kaigou: (1 olivia is not impressed)
[personal profile] kaigou
My current fascination is the Japanese Sengoku/Warring States period, more specifically, Oda Nobunaga (for reasons I won't go into here). Suffice it to say that he's partly a fascinating character just for doing what he did, but also for the reactions I see in his characterizations in modern/post-modern Japanese media. Remarkable that someone who pretty much set the stage for Tokugawa/Edo peace would also be excoriated to such a massive extent. Given what he achieved, I would've expected him to be among the greatest of Japanese heroes, not the embodiment of All Things Evil. Not to mention my curiosity in the unique circumstances that made him such a meritocratic personality. Quite unusual, culturally (and still that way, impression I get).

Anyway, there's an abridged English translation of a massive work on Nobunaga. It's clearly also only for academics, being priced at $95. Holy hell, I mean, seriously. That's only about $25 less than the 23" monitor I bought yesterday. What gives, pricing scheme? Or there's a biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Taiko, which sounds cool but is naturally only available in hardback. Time to find out if we can still check out books from the local university, courtesy CP.

In absence of any substantial texts in our house that go into the Sengoku (all of CP's texts either skip the Sengoku, or just skip Nobunaga), I figured I'd try the next best thing -- a taiga. I mean, the annual "here, let us essentialize our history into a nice sixty-episode package" should have some historical basis, right?

Uhm. Does it? Because something feels not-quite-right to me.

Are taigas basically soap-operatic, fictionalized, adapted-for-storytelling with highlights only? Do they assume you've studied Japanese history extensively so you don't need the extra explanations, or do they assume you know little pieces here and there and aren't concerned with something like, say, historical accuracy?

Okay, so I'm watching Toshiie to Matsu, since I could find it with subs and the impression I've gotten from random history-professor essays on academic webs is that Toshiie was almost as unconventional as Nobunaga. Plus, he was best friends with Hideyoshi, too. But the actual show has me kind of taking a big step back from taigas. Because, hunh. Let me count the ways (which you were probably expecting, anyway).

The women! Reading the rare translated letter to/from Nobunaga, or from Hideyoshi (considering the man had to have been illiterate to some degree until late adolescence, unless he learned while ostensibly trying to be a monk in his shadowy past, he was apparently a massive letter-writer as an adult) -- there are several women who clearly get a kind of respectful, fond, affection from Nobunaga. Nene (Hideyoshi's wife) is obviously one of them. Yet in the taiga, the first time Toshiie, Nobunaga, and Nene are all onscreen, Nobunaga does everything but call her out as a brainless worthless female. "I hate twittering females," he says, dismissively. And it's true, she's characterized and acted as a totally brainless female... which doesn't mesh at all with what few biographical notes I could find. She was apparently quite intelligent, incredibly managerially savvy, and was an endless resource for her husband (Hideyoshi), in a partnership that sounds similar to that of Dolley and James Madison. Not a stupid woman.

I've come across mention that Toshiie had a crush on Nene before she married Hideyoshi, but the taiga reverses that. Nene is completely besotted with Toshiie, who naturally has eyes only for Matsu; of course this means that Nene also abhors Hideyoshi. Uh. The same person who, years later, apparently seduced other women (under pretense of finding concubine who'd bear children, since Nene wasn't able), and complained about Nene, who was quite upset at Hideyoshi's wanderings. It's Nobunaga who wrote her, insisting that she's the best thing ever to happen to Hideyoshi and that Hideyoshi should get his head out of his ass and realize what he's got. (Nobunaga adds, "show this letter to Hideyoshi...", heh.)

But the taiga takes Nene and turns her into a twitter-pated, useless, brainless female who's also rather gossipy and spiteful. It's only insult to injury that in the scene where she's preening for Toshiie's benefit (while Nobunaga watches with obvious disgust), a bird first lands on Toshiie's spear and then alights on Nene's shoulder. That's right, it's a taiga, and there's a damn bird on that woman's shoulder. Alright, who let Disney in? Because a second later, she starts singing. SOMEONE TELL ME THIS WAS ALL A JOKE.

...An episode later, we get similar treatment with Matsu, who has to gently retrieve a fly (doesn't light up, so doubt it's a firefly) from her shoulder, talk to it, and let it go. What? Does this mean the entire crew of the Maeda family are a stand-in for the dwarves? Nobunaga makes a seriously unconvincing charming anything, even if the actor stalks about and looks constipated as his attempt to look princely.

This is ignoring that the first episode was downright painful. The events date from when Toshiie would've been, oh, 11 or 12. (He was 13 when he first began as a page for Nobunaga, and was among the youngest of Nobunaga's closest circle.) He's being played by an actor who's maybe in his mid-twenties. It's seriously off, and when Matsu -- played by a little girl of about five -- it's downright creepy, knowing that this is (supposedly) where Toshiie first develops his lifelong love for Matsu. If he were a 12-yr old actor, it'd probably come across as more of a devoted adopted elder-brother, at first, but a guy who's maybe 25, playing "elder brother" to a girl of five? Just a little... not.

(This is one way the Korean saeguks/historical-dramas do it right: a younger character is played by a younger actor, and then after an episode or so, we get timeskip and the actor is "aged up" to the right-aged actor who'll play the character as an adult. Having a bunch of adults play the various characters at what would've been 13, 15, 17... really shifts the perspective. Not to mention plenty of Nobunaga's advisors were only in their late twenties!, but they're almost all played by guys in their 30s and 40s. Eeeech.)

There are also parts where I've actually backed up, rewatched, and still aren't sure whether the subtitles mistranslated or the original was that far off. Like, Maeda Matsu (Toshiie's eventual wife) was known for absolutely loathing Tokugawa Ieyasu. Wiki gives a cursory explanation that Matsu abhored the way Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu competed for power, except they didn't really compete. Their personalities seemed to have meshed/complemented more than competed. Maybe Ieyasu was just a personality that rubbed her the wrong way, which would make sense if she'd had a life with Toshiie's unconventional if good-natured self.

But the taiga gives Matsu's backstory as the child of some guy who got killed by opposing clan, when Matsu was five. So she ends up adopted by the Maeda, and then fast-forward to when she would've been, oh, sixteen, and meets the young Tokugawa Ieyasu (known as Matsudaira Takechiyo at the time). According to the taiga, she instantly recognizes him as the man who killed her father! Except that when she was five, Ieyasu would've been nine! Not to mention I think he was a hostage at the time, which he was for most of his life off-and-on until mid-adolescence. Sure, that creates some story-telling tension to explain Matsu's obvious and intense dislike, and adds tension to the scene, but makes no sense to me. Chronologically, at least, unless Ieyasu had a clone or something.

Speaking of which, the "you killed my father!" works great as a tension-builder until you realize that it's the tension-builder for nearly every single character. Nene reportedly hates Nobunaga because, well, some guy under his command killed her father. And Maeda hates Ieyasu because he killed her father. And I think the Sassa clan has a killed-my-father in there, too, and maybe the Imagawas. I mean, Japan had been at near-constant war for what, several hundred years? There was a lot of killing, and I'd 'spect a lot of the dead were fathers. So, lots of father-killing, lots of that kind of tension, and eventually it's no tension at all.

(Do they have drinking games in Japan, for taiga? "If she says, "you killed my father!" take two shots!")

The most egregious example of rendering Matsu -- who according to what I've read was a brilliant and strong-willed woman with excellent literary and martial skills -- into some kind of latter-day simpering wife is in the scene where Toshiie and Matsu announce their marriage to the rest of the Maeda clan. They've just helped rout a group of Imagawa samurai, and Toshiie tells the various farmers that he and Matsu are getting married. Of course, everyone knows the timing is pretty bad, since it won't be long before Nobunaga moves on the Imagawa and the Saito, which means Toshiie will be heading off to war.

So Matsu, apparently thinking of the fact that her affianced will be leaving within just a few days, and the Maeda clan will be caught (again) between the Imagawa and the Oda, tells the crowd, "Leave it to me!" The camera is at pains to show Toshiie's astonishment, as Matsu goes on to add that if anyone needs help or advice with anything, to come to her. (By the fourth episode, this has practically become her mantra, repeated enough so it's clear she's a Proper Samurai Wife: "leave it to me!")

Afterwards, just the two of them, Toshiie mentions what she said, and she replies (and I am so not making this up) that it was, wow, just like heaven had whispered in her ear what to say.

Jawdrop. She can't even be assertive in her present/future domain on her own? But had to pass it off as "heaven inspired her and she just repeated what she was told"? If you want to make a character seem spineless (to me), that'd have to be at the top of the list for ways to do it. That's not strong-willed, that's like the antithesis of it. She doesn't even get to own her managerial position. She just repeats what she's been told. Say what?

I guess maybe I should look into saving up the pennies for that $95 book on Nobunaga, because clearly pop culture is falling way down on the job.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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