A small clan based in Ii Valley, where Hamamatsu City is now. Hamamatsu is a city in Shizuoka prefecture, Kanto region. The Ii(s) are now based in Saga prefecture, where Ii Naomasa was relocated to when the Tokugawa Shogunate was established.
The Ii(s) as a samurai clan had a much longer traceable history than most of the major clans - the Takeda, Hojo, Matsudaira/Tokugawa etc - around them, with some estimates giving them a 1000 year old lineage. At the least, their ancestry could be traced back to the Kamakura era.
Two of the most famous Ii(s) included Ii Naomasa and Ii Naosuke.
Ii Naomasa was one of the Four Heavenly Generals under Tokugawa Ieyasu, and played a prominent role in the founding of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the revival of the Ii clan.
Naosuke was one of the foremost conservative influence during the ending period of the Shogunate, and his assassination paved the way for the establishment of the Meiji era under a new modernist regime.
As an historical person, Ii Naotora was shrouded in mystery and many uncertainties. Some historians assert that she was actually a man, and that Naotora and Naomasa’s adoptive mother were not the same person.
If you are looking for battle scenes and samurai fighting, you will be sorely disappointed. As the synopsis stated, the story started at a point of crisis for the Ii clan. Their continued survival was highly questionable, and the story reflected the uncertainties and helplessness of a clan on the verge of collapse.
What this drama did very well, and unlike most other Taigas before it - with the exception of Sanadamaru before it - was the focus on the small scale struggles and daily survival efforts of peripheral clans and the people in them. Hence, there are more villagers with names here than you will ever see in many of the Taigas from the last decade. The intimate and humanistic aspects of the drama were what piqued my interest in the first place. While always interesting and grandiose, the focus on all those major personalities got tiring after a while.
Here, we are reminded that ideally, all those political and armed struggles were meant to be for a greater purpose, to bring about peace and stability, not for the sole purpose of personal aggrandizement and megalomaniac-ambition.
The dialogue and messages in this drama were well-written and most often thought-provoking, if somewhat idealized.
In turns comical and heartwarming, it was also mostly just tear-inducing.
A story full of love - in all its myriad representations - and of stubborn people (or if you prefer, persistent and determined).
If there is to be only one reason to watch this drama, it would be for the character of Ono-Tajimanokami-Masatsugu.
He was a character that encompassed many virtues and ideals in the form of a man, but above all, it was love and devotion. Love for a woman, the family, friends, the homeland, the clan, of honour, duty, sacrifice and peace.
(And if you are a shipper and have the tendency to have Second-Male Lead-Syndrome, Ono Masatsugu will be the ultimate candidate to break your heart and provide tonnes of angst and ache).
On reflection - since there have been many, many fantastic second male lead characters before - what truly made Ono Masatsugu stood out from the fray, besides some good - if spotty - writing, was the fact that in the hands of Takahashi Issei, he was elevated to a sublime level of intensely stoic devotion and loving magnanimity. An unsurpassed potent combination.
Besides Masatsugu, I would dare venture that there are many lovable and admirable characters in this show. Whether you agree with their motivations or not, no one failed to live up to their ideals or limitations, of which there were numerous. While a weird way to state, whether the goal was mediocrity or self-sacrifice, most everybody tried their best.
Generally, the casting and acting were solid and competent, befitting a Taiga. Personally, however, I did not find all acting equally appealing. I did not particularly enjoy Shibasaki or Suda’s acting, as I thought they overexpressed at some parts. Still, they did very well in their roles.
Most of the secondary characters had very competent actors and actresses at the helm, and that had made for a marvelous watch.
Last but not least, another note on Takahashi Issei as Ono Masatsugu. His role here captured my imagination and made me a fan, so while biased, I have to once again comment on his amazing performance. He turned what was a run-of-the-mill-character into THE character to pay attention to. His presence made what was an average Taiga into one that engrossed the hearts and minds of fans. While not an especially popular Taiga (ratings were quite mediocre), Naotora might well turn into a cult-drama for the way it has engaged the emotions of fans, and Masatsugu had been one of the main reasons for this phenomena.
A gorgeous soundtrack and background music accompanied this show and raised the level of emoting for the whole series. Simply breathtaking music.
While I have had problems with certain aspects of the development of the storyline and the relationships they portrayed, I could not complain that it was not already written into the story from the beginning (unlike some other stories/shows), though due to various factors, interpretations for the story deviated somewhat from the intentions of the scriptwriter. This is mostly an issue of personal expectations and subjective interpretation.
The story, however, devolved into semi-farcical comedy and ridiculousness at certain portions of the second half, and this detracted somewhat from the overall quality of the show.
While no-where-near-perfection, this series has been an interesting glimpse into a lesser known clan and world of the Sengoku era.
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