The series faces the same challenges that all biographic asadoras do: most individual lives are not consistently dramatic and the entire life-span of someone who lived for 92 years is difficult to be portrayed by an individual actor. This particular drama works pretty steadily through the war years, but then starts to rely on pretty substantial time-jumps to find periods of interest in Koshino's life. She is portrayed by three actors: Ninomiya Akari for a week's worth of Koshino's life as a child, Ono Michiko who won a best actress award for this role for ages 16 to 60 and the vast majority of episodes and Natsuki Mari for ages 72 on and the last 4 weeks of episodes.
Ono Michiko's performance is well deserving of the accolades she received for it. Itoko was the oldest of three sisters and the daughter of a dry-goods merchant who sold kimono fabric who was physically and emotionally abusive and opposed to the trend towards western fashion which had been building long before the war. And so he sets Itoko the herculean tasks of making three other stores prosperous before relinquishing his own store to Itoko to make western clothing. In the course, of the war Itoko loses her father, her husband and two childhood friends and is left to raise her three daughters. Ono portrays her as obstinate but mercurial and, inevitably, hard-working. We get to see her in the depths of grief and despair in the war years, but also delightfully revitalized in a brief love affair with a married employee.
The story does cover why and how all three of her daughters became successful designers. Like her father, Itoko places challenges in front of her daughters before she accepts that design is truly their path. Ultimately, she treats her daughters as business rivals in the fashion industry, but it's a friendly rivalry. Poor Satoko is not treated well by the teleplay and is characterized as the stupid one of the three, but the real-life Koshino Machiko seems to have a good sense of humor about that characterization (“I thought they did a great and really accurate job. I loved the beginning, learning about my mother’s childhood and my grandmother. I hadn’t heard those stories before. I must also say, Misako Yasuda (who played the character based on Michiko) was amazing. She had really similar mannerisms to me. I had to apologize when I met her though, for her having had to play such a stupid lady!” - https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2013/01/michiko-goes-it-alone/)
The transition to Natsuki's portrayal of Itoko is a bit awkward. Ono can play 60 but not 72? I'm betting she would have even handled 92 with no real issue. Which is not to say Natsuki's performance is wanting in any sense at all - she matches many of the mannerisms of Ono's version of the character in a deft and professional way. It's just we go so far with Ono's Itoko that it's hard to understand why the entire span was not left to her superb acting ability.
It's an NHK asdora, and so the production values are excellent as usual aided by the fact that Koshino was born, lived her entire life and, essentially, died in the same two-story shop. Thus, most of the nearly 90-year span of the story can be conveyed through the costuming and relatively minor changes to the fittings and fixtures on the set.
If you are interested in the fashion of the three daughters, sadly, you will not get to see much of it. The show does visit one of Junko/Naoko's shows, but other than that we only get to see their work on the sisters themselves and tangentially in moments at their businesses.
In the end, the show is a bit uneven. Itoko/Ayako lived a life in which she consistently set herself challenges and then ... met them, and while that fact is wholly admirable, it does make it difficult to build a consistently compelling 151 episode drama around that life. The show is, nevertheless, worth watching for Ono's solid performance through the majority of the series.
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