I’ve been meaning to write about Asa ga Kita for a while, but real life got in the way and my computer has gone wonky, so this is terribly delayed and I don’t know if I’ll keep writing on it. However, the experience of watching my first asadora has been pretty good so far, and at 15 minutes (on the dot!) for each episode, it’s very easy to breeze through a week of episodes (six in total).
Imai Asa (Haru) is the second daughter of a wealthy Kyoto merchant. A tomboy with a love of sumo wrestling and accounting, and penchant for asking questions, Asa is very different from her elder sister Hatsu (Miyazaki Aoi), who is the epitome of feminine grace. Asa and Hatsu have been betrothed from young to sons of two distinguished moneylending families in Osaka. Despite initial resistance from Asa, she soon falls in love with her fiancé Shirooka Shinjiro (Tamaki Hiroshi). After their marriage, Shinjiro has no interest in the family business and only devotes his time to the shamisen and other pleasurable activities. As difficult times beckon at the cusp of the Meji era and as the Shirooka family finds itself in financial straits, Asa steps up to take charge…
Asadora are not really my thing since they seem to take forever to finish, so I was a bit hesitant when I realised Tamaki Hiroshi would be in one. Besides, he looked terrible with the chonmage and I was prepared to drop the drama within the first week if I didn’t like it. To my surprise, I chugged along quite happily and managed to finish three weeks’ worth before my computer decided to do the wonky dance (it is still wonky). Apparently ratings have been good, so I’m happy for Tamaki and the rest of the cast.
The first week was devoted to getting the audience familiar with the protagonist Asa – she’s a precocious, mischievous, hyperactive and over-inquisitive 11-year-old (played by Suzuki Rio, who is adorable) who has very few feminine graces to speak of. But she’s immediately likable and endearing, as is her sweet and gentle elder sister Hatsu. The sisters’ strong bond is evidenced throughout and would see them through hard times for the rest of the drama’s run. The child actors were very solid and I was somewhat sorry to see them go (one of the rare times where I liked enough the childhood portion of any story). The transition from child to adult Hatsu was smooth and believable, as the young actress shared some physical similarities to her adult version played by Miyazaki Aoi. Suzuki Rio turning into Haru in the space of four years is a real stretch, but I’ll roll with it.
Asa shows early signs of breaking out of the traditional mould for women in those days. Other than her tomboyish and gungho ways, she has a curiosity streak a mile long that sometimes gets her into trouble. She also loves accounting and has learnt the abacus, which is something of a feat. I thought it was cute that she thought to make a mini abacus to go with her ningyō. Her habit of flattening her mouth whenever she speaks out of turn is also pretty funny and Haru does it well without seeming bratty or princessy. I had my doubts about Haru since I’d never seen her act and had read rather unfavourable reviews of her acting, but as Asa, she’s spunky and fun, and has so far managed to pull off the child-woman dichotomy. Haru makes it easy for viewers to get behind Asa and support the character’s go-getter ways. I like that her father-in-law seems to have recognised her potential early on even though he has not yet encouraged her to help out in the family business. And it’s interesting that Shinjiro finally sees her as a woman and not a child after Asa bravely speaks up in front of the Shinsengumi. I like that he encouraged her early interest in accounting by giving her an abacus, helps her when she wants to go through the ledger books and basically doesn’t stop her from doing what she wants. That has its drawbacks, but in these initial weeks, it’s still a pretty good thing.
Tamaki Hiroshi hasn’t had much to do as Shinjiro so far, but does make the character fairly likeable even though Shinjiro is for now a good-for-nothing layabout. He also has decent chemistry with Haru, which is a relief. Shinjiro’s interest in the shamisen is beyond me, but I’m keen to see how he eventually manages to get out of his rut to help Asa. And from later stills, it seems he’ll get a much better hairstyle, so yay for that. However, I didn’t really like the scenes where Shinjiro was first introduced to child Asa as her betrothed – I thought this could have be done with a younger actor because otherwise it looked like Tamaki was cradle-robbing. Granted, Shinjiro is much older than Asa (the character was supposed to be in his 20s when they first met) and girls married very young back then – Asa was 15 when she married into the Shirooka family – but no matter how you look at it, Tamaki doesn’t look like he’s in his 20s anymore, so if Suzuki Rio could morph into Haru in four years’ time, a younger actor could morph into Tamaki. Fortunately this only lasted for the first week, so once it got to the adult cast, things were much more palatable. The theme song 365 Nichi no Kamihikouki by AKB48 is bright and cheery, pretty apt for Asa’s character. The veteran cast, especially those who play Asa and Shinjiro’s parents, have all been solid so far, which is great.
Since the drama is set in Kansai, the characters all speak in Kansai-ben, though I’m hard put to distinguish the difference between Kyoto-ben and Osaka-ben. Tamaki mentioned he’d put in a lot of effort trying to perfect Osaka-ben, and I applaud him for it because it sounded natural to my untrained ears, and I always appreciate it when actors go the extra mile for their roles. If you understand rudimentary Japanese, you can immediately spot the differences in pitch and vocabulary – for example, Asa and Hatsu address their mother as okahan rather than okasan, and desu is replaced by dosu when the girls are still in Kyoto. Once I got used to it, the tonal change didn’t sound strange and it was in fact quite interesting to be able to spot differences between Kansai-ben and the more standard Japanese most people learn. It also reminded me of the time when I was asking for directions while in Kyoto, and a smiley ojiisan stopped to help me – he then apologised for his accent because he is from Osaka and was afraid I didn’t understand him, but I said I didn’t mind at all because it was so nice of him to help (for the record, I did manage to grasp what he said even though my Japanese is worse than a pre-schooler’s).
Where I left off, Hatsu had just begun her suffering at her in-laws’ and it’s sad to see how her husband is unable to stand up for her even though he seems to be more partial to her than when they first got married. I like Hatsu and Miyazaki’s portrayal, so I hope things get better for Hatsu eventually even though I know she’s got to go through more suffering for a few weeks yet. And Asa has reunited with her one-time friend, the forward-thinking Godai Saisuke (Dean Fujioka) who has a penchant for inserting random English words into his speech after having spent some time abroad. It’ll be interesting to see where the drama takes Asa, Shinjiro and the viewers – I certainly hope I have the stamina to last all 156 episodes!