Karei naru Ichizoku

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There must be something in the air, because this is the third Kimura Takuya drama I’ve finished this year. This is a bit surreal since I’ve avoided Kimura’s dramas for the better part of a decade, but I suppose it had to happen sometime. And since this year seems to be about giving actors I don’t particularly care for another chance, I gave it a shot.

Set in Kansai during the restructuring of the financial industry in the late 1960s, Karei naru Ichizoku depicts the conflicts and secrets within the Manpyo clan, notably the rivalry between the father Daisuke (Kitaoji Kinya), a powerful banker who heads Hanshin Bank, and his eldest son Teppei (Kimura Takuya), the executive managing director of Hanshin Steelworks. As Teppei works to advance his firm’s ambitions of breaking into the global steel market, he runs into stiff opposition, chief of which is coming from Daisuke, who for some reason dislikes Teppei…

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A heavy-duty drama like this is not where I’d expected Kimura Takuya to be, so it was interesting to see if he was able to hold his own against a number of powerhouse actors. I was impressed by just how solid the rest of the cast was and was pleasantly surprised to see Nakamura Toru feature as well. The drama was adapted from a 1970s novel by Yamazaki Toyoko and the story itself was apparently well-known in Kansai’s financial circles – Hanshin Bank is the fictional version of the former Kobe Bank (now Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation), while Hanshin Steelworks was Sanyo Special Steel Co. Ltd. The novel’s focus is the father Daisuke, while the drama centred on Teppei (there is also a 1974 film on it). The main source of conflict is pretty obvious even from the synopsis and is liberally hinted at from the get-go, but the other sub-plots are equally interesting and one in particular was quite risqué for 1960s Japan.

I’d written a whole thesis (more like rant) on how dysfunctional I found the main characters, but I think I’ll sum up my thoughts in the following points:

I. Cowardice runs in the family

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It started from grandpa Keisuke, who thought nothing of attacking a defenceless woman and then showing it off to his son. Daisuke had opportunities to fix the issue (or as much as he would be allowed by dad) by being the bigger man and behaving more honorably, but he didn’t and spent years wallowing in his hurt and shame, allowing it to grow to epic proportions so it could be used to justify his being a complete asshole to his family. Mom Yasuko understandably withdrew into herself after the rape, but then weakly allowed another woman to rule the roost at the expense of her own self-worth. Second son Ginpei had many opportunities to warn his brother of dad’s machinations, but never worked up the courage to break out of his rut. And Teppei’s suicide… what can I say? It was an act of cowardice. He was not at the end of his tether. He did not have mental health issues. All he had was one major bugbear – dad didn’t love him. After 30+ years of not having received that love, he should have learnt to deal with it and move on. But no, he chose to peg his self-worth to a man who didn’t give a shit about him. All drama long, Teppei had been a decent character, but this final act, with very little proper build-up, left a bad taste in my mouth. His suicide achieved nothing. Instead, he selfishly deprived his wife of a husband, his son of a father, his family of a son and brother, his employees of a chief and friend. He wasted the efforts of those who’d stuck their necks out to help him just because he couldn’t get over himself. It’s pure irony and a slap in Teppei’s face that his company was up and running again six months after he died. You had to wonder whether he’d have ruined himself eventually even without Daisuke’s help.

II: Themes aplenty

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This drama had a number themes that were pretty interesting. Chief among them was the representation of parental figures and their surrogates. For Teppei, it was his father-in-law Okawa who behaved more of a father than Daisuke could ever have been, offering support and backing whenever Teppei got into a fix, even going so far as to personally step in to pave the way forward for Teppei. Okawa genuinely regarded Teppei as a son and it was just unfortunate that Teppei never quite realised he had it good – his unwitting betrayal of Okawa is put into sharp relief by his ignorance over the true nature of his father. Aiko was another surrogate who deserves mention. She rose to a position of power in the family, effectively displacing the original wife Yasuko and becoming a surrogate mother to the children even if they do not regard her as such. Always well-dressed in Western attire in contrast to the kimono-clad Yasuko, Aiko was a picture of modernity and progress, especially given her divorcee status and her relationship with Daisuke. Oddly enough, however, Aiko had a fairly traditional side to her, devoting herself to the man who “saved” her, and resorting to old-fashioned political marriages to help him cement power in societal circles. Had Daisuke not cast her away, she would have happily spent her entire life advancing his interests to the detriment of her own – she was obviously a shrewd woman who knew how to seize opportunities as they come, but stubbornly refused to heed warnings that he would cast her away even though she’d done so much for him.

III. Solid acting

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The drama was generally solid where acting was concerned. Kitaoji Kinya delivered a powerhouse performance as Daisuke, and while I did not like the character, I could appreciate the nuanced display and thought the standout scene was the father-son showdown in the final episode where Daisuke snuffed out Teppei’s final hopes of acceptance. You could almost believe Daisuke had at one point in time genuinely wished for things to be different, even if just a smidgen, before he allowed his mask and guard to fall back into place. Suzuki Kyoka was equally excellent as the foxy Aiko, resplendent in her Western finery and treading a thin line between regal lady and high-class slut. She made Aiko easy to hate, but the final breakdown was a powerful one and perhaps redeemed Aiko a touch. I was quite impressed with Yamamoto Koji’s take on the disaffected Ginpei, and by the halfway mark wanted him break out of dad’s destructive hold and to fight alongside Teppei. Ginpei never quite got out of his slump and I did not like the way he treated his wife Makiko, but Yamamoto did a fine job on a frustrating character and made me somewhat sympathise with him. Among the rest of the ladies, I appreciated Hasegawa Kyoko’s subtle performance as Teppei’s wife Sanae. There was a quiet strength about Sanae that I liked, and the actress balanced nicely Sanae’s implicit trust in her husband and her willingness to speak out on injustices on his behalf (she just needed a better hairstyle). Aibu Saki was cute and earnest as the youngest sister Tsugiko.

IV. Kimura Takuya and the invisible wall

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I’m devoting a small section to Kimura because of the drama’s switch in focus to the son. On paper, Kimura is the weakest link in terms of acting chops among the main cast and it rather shows. Teppei is a likeable enough character for the first nine episodes and certain segments showed Kimura slotting into his character with ease – I rather enjoyed Teppei’s scenes with Gen-san, and thought Kimura and Hasegawa had decent chemistry as husband and wife. It was the more emotional beats, where Teppei would be conflicted by his father’s actions, that I felt Kimura was lacking. He was more often than not squinting angrily and coming across like a bit of a thwarted child, and in these moments I could not take Teppei seriously. It was one of my problems with Teppei that I didn’t quite realise he was all hung up on dad not loving him until I actually read a spoiler on it, and I remember feeling distinctly disappointed because I hadn’t sensed that in Kimura’s acting. I felt that Kimura was trying hard, and in most parts he succeeded, but there always seemed to be something holding him back from truly inhabiting his character.

V. The ultimate winner

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I was pretty surprised by who emerged triumphant at the end and it brought a huge grin to my face. Mima had done his fair share of egging Daisuke on and providing his father-in-law with inside information from the finance ministry, so I had not expected him come out tops, but this redeemed the drama somewhat. Unlike Daisuke, Mima did not seem the type to go off the deep end, and since he had the backing of the finance minister, it’s likely he’d be there for the long haul. Mima was shrewd and intelligent, and I loved that Nakamura Toru’s portrayal made Mima rather likeable despite the character’s passive deviousness, enough that I could get behind him in this survival of the fittest game. Also, it was poetic justice that just as Daisuke sacrificed those who’d helped him previously, he in turn would be cast aside once Mima embarked on the next phase of the restructuring. It’s sweet knowing that an asshole will get his comeuppance dished out by someone he regards as his ally, kin and perhaps even minion.

Overall, I think this is a decent drama and worth a watch if you enjoy family sagas or if you’re curious to see how Kimura fared among heavyweights. The orchestral score was excellent and production values were high throughout the drama. Scenery was a nice change, focusing on 1960s Kansai with occasional side trips to Tokyo, and the mountains were majestic. The financial aspects could take some getting used to and there were too many characters to take in in the first couple of episodes, but after the drama settled down and found its footing, it was fairly absorbing. The narration, however, was a bit of a miss – it did help in figuring out who was who, but more often than not, it told rather than showed, depriving me of an early chance to build rapport with the characters. And by the time the story wanted me to care about the characters, it’d already lost me on the emotional beats.

junny@2.52am

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