Monday, 2 June 2014

Nobunaga - King of Zipangu (1992)

I was thinking, I'm reviewing the dramas and movies where Nobunaga makes just a brief appearance, I could as well talk a bit about dramas and movies that focus exclusively on Nobunaga, no?
So, today I'm here to tell you about one of the taiga drama about Nobunaga that I had the chance to watch in its entirety and with English subs, NOBUNAGA - King of Zipangu, directed by Shigemitsu Yukihiko and based on the historical novel by Tamukai Seiken.
[I excuse myself for the bad quality of the screenshots, but this is what I could get]

This series followed three lines of narration: the first one, the main line, is obviously about Nobunaga life. The two other narrations are those of the whereabouts of Luis Frois during his missioni (Frois is also the "narrator" of the whole story), and that of Zuiten's.

--Who's Zuiten, you ask? This guy here:
An original character coming directly from the novel, that everyone found unbearable from the beginning to the end of the drama and whose adventures where definitely uncalled for (a shark was jumped when we see him lusting after Dota Gozen, Nobunaga's mother, and sleeping with her-- MY EYES!! MY BRAIN!!!!).

I think that he was there to signify the "end of an era" of "superstitions", compared to the "modernity" that Nobunaga suggested with his reforms, just like Frois and his fellow bateren are depicted as "refreshing news" compared to the warrior-minded Buddhists monks but even to Japanese "mindset" as a whole, for example when Frois explains the habits of eating meat or when he compares Japanese warfare to Western warfare to Nobunaga's concerned vassals.
The defy of Zuiten's skills as a fortune-teller, once vital for Nobuhide's battles, and the gradual degeneration that turned him into a wretched creature --yet "kept" by Nobunaga, seems to go in this sense.
In the end, during the death of Nobunaga at Honnoji, Zuiten decided to die with his lord, once spited and now revered, and Nobunaga's words before his seppuku are cristalline about it: "Perhaps my contribution to the new world now is just to die".

But let's go in order.
I rewatched this quickly for this review focusing on certain episodes of interests, so sorry if I'm not offering a complete summary of events.

Let's start with the actors playing Nobunaga, then!
Nobunaga as a child was played by Morita Kousuke.
He's first shown to us wearing a woman's kosode and playing around with it, for the discomfort of his nannies.
He's also shown being randomly kicked and thrown around by his father Nobuhide, who follows a very peculiar way to show his concern for the making of his son in a fine leader D:
It's said that the young Kipposhi was an expecially untamed child, making it a torture to deal with for the various nannies and ladies-in-wait that had the misfortune to be put in his service.

Nobunaga as a young lad was played by Yamane Takaaki.
Facing his playmates in fights and innovative war tactics and most importantly being harshly rebuked by his vassals, Hirate Masahide and Naito Katsusuke in primis, is what you'll see him doing the most of his screentime.
At this point Nobunaga is the lord of Nagoya castle, but still taken into his childish ways.

The "Fool of Owari" period, where Nobunaga is shown while facing his first important "steps" into society, saw the introduction of Ogata Naoto as the lead actor for this role.

He's the actor that played Nobunaga in his whole adulthood, and sure it's a bit shocking to see him jumping from the "wild look" of his youth to the proper chonmage after his meeting with Dousan.

I'm not fond of the style of Japanese acting, so it's difficult for me to approach the performance of Ogata without the required honesty and knowledge.
I assume that it's difficult for a Japanese actor to approach such a legendary figure and to face the stress of offering an adeguate portrayal. As a boy, Nobunaga was not as different from any lively youngster, but the anguish of living a life under attack from his very relatives since childhood and the "importance" of his figure in Japanese imagination sure are a heavy toll on the freedom of interpretation of an actor. Willing or not, some of the "humanity" of a rendition is going to be sacrificed on the altar of historiography.
So, as I enjoyed the acting of Ogata in many parts, I found it "restrained" and somehow "stiff" when it came to portray Nobunaga in his maturity (a flaw that many actors experienced in this role), also if the intensity of the interpretation is still palpable.

Nobuyuki, the difficult little brother of Nobunaga, and Kichou, his unruly wife, are respectively played by Oizumi Tsubasa and Kikuchi Momoko.
I liked a lot the rendition of these characters.
The portrayal of female characters is always an infinite boredom, but I enjoyed the "outrageous" interpretation of Kichou, here shown as a rebelious wife, a strong-headed woman, and her highly improbable but no less entertaining "break" as a merchant in Sakai.
On the contrary, I found the portrayal of Onabe as "the goddess of death" and that of Oichi as a neverending remonstrating pain in the ass to be quite over the top.
The vicious conflict of emotions of Nobuyuki, who turned the admiration for his older brother into rivalry first and loathe later, offered a wonderful psychological rendition of the historical person.
I enjoyed this same psychological intensity consisting of conflictual feelings, expectations and wishes in the portrayal of Nobunaga, too.
Its climax is probably in the original interpretation of the famous Atsumori during the episodes dedicated to the Battle of Okehazama.
Here the author decided to play the whole scene under a distressing yet dreamlike mood, making us feel the conflicting feelings of Nobunaga during his first step in history.
Instead of dancing then, Nobunaga just recites the famous verses of the play, as to ponder about the uselessness of human ambitions rather than as to encourage himself before a reckless venture.

Nobunaga didn't dance before Okehazama, but he did in his youth, gaining mouths open in adoration from his fellow kabukimono (expecially from Ikeda Tsuneoki!), and when he realized his "divine nature", after thriumping over all his enemies, while enjoying the view from "above the Heavens" at Azuchi.
It's really interesting that Nobunaga didn't dance Atsumori in this drama. A peculiar choice since in every movie he's shown doing it almost at every turning point of his life (for example, in the Kagemusha movie, he did so as he got the news of Shingen's death).

The series follows pretty much the reports of Frois in its narration, so I wasn't surprised to see it embracing completely the the theory of Nobunaga's self-deification.
Nobunaga is portrayed as a "twisted altruist" during this drama. At first it's him worrying about the shogun and how he forced him to follow his orders to grant him a decent and comfy life. Then there's a scene when Nobunaga got furious over the complaints of people for his requests to build extra bridges and roads: he's extremely frustrated by how people couldn't understand his considerations for their development.
The self-deification thing is tied to this manner of thinking: Nobunaga realized that his success and good luck are a proof of his "divinity", so he decided to put his "avatar" in Sokenji at Azuchi, so people could get some of his luck off him and have their wishes granted.
Obviously, this whole thing made him look like a psycho to his vassals (and to the viewers too!). According to the tv series, the Sakuma were banished because Nobumori openly remonstrated against this idea.

We're then to Akechi's betrayal and the Honnoji Incident.
I liked how Akechi's motivations for his betrayal were explained. Even if quite obvious and simple, I'm keen to believe that they still offer the best interpretation of the whole deal.
Basically, Mitsuhide was sick of fighting and wanted to live in peace as the lord of his province. It's the result of the "petty mind" that Mitsuhide developed while being a ronin, and most importantly of his, despite his strenght in battle, little tollerance for the kind of stress that Nobunaga forced on his vassals. It kept people like Hideyoshi or Shibata motivated, but sure it didn't sort the same positive effects on everyone. The fact that one of these exceptions was his trusted Akechi, sure marked the end of Nobunaga's "divine" lucky stride.
The battle happening in the temple's precints, like the most of the battles depicted in the drama, is painful, confused, messy and dramatic. There are many historical inaccuracies (like that of Nobutada dying there while trying to give assistance to his father) but what you get is quite a genuine feeling out of the whole mess.

My general opinion of this drama is positive, then.
It's a dark, painful rendition of Nobunaga's life that takes some big liberties with history, but still enjoyable and acceptable.

Too bad for Zuiten, though.


  1. I liked this drama a lot. I found the various moments of Nobunaga dancing particularly enchanting, the actor has been amazingly skilled on his part. I forgot to mention that I recently ordered the manga comic of this series (yes, it does exist thought probably the story line is much from the novel) . Can't wait to tell you more about it.

    1. Great to know that there's a manga comic!! I really look forward to your review, once you get it *_*
      I'm really curious :D !

  2. Tsk, I tried to find this drama in Youtube, but it doesn't seem to be complete. THe old complete set was taken down because of "Copyright violation" >.<

    1. A friend of mine borrowed me her CDs with the whole thing on, that's how I managed to watch it all :3

  3. Hey, I know it's been a long while since you've written this, but maybe you remember, in which episodes does Luis Frois talk about the meat eating habits and warfare..? D:

    1. --Sorry about the late reply, I'm experiencing PC troubles T^T#

      Obviously I don't remember the exact episode, but it was somewhere around the end, as it was when Nobunaga was presented Yasuke by the missionaries, if I remember correctly...

    2. Oh, okay, thank you so much for the reply, I'll try to find it! :)

  4. For anyone wanting to watch thise series, there are 3 different versions uploaded of thr full series on YouTube right now.

    I actually came across this blog post while looking for a summary of the series before I commit to watching it.

    Also on YouTube is the movie about Oda Nobunaga starring Ken Watanabe, and well as another movie made in 1998.

    Some good stuff right now on YouTube for any Nobunaga fans!
    (Hurry and watch before they get flagged and disappear)