, especially Japanese history, that is why they are interesting.

I also watched most of the year-long TV drama "Shinsengumi" from several years ago. I think the characters and the story lines and the costumes are all really interesting. But, also with the Shinsengumi drama, the characters were certainly not portrayed very accurately in my opinion. It is pretty much a historical fact that Kondo Isami, the leader of the Shinsengumi, was a brutal man that was responsible for the violent and bloody deaths of many enemies of the Shogun. But the television show portrayed him as a friendly, ethical, honorable man. Certainly not based completely in reality. It is true that Kondo was very loyal to the Shogun. An honorable trait. But, of course, he displayed that loyalty with brutal violence.

I know Korean dramas have also been popular in Japan. I watched a Korean drama a couple of years ago that was also really popular in Japan. I really got into it. It was called "Dae Jang Geum" or "Jewel in the Palace". I first saw it while visiting Japan for several weeks in 2006. But it was dubbed in Japanese. Even so it looked interesting.

What I did not like is that the show was dubbed in Japanese. I don't like dubbing. I prefer subtitles and I prefer to hear the actors real voice. You get a much better feeling of the character if you hear the actors actual voice rather then a dubbed voice.

I lucked out though. After returning to Los Angeles, the show started playing on an Asian cable channel with English subtitles. They were doing marathon weekend showings and I DVR'd it and watched the entire series. Great show.

(12/15/08) Note:
I believe the TV show made an error regarding the scene where Ryoma was killed. It showed Ryoma with his handgun. But according to the books I have read, Ryoma did not have it. He had given it to his sister. He was without his gun when he was attacked the second and final time where he died.


  1. Interesting - usually NHK does better than this. I'm amazed they cast Saigo so badly - he's so well known in Japan that I'm sure you weren't alone in thinking their portrayal strange.

  2. Yeah, I was a little surprised and disappointed in the characters.

    Sometimes they get it right. There was a TV show about the time of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the actor that played him was really good. I don't remember his name though.

  3. I haven't seen any Japanese dramas (um, unless you include MXC, which I'm sure you don't). I have read a couple of Japanese novels, though: Musashi, and Taiko. Several of the characters you mentioned were in those novels, if I remmeber correctly.

    But what I really wanted to comment on is Dae Jang Geum, the Korean drama. That is the best television show I've ever seen, from any culture. I have the three volume DVD set, with English subtitles, and it is simply spectacular.

    Lee Young Ae is a wonderful actress, and the little girl who played Jang Geum was irresistable. I consider myself very lucky to have discovered the show. I hope more people get to see it.


  4. Thank you Chuck. Dae Jang Geum was one of the best shows I have seen. I couldn't wait for each show.

    I have seen MXC also. Very funny.

  5. Hi there. Interesting reaction to the characters in 'Atsuhime' - did you know the show on NHK finished last night? (Sunday 14 Dec)
    I'm based in Kagoshima so as you'd expect there's a lot of interest down here.
    The guy who plays Saigo is, like Chris said, very well known as a son of a famous Japanese conductor. He actually went to an izakaya where I often go, and although I wasn't there that night I'm told he was a good laugh! I wonder if that's Saigo-like...
    I'm interested in this part of Japanese history as well so hopefully soon I'll write my reaction to the Atsuhime series.

  6. I wonder how the people in Kagoshima like the actor portraying Saigo? Sakamoto Ryoma from what I have read was more of the type of person to make people laugh. From my reading, Saigo seemed to not show as much emotion. He was more serious. Pretty cool the actor goes to your izakaya.

  7. Here is a Japan Times article about the Season finale

    The showing in the US is several weeks behind. I have several episodes to see yet.

  8. I believe the TV show made an error regarding the scene where Ryoma was killed. It showed Ryoma with his handgun. But according to the books I have read, Ryoma did not have it. He had given it to his sister. He was without his gun when he was attacked the second and final time where he died.