Based on the novel Tenshoin Atsuhime by Miyao Tomiko
Screenplay by Tabuchi Kumiko
Directed by Sato Mineyo, Okada Ken, Horikirizono Kentaro, Watanabe Yoshio, Uesugi Tadashi, & Matsukawa Hirotaka
Music by Yoshimata Ryo
Narrated by Naraoka Tomoko

Atsu-hime is the 47th taiga drama depicting the life of Princess Atsu from her birth in until her death. The story is somewhat divided into two phases. The first is involving the childhood of Okatsu, which is filled with family theme. This theme gradually replaced with political theme as Okatsu marries Tokugawa Iesada, although some family-related theme remains. Her marriage was set by Shimazu Nariakira who adopted her in order to push for the reform in the government. Atsu-hime’s task is to persuade her husband, Tokugawa Iesada, to name Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu as successor.

As Atsu-hime moves to Edo, the story is mainly about her efforts to adapt into the Ooku’s everyday life, while political theme gradually rising. Although under pressure by her chief attendant Kikushima who repeatedly reminds her of true mission, Atsu-hime decides to meet with both Yoshinobu and Iemochi. She finally let Iesada to choose the heir, defying Nariakira’s wish. At this point, the shogunate’s power gradually weakens. After the death of Iesada, Atsu-hime takes the tonsure and takes the name of Tenshoin. Hereafter the story shifts towards the prelude to the fall of Tokugawa shogunate.

Tenshoin assumes the leadership at the Ooku after Iesada’s death. Her relationship with Iemochi is close as she often gives the young shogun her thoughts regarding the politics. Still, at the moment the Chief Minister Ii Naosuke wields the power strong enough to mostly control the shogunate, undermining Iemochi’s authority. Yet, the shogunate’s power rapidly declined after Naosuke was assassinated. With no strong political figure in the government, Iemochi faces difficulty in dealing with the Satsuma clan’s intention to reform the government, as well as dealing with the Imperial forces who want to win the power back from the shogunate and return it to the Emperor.

Tokugawa Iemochi then marries Princess Kazunomiya Chikako, who comes from the Imperial family, thus creating a union between the shogunate and the imperial families. At this moment Lady Tenshoin met with Katsu Rintaro, who turns out to be an able politician. Soon after the untimely death of Iemochi, Tokugawa Yoshinobu takes over the lead. Despite he is a stronger leader than Iemochi, he could not win against the Satsuma clan which is led by Nariakira’s brother Shimazu Tadayuki who was appointed as successor after Nariakira’s death. Along with Komatsu Tatewaki, Saigo Kichinosuke and Okubo Shosuke, the Satsuma clan join forces with the Choshu clan, thanks to the mediation by Sakamoto Ryoma, a student of Katsu Rintaro. In the end, the reformation succeeds and Japan enters the Meiji era. Several years later, Lady Tenshoin passed away at the age of 49.

Miyazaki Aoi broke the record of being the youngest artist to take the lead in the taiga drama series at the age of 22 years and 1 month. This record was previously held by Takizawa Hideaki who portrayed Minamoto Kuro Yoshitsune in the 2005 taiga drama series “Yoshitsune”. As shown in the early part of the series, the cheerful Katsu must overcome a lot of hardship as Atsu-hime, even until after she becomes Lady Tenshoin. For portraying this part, Aoi managed to play the role perfectly. Unfortunately, the leading actor seems to be unable to match her performance and the rest of the cast’s performance. Eita, who played as Komatsu Tatewaki, was probably the weakest link in the series. Maybe not bad, but somewhat he was below the others’ performances.

The series has a remarkable cast, doing remarkable job. I cannot put all of the names here, because the list is too long to put on. Still, my favorite is Takahashi Hideki who played Shimazu Nariakira. The actor sparked charisma and able to command respect from the audience. And this was not his only remarkable role. In Yoshitsune, he played Fujiwara Hidehira and in Hojo Tokimune he played as Mori Suemitsu. Another strong performer is Ozawa Yukiyoshi, the man behind Saigo Kichinosuke. He and the others from the Satsuma cast used the local accent throughout the series. This contrasts with his previous role as Kiso Yoshinaka in “Yoshitsune”. His portrayal of the iron-willed man who in the end only yield to his late master, Shimazu Nariakira, was brilliant. The actors who played the last three shoguns were also great. As Tokugawa Iesada, Sakai Masato must play as a man who pretended to be an idiot as a mean to protect himself from assassination. Matsuda Shota portrayed the elegant and soft spoken Tokugawa Iemochi, while Hira Takehiro successfully played the harsh and bold Tokugawa Yoshinobu who, in the end fell into despair after the Emperor branded him as traitor. Some other noticeable characters are Nakamura Baijaku (as Ii Naosuke), Kitaoji Kinya (as Katsu Rintaro), Harada Taizo (as Okubo Shosuke), Hira Mikijiro (as Zusho Hirosato) and Nagatsuka Kyozo (as Shimazu Tadatake). The actresses other than Miyazaki Aoi also delivered impressive performances, starting with Matsuzaka Keiko (Ikushima) and Inamori Izumi (Takiyama). Despite perhaps a popular actress, Horikita Maki who played as Princess Kazunomiya was somewhat less impressive.

Music is definitely where this series also excelled. The soundtrack made the acting more convincing and the story more emotional. Even when listened separately, the soundtrack is top notch. As far as I’ve experienced, Atsu-hime soundtrack is the best taiga soundtrack that I’ve ever heard, toppling the OST from Toshiie and Matsu from the top of my list.

Blessed with great story (although dragging its feet at first) and excellent soundtrack, as well as strong performance from most of the cast, Atsu-hime is truly a series worth watching. Given the content and the fact that the leading role is a heroine, this would be easily preferred by female audience rather than male ones. Still, I enjoyed every bit of it. For the score, I’d give it a 9.5.

blog comments powered by Disqus