Probably the most famous military general from the Genji clan, Minamoto Kuro Yoshitsune is the leading character in the 44th NHK taiga drama which was aired between January 9th 2005 and December 11th 2005. Portrayed by Takizawa Hideaki, Yoshitsune is described as the tragic hero that died before he managed to fulfill his dream of establishing the dream capital of his.

The story spanned from 1160 to 1189, from the time when Minamoto Yoshitomo (Yoshitsune’s father) was defeated and died at the hands of the Heike clan led by Taira Kiyomori, to the time when Yoshitsune died after being cornered and then committed seppuku.

From all the taiga drama series that I’ve watched and will watch, Yoshitsune is the one at the earliest historical date (1160). As usual, there are always two things to tell in a taiga drama series: a story about a historical figure and a historical event. This time, the figure is Kuro Yoshitsune, and the historical event is the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate by Minamoto Yoritomo, Yoshitsune’s half-brother.

A tale of two people with different approaches in creating a new era, Yoshitsune tried to build a new country based on purity of heart and great compassion, despite his fame as a brilliant strategist. Yoritomo tried to build his kind of country based more on reason and perhaps harsh approaches, although as described in the series, Yoritomo actually had a part of Yoshitsune’s soft character as well. If Yoshitsune excelled in military strategies, Yoritomo could as well be a brilliant politician. A powerful combination if only both of them managed to work together, though.

Seven vassals served Yoshitsune since his rise to fame: Musashibo Benkei (Matsudaira Ken), Ise Saburo (Nanbara Kiyotaka), Suruga Jiro (Ujiki Tsuyoshi), Kisanta (Ito Atsushi), Sato Tadanobu (Kaito Ken), Sato Tsugunobu (Miyauchi Atsushi), and Saburo Yoshihisa (?). Yoshitsune’s relationship with his vassals is perhaps a true example of unwavering loyalty. For, despite whatever bad things that happened to their master, his vassals remained following him faithfully.

There are plenty of leading female characters in the series: Tokiwa (Inamori Izumi), Shizuka (Ishihara Satomi), Yoshiko (Goto Maki), Utsubo (Ueto Aya), Hojo Masako (Zaizen Naomi), Tokiko (Matsuzaka Keiko) and Tokuko (Nakagoshi Noriko). While all these roles were well portrayed by the actresses, I always enjoyed Matsuzaka Keiko’s talent.

Other well-acted characters were the monk-emperor Go-Shirakawa (Hira Mikijiro), Taira Kiyomori (Watari Tetsuya), Fujiwara Hidehira (Takahashi Hideki), Kiso Yoshinaka (Ozawa Yukiyoshi), and Minamoto Yoritomo (Nakai Kiichi). Despite his minor exposure in the story, the merchant Kichiji (Ichikawa Sadanji) was also well played. Of course I don’t mean to single out these roles/actors/actresses, because I think so far the taiga dramas that I’ve watched have been spectacular, and Yoshitsune was one of them.

Each character became ‘alive’ in the series. The kind and charming Yoshitsune, the cautious Yoritomo, the opportunistic Yukiie, the ambitious yet unfortunate Yoshinaka, the strong Masako, the beautiful and elegant Shizuka, the loving Tokiwa, the majestic Fujiwara Hidehira, the scheming monk-emperor Go-Shirakawa, and the great Taira Kiyomori and his wife Tokiko, and many others, all were brilliantly performed.

Indeed, from the beginning to the end, one would easily love the tragic hero Kuro Yoshitsune and his loyal vassals, and perhaps hate Yoritomo for leading Yoshitsune to his early demise. One could also easily wish that the two brothers should have worked together in building the new country. Yet, as bitter as in the real world, sometimes something too good to happen just won’t happen.

I’d give 10 for this series. Historical drama enthusiasts should go find and watch this.

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