Hospital politics have never been so intriguing.
Zaizen Goro (Okada Junichi) is a brilliant, ambitious surgeon at Naniwa University Hospital. An associate professor at the department of general surgery, he has his sights set on the professor post and will stop at nothing in his bid to climb up the corporate ladder…
Shiroi Kyoto is a 1965 novel by Yamasaki Toyoko, and has spawn several adaptations, most notably the 2003 drama version starring Karasawa Toshiaki. Yamasaki, who also wrote Karei naru Ichizoku, was known for her novels that dealt with social and political issues in postwar Japan, and several of her works have been adapted into films and dramas. The 2003 drama’s cast read like a list of who’s who of top Japanese actors at that time, and the 2019 remake’s cast is equally star-studded. Since it was only five episodes (versus the 2003 version’s 21), I dived right in.
I am not familiar with Okada Junichi’s works, but he made for an intriguing Zaizen and played the character with arrogance and condescension. Okada’s acting never quite stuck with me, and I felt he could have toned down a touch and shown more cunning and strategising, but Zaizen is written in such a way that one cannot help but see things from his perspective somewhat despite how insufferable he could be at times. As the drama was only five episodes, Zaizen needed to get moving on things quick and enlisted the help of his rich father-in-law Zaizen Mataichi (Kobayashi Kaoru, revelling in all the obsequious snivelling new money could buy). All the wheeling and dealing, backroom deals, shifting power balance made for a fascinating study of the various characters involved as Zaizen and his father-in-law splashed out the cash to buy the respect they didn’t think was necessary to earn. The hospital setting upped the stakes since human lives were involved, but the themes of greed, power and prestige affecting the human psyche are universal and the story could have easily taken place in a legal or corporate context.
Unfortunately, Zaizen was barely allowed to enjoy the fruits of his “labour” before he was swiftly struck down, and the last two episodes focused on the medical malpractice suit he was embroiled in. I would have preferred less courtroom shenanigans and more focus on the politicking among the hospital’s professoriate and other power brokers in the medical profession, which was surprisingly the more enjoyable part of the drama. It sort of tickled me that it was a woman, Professor Nosaka Natsumi (Ichikawa Mikako), who seemed to know how to play the power game best, toying with both factions and still managing to come out unscathed and relatively innocent. There’s nothing like watching the petty elite try to bring each other down to reinforce one’s view that humankind has been fucked since forever.
Zaizen’s ambition is contrasted with that of his best friend and fellow doctor, Satomi Shuji (Matsuyama Kenichi, in a likeable portrayal), who is pretty much the paragon of virtue and one of the few doctors in the university hospital who seems to have some sort of conscience and medical ethics. One thing about hospital dramas is how depressing it can get with the depiction – probably not too far off from reality – that medical care is essentially for the rich, and medical malpractice is notoriously hard to prove in courts. Satomi goes all out for his patients regardless of who they are and just wants to focus on being a good doctor, which is in direct contrast to Zaizen. Satomi does stick to his principles even at the expense of his career at the university hospital, but does not come across as stupidly and blindly righteous. I liked that the contrast between the two men, while obvious, was not shoved into the viewer’s face and that deep down, Zaizen and Satomi value their friendship and Satomi is the only one Zaizen can turn to in his hour of need.
I had little interest in the trial that eventually brought down Zaizen, but it was interesting to note the toll it took on his emotional and mental health as he scrambled to patch one lie after another. The women in his life had little to do, though that one “face-off” between wife Kyoko (Kaho) and mistress Keiko (Sawajiri Erika) was notable for not descending into hair-pulling theatrics. Not many of the characters outside of Satomi were likeable, and certainly the characterisation could have been more developed, but the acting was pretty solid and on the whole, it is a pretty decent watch whether as a standalone or a primer for the 2003 drama.