Taira no Kiyomori
It's an NHK Taiga drama set in the Heian period.
(with photo of the cast)
If you’re interested in Japanese history pre-Tokugawa shogunate, I highly recommend this drama. Although there are several dramatisation but compare to TV series like The Tudors, Victoria, or The Crown, IMO this drama is almost a documentary. Another plus is at the end of each episode, there’s a short travelogue about place related to the event in that particular episode.
When I Google “watch Taira no Kiyomori English subtitle”, it leads me to several streaming site that have the complete episodes (with English subtitle) of the series, but I suspect some of it can’t be accessed in several countries so if you’re interested to watch I suggest trying it one by one.
Since this drama covers Kiyomori’s life, all of the emperors during his lifetime are featured, from Shirakawa-tennō to Antoku-tennō (8 emperors in total) including their consorts, but the ones who have significant appearance throughout the series are Toba-tennō and his two consorts, Fujiwara no Tamako and Fujiwara no Nariko; Sutoku-tennō; Go-Shirakawa-tennō and his consort, Taira no Shigeko.
Personally I like this drama better than the Genji movie I’ve posted previously. For one, it’s more historically accurate. Notwithstanding that Genji Monogatari is fiction while Kiyomori was real historical figure, but in the production side the latter is also more accurate (for a supposed period movie, Genji Monogatari is “too modern” for my taste).
As you can see in the clip below, some of the men have blackened teeth and shaved/drawn eyebrows. Historically, during that period it’s considered as “fashionable” amongst the nobility. And since there’s a lot of palace scenes, you can also see the variety of traditional Japanese clothing. Other than the usual kimono/hakama/yukata/montsuki/haori, when it’s in the palace the characters wear sokutai/jūnihitoe. And if you’re used to watch period films/drama, particularly sengoku one, you may notice that their battle gear is also different.
(men palace court attire)
(women formal court dress)
Summary of the clip above:
>>>The scene is set in the Fujiwara no Ienari’s villa where he holds a poetry reading party to celebrate Kiyomori’s appointment as the Lord of Aki. Amongst the guest of honours are (the cloistered emperor) Toba and his consort, Nariko, (the retired emperor) Sutoku, and prince Masahito (future emperor Go-Shirakawa)<<<
Sutoku gives his composed poem which then being passed to Fujiwara no Narichika. The narrator explained that the Genji clan is not invited due their lack of political standing.
Narichika reads the poem: “Dawn and dusk, while I wait(? I assume it means ‘watch’) the flower I fall asleep, and in my dream they bloom” (I’m no wordsmith so forgive my translation, but it sounds poetic in Japanese)
The guest praises his poem, saying it’s beautifully composed
Nariko gives her interpretation of the poem, that he must be dreaming of ruling the country every night (referring to insei-rule). Masahito chuckles hearing it while Toba chides her.
The camera moves to Kiyomori while it’s announced that the next poem is by Fujiwara no Kuninaga.
The scene shifts to Kiyomori’s resident, showing Taira no Tokiko (Kiyomori’s wife) tucking their baby son when their older three sons coming to ask her to play biwa for them.
Back to the villa, Ienari announces the next poem is Kiyomori’s. However, upon reading the paper Narichika apologises and when being asked why he says he can’t read such a poem.
Kiyomori cut in, loudly reciting his poem which turns out to be the name of his sons.
Fujiwara no Yorinaga comments that the theme of the party is spring and there’s nothing about spring in the poem.
Sutoku adds that it’s not even a poem. Toba then asks Kiyomori what he meant by that poem.
Kiyomori explains that when he’s caught up in what poem to present, he said something hurtful to his wife. He regretted it and could no longer focus on composing the poem and came to realisation that his wife is like a sunny spring day. The poem means that he cherishes his sons, wife, and his clan. Then Kiyomori thanks Ienari for the party and requests him to end it before excusing himself.
As they leave, Nariko muses that Kiyomori is such a double-edge sword. Toba supplies he (Kiyomori) can be, but he has something that they lack of (referring to familial love or closeness).
Sutoko is in contemplation.
Masahito reads the poem. Shinzei comes and comments that Kiyomori is something and asks Masahito what he thinks whether Kiyomori will be good or bad (whether he can be useful or be a threat). Masahito says it doesn’t concern him and leaves. Watching him leave, Shinzei muses that he’s wrong.
Poetry reading party (Utakai) is an old practice that was already in usage during the Nara period (710-794) and became known through the famous volume of Japanese poetry, the Manyoshu. It is a gathering of people who get together to read a collection of waka poems on a common theme to a wider audience. The poems read at the ceremony belong to the tanka genre (I don’t really know much about waka, but since the poem in above clip follow the structure of 5-7-5-7-7, I think it’s also tanka).
Until now the Imperial Palace still practice this tradition in an event known as “Utakai Hajime” (Imperial New Year’s Poetry Reading), an annual court event held in Seiden-Matsu-no-Ma (State Room) of the Imperial Palace in January (due to Covid-19, this year it was held on 21th March 2021).