Personal Rating: 9/10
For a start, this is my first Taiga (annual historical dramas aired by NHK) and my first Japanese historical drama. For someone who has watched a good number of Sageuks (Korean historical dramas), I can’t help but notice how incredibly different the Japanese experience is. The historical accuracy, for one, is on a whole different scale with Taigas being more true to history while Sageuk dramas generally take a lot of liberty with the story.
It was incredible watching Sakamoto Ryoma from childhood to his death, seeing him grow and lose the naivety of his younger years to become the man that history came to know him as. And the fact that this man, who lived only a century and a half ago, achieved so many things before turning 30 is just mind-blowing. He lived for his cause and worked for Japan to become a stronger, more modern country so it would not fall a victim of imperialism.
Ryoma lived in the turbulent period at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s rule, the time at which Japan finally revoked its closed country policy because of pressure placed on it by the United States’s then president. In the aftermath of such a decision, the country was split into those who supported the Shogunate’s decision to open the country to foreigners and those who wanted to expel the foreigners at all cost.
You could just imagine the kind of unrest spreading in Japan during those hard times when Ryoma was in his early twenties.
One of the great things about this drama (and all Taigas as it seems) is the travelogue at the end of each episode, which shows the real places that some of the events occurred at, as well as extra information about the characters, so you end up with a well-rounded picture of the setting and characters. Don’t worry about getting lost in all the historical details; the English subtitles done by izumisano are the best that I’ve seen ever. Terms are explained clearly and the translation notes are very helpful.
Also, the narrator of the story, Iwasaki Yataro, is the lifelong friend of Sakamoto Ryoma and they have one hell of a complex friendship.
Ryoma is someone who inspires all kinds of feelings upon meeting him: admiration, respect, love, fear, envy, hatred, jealousy. All those who meet him can’t help but feel something strong towards him, be it positive or negative. That’s the kind of man we’re talking about here. And Yataro, who came from humble origins and later became a wealthy businessman who eventually founded Mitsubishi never got over his inferiority complex when it came to Ryoma. He was never able to escape his shadow.
It’s truly fascinating to see admiration, love, and envy on his face every time he looked at Ryoma. It’s a complicated mix of emotions and it feels so real that I have to just kowtow to Kagawa Teruyuki for his intensity and powerful personification of such a difficult character. We see Yataro curse Ryoma many times, claim to hate him but his eyes betray him every time.
Yataro’s my favorite character and I don’t think that would have been the case had a lesser actor taken the role. Kagawa deserved those three awards he’d earned for the role. I have to include here that he was the only actor from ‘Ryoma Den’ who had gotten any awards at all.
I have so much more to say about ‘Ryoma Den’ but I don’t want to spoil anything. Yes, the camerawork was a bit messy sometimes (shaky camera, awkward up-close shots of faces) and there was this annoying meowing sound running in the background of the most serious scenes, but I could overlook these minor things when I look at the full picture.
‘Ryoma Den’ overwhelmed me at times to the point where I got tears in my eyes from being so filled with emotion.
Such a drama should not be missed.