I’m back on the asadora trail! I am determined to finish Asa ga Kita, if only to do justice to Tamaki Hiroshi’s first asadora outing in years – and a successful one, I might add, as the drama did well in the ratings game. It wasn’t difficult getting back into the groove as each episode and week ended on a mini cliffhanger that just whetted the appetite. Also, it was nice hearing the upbeat theme song again.
These six weeks saw a lot of growth for a number of our key characters, who also undergo some life transitions. The good thing about asadora and sitcoms in general is that character development is generally well-charted and easy to follow thanks to the increased number of episodes. Even so, there isn’t a slow moment in Asa ga Kita and I’m always pleasantly surprised by just how much can be packed into a 15-minute episode and still not feel that it is crammed or that there are illogical leaps in story and character development. There’s always a nice balance of heartwarming and sobering moments, and pacing continues to be solid. I always looked forward to watching the next episode and it was just so easy to finish a week’s worth and still feel there is room and time for more.
Asa takes on the Kyushu miners and encounters the first real obstacles of her budding career as a businesswoman. It is interesting to see the different approaches at play here – initially, she tries to be nice and personable to the miners, who clearly don’t welcome a woman taking over the reins. When the going gets tough, one would have thought she’d take Godai’s approach and use the pistol he gave to protect her as a sign of dominance over the miners. Yet, a gentle word of encouragement from Shinjiro reminds Asa of what she should really do, and she solves it with a bout of sumo that was hilarious to watch (and I loved that Shinjiro cheers her on even as he worries for her). Still, it’s a constant battle of engaging men who are very different both in outlook and personality, so Asa has to make repeated trips to Kyushu not only to oversee the business, but to work alongside the miners to show she is one of them. Her hands-on attitude eventually earns her the respect and support of these mountain men, and it’s heartening to watch just how much they have grown to like her. It’s also sweet to see Asa and her mother-in-law finally getting along, and the latter accepting Asa for who she is. There were some neat bonding moments between the two that were lovely to watch. I also thought the process of Asa realising why she loves her work, her inspiration for pushing on, and how she wants to move forward henceforth was well built up and entirely consistent with her behaviour and actions over these weeks.
There is also good news for Hatsu as she manages to find Soubee, her erstwhile husband who had become mired in gambling, and drags him home. Soubee fortunately is repentant and finally knuckles down to work to make amends. It’s a happy surprise when he decides he rather likes being a farmer and also really cherishes Hatsu for all that she’s done for the family. I love the bit when Hatsu wonders, in a self-deprecating moment, whether she should even be spending time at Asa’s nice home, and Soubee chides Hatsu with an affectionate “aho!” and says she is better in every way than her sister, which earns a huge smile from Hatsu and me. Hatsu’s quiet strength is very different from Asa’s, and sometimes she can be too stubborn about accepting help that’s offered with good intentions, but it’s lovely to see how she has protected her family in her own way. Another sweet moment is when Hatsu finally resolves that doubt in her heart and is able to leave for Wakayama to start a new life with her family. I really liked how Soubee asks Shinjiro to help find Hatsu’s koto (which they sold to pay off their debts), so that the sisters get to play a duet like the old days – it was a lovely, heartwarming moment, capped off with Soubee listening with satisfaction outside the Shirooka house. It was such a sweet gesture on his part and I’m really glad for Hatsu that he loves her and wants her to be happy. I’m sure there will be more of Hatsu to come, but for now her journey seems to have reached a fulfilling note.
And finally, we get some insight into Shinjiro’s backstory, the childhood trauma that turned him into such a useless layabout. I have to say it required more than a grain of salt to digest the reason, because while I could understand child Shinjiro being affected by what he thought was a callous decision that contributed to the ruin of his friend’s family, it really didn’t need to go to the extent of having it affect his whole life. Couldn’t he maybe get a job in something else? Grow a spine and do something with his life instead of wasting it away playing the shamisen? I suppose making Shinjiro useless served to highlight the importance of Asa’s achievements and contributions, but Asa could still come into her own even if Shinjiro made himself useful elsewhere. Nevertheless, there was a nice resolution scene, Asa gets to say her piece and Shinjiro manages to come to terms with a few things. He still continues not to make a meaningful contribution in terms of work, however, and my neck grows long from waiting for his character to grow a pair. The glimpses into Shinjiro’s thoughts and advice he’s dished out – for example, when Asa feels down after encountering a setback at work – actually show he is not as shallow as he pretends to be, so I hope to see more development on his character in the coming weeks.
We also say goodbye to two elderly figures – Asa’s grandfather and Shinjiro’s father Shokichi – who have played a key role in Asa becoming who she is today. Grandpa always encouraged Asa to be true to herself, and Shokichi encouraged her to be bold in her business ventures and was a solid person she could lean on and go to for advice. Of the two, it was sadder to see Shokichi go as he’d really grown on me as a fatherly figure who cared about Asa and wanted her to do well both at home and work. Shokichi and his wife Yono were so fun and their scenes together sparkled, whether they were being sweet on each other or arguing about getting Asa a midwife or a doctor for her pregnancy. Still, where there’s death, there’s also new life, as Hatsu becomes a mother of two boys and Asa also gives birth to a daughter named Chiyo. And if there’s a redeeming factor for Shinjiro, it is that he takes on caring for Chiyo when Asa works, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, and has no qualms about being a “house husband” in that sense. He also continues to be supportive of Asa’s ventures as much as possible, even letting her go to Kyushu and Tokyo with Godai despite not liking it much – he recognises that Godai is the one who can help Asa hold her own in these changing times, and understands that he must take a backseat in order for Asa to be able to do her best for the family business. Loving Asa means letting her be free to fulfil her potential, as Hatsu astutely notes, and Shinjiro’s understanding of this has allowed his marriage with Asa to thrive so far. For an Edo/Meiji era man, that is really progressive – god knows there are still modern men who can’t quite overcome that imagined hit to their so-called ego.
The actors continue to be winning in their roles and I haven’t felt any lull even when the story focuses more on the daily life of the sisters. I think Haru is much better when she gets to be sunny and expressive, and she and Miyazaki Aoi continue to be believable as sisters who share a strong bond to see them through hard times. These weeks fortunately showed more scenes of Miyazaki with Tamaki Hiroshi, and one hilarious scene was when Hatsu mischievously tells Shinjiro not to lose to “the man who came back from abroad”, meaning Godai. Thankfully Tamaki got rid of the chonmage and his character now sports a much nicer hairstyle as the men in the drama got with the times and switched to Western hairstyles. The kimono featured in the drama are really lovely, and I like most of the ones Asa wore. Kondo Masaomi and Fubuki Jun had such wonderful chemistry as Shinjiro’s parents and I’ll be sorry to see the former not feature anymore. Dean Fujioka got more play in these weeks and it cracked me up to see him throwing out random English lines, as Godai is wont to do when he becomes frustrated or awed. I laughed when he called Asa “first penguin” because of her trailblazing ways, and really liked hearing him speak English because I could actually understand him, ha. Really liking Fujioka in the role and I hope Godai gets a nice lady in the end.