July 1590, Odawara. Toyotomi Hideyoshi's army had surrounded the Odawara Castle for over 3 months, hoping to conquer this last obstacle to his dream of the country's unification. Standing at the gate of the castle, a lone man facing the menacing guards shouted out: "Do not throw your lives away. Treasure living!". Not long after, the castle gates opened and the reigning lord surrendered. The name of that man is Kuroda Kanbee. An excellent military strategist, he worked hand-in-hand with Hideyoshi to unify the country.
Kanbei's family had fled to Harima, and were relatively poor. As the protege of Kodera Masamoto, Kanbei was very much trusted and relied upon by his lord liege. Kanbei became the head of the Kuroda clan at 22 years of age. Masamoto was aging and he very much wanted someone to take over his responsibilities, and thus he decided to marry off his much-loved daughter, Teru, to Kanbei. They were blessed with a son, but since many years had passed and yet Teru couldn't seem to conceive a second child, Kanbei decided to adopt the young children of his vassals as his proteges who were known as "Kuroda's warriors".
When Kanbei turned 30, a revolutionary young lord was slowly laying siege to all the various shogunates, aiming for a unified Japan. Harima became the place where the clash between Oda and Mori Terumoto was set. Kanbei was very attracted to Oda's unification plans, and had gone to Gifu Castle to meet up with him. There, he became acquainted with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and soon became Hideyoshi's right-hand man, marking the birth of Gunshi Kanbei.
Cast & Credits
Kurode Kanbe is an acknowledged figure of the Sengoku period –the most chaotic era of Japanese history. He came from a humble clan in Himeji Castle but he distinguished himself through his impressing battle tactics. I will stop here to not spoil those who are unfamiliar with the history of the main character.
This taiga drama illustrated the life of the historically-famous strategist. It wasn’t only a numeric retell of his life story. On the contrary, Gunshi Kanbei was more focused on the emotional side more than anything. Which implores that you will get to know the story without the clinical heavy/slow pacing.
Sengoku Jidai is known for its numerous battles, renowned generals, political clashes, lots of betrayals and utter turmoil. This drama didn’t only illustrate Kanbe’s personal battles but it also included all of the major events that occurred during his lifetime. And since he was close to several main figures of the era, Kuroda Kanbei found himself entangled in all of those continued wars. He was forced to make critical decisions and became a key character in the unification of Japan.
That aside, Kanbe’s familial life was also put in the spotlight. His relationship with his vassals, his wife and his offspring was vastly explored and beautifully dramatized. But the over-idolizing was probably a bummer. Kuroda Kanbei wasn’t exactly a selfless man like the screenwriting pictured him to be. He was known to be quite ambitious. They didn’t focus much on that side except near the end. But again this isn’t a documentary and the main historical points were left untouched.
As usual in Taiga dramas, the cast was relatively loaded. Okada Juichi was marvelous as Kanbe. He’s definitely a rare Johnny’s –an idol of high caliber. I am so glad I got to first meet him through this. Other cast members were pretty fitting. But the ones who stood out the most were Egushi Yosuke’s Oda Nobunaga (one of the best portrayals of the legendary character), the penetrating performance of Takenaka Naoto as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Nakatani as Kanbe’s wife, Tanihara Shosuke short yet amazing portrayal of Takenaka Hanbe and other remarkable talents like Tanaka, Kuroki, Uchida, Ikuta, Matsuzaka, Hamada, Tsurumi and Takahashi.
The directing was noticeably improved from previous taigas but it’s nowhere near perfect. The cinematography was catching. The sceneries and outfits were as usual historically accurate despite some insignificant flaws.
The smooth flowing of events in Gunshi Kanbei proves that this is an impeccable example of how taiga dramas are supposed to be.
This drama is the dramatization of the life of Kuroda Kanbei (Okada Junichi), a daimyo during the Sengoku period, known to be the chief strategist and an adviser to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. As a history drama, many of the events were described accurately and at the right timeline. As for the characterization of those historical personalities, it most definitely is bias. Except for the last 3 episodes, Kanbei was always shows as this angel with saint-like qualities. The same can be said about some personalities who were know to be on his side. You can conclude that the drama was made based on Kanbei's point of you on those people. However this doesn't come in the way of learning about history and appreciating those personalities.
As I said, don't let the number of episodes scare you. The episodes are short enough and the events that are being covered can cover four times this amount of time. I found the drama well paced, and keeps you hooked throughout the whole time of his running. Every couple of intense episodes, we get a breather that is both relaxing to watch, and fun to experience the way of life of that era. The graphics and effects were alright, the drama overall is nothing fancy, but good enough to convince you of it's timing and era. Some places I loved most are the tea places. If I were to compare it to another taiga I started recently, Tenchijin, I'd say this one looks much better, but that is only because Tenchijin looks 10 years older than it really is (but once I gave it a chance I still fell in love with it XP). As for the music, that is one soundtrack I really enjoy. It has a very calming side to it that is used during the travelogue.
Despite being a political drama, what makes this drama shine most is the human relationship seen here, mainly between lord and retainer, but also between husband and wife, parent and child, and those are what bring out the emotions out of you. The performances that emphasize on those relationship is what makes me want to keep watcing. Starting with Okada Junichi, don't let his background as a JE idol fool you, he did an excellent job portraying Kanbei throughout his life, from 16 years or to the end of his life. Then there's the lovely Nakatani Miki playing his wife Teru. I just love seeing those two together, even when they got to old age. They definitely had the chemistry, and the looks they give to each other makes it feel like they're looking into each other's souls not selves. Matsuzaka Tori playing his son Nagamasa also did a great job. I did feel he needed a little time to get used to his character, but that may be because he was playing a young inexperience teenager. We later see his growth and the different phases of his relationship with his father.
Then there is the retainers. This drama has succeeded in finally making me understand the relationship between the lord and his retainers. It definitely is not an equal relationship, but it is more of an equivalent exchange, and the basis of that exchange is loyalty, and that goes both ways. Seeing Kanbei's retainer's growth was one of the highlights of this drama. Takahashi Issei, playing Inoue Kuroemon, was by far my favourite. He was a natural. Seeing his reaction always told me if I need to worry about what is going on. Hamada Gaku and Hayami Mokomichi playing Zensuke and Tahe, took a little while to get into character, but when they finally did, they became perfect for their roles.
Other than the Kuroda household, there were many great personalities of the era in this drama. Oda Nobunaga ovliously tops the list, where Eguchi Yosuke's performance was unbeatable. Period. I had a hard time digesting Takenaka Naoto but later I grew fond of it. The character is pretty unconventional which is weird considering the era and people, however it seemed true to his character, and his background as a farmer. The taiga was as much about kanbei as it was Tomoyomi's rise to power. Anothers really interesting personality is Tanaka Tetsushi as Araki Murashige. His character went through the most phases, and at each phase, he shows a different face. Seeing him going from a man with ambitions to a person who has lost his mind. There are many others, many interesting women of the era, but this taiga concentrate mostly what these men go through with each battle they fight and what motivates them to go to war.
To conclude, it is a very well paced drama, with many interesting events, during a very interesting time in Japan's history, that honours many historical figures with excellent performances, and heartwarming interaction. I think it is a drama that can be appreciated by anyone if given the chance. Once you're done with it, I'm pretty sure it'll wake up the history lover in you.