The Lady Shogun and Her Men 大奥
Costume fantasy drama
2010, colour, 1.85:1, 115 mins
Directed by Kaneko Fuminori (金子文紀)
By Derek Elley
Thu, 09 December 2010, 10:29 AM (HKT)
Problematical adaptation of a role-reversal manga is sustained by good performances. Festivals.
Edo, Japan, summer 1715. Due to a plague of red pox that affects only men, the country's male population has been reduced to 25% that of women, who have taken over most of the traditional masculine roles, including government. War is now a thing of the past, and being a samurai is just a hobby, with many families of that class hiring out their menfolk for breeding purposes. The head of the Tokugawa shogunate is a seven-year-old girl, and the secret Inner Chambers (O-oku) of the court in Edo Castle, once staffed by women, are now staffed by men. Mizuno Yunoshin (Ninomiya Kazunari), 19-year-old son of an impoverished samurai family in Edo, still harbours the traditional samurai values and is resisting his mother's attempts to marry him off to a rich girl, preferring to spend time with Onobu (Horikita Maki), a merchant's daughter, in between sleeping with women of his choice. However, to repay his family's support for his "samurai pride", Mizuno decides to apply for the paid job of an apprentice in the court's Inner Chambers, despite the fact that, after entering that secretive world, he will never be able to leave. Mizuno is inducted by Chamber Groom Matsushima (Tamaki Hiroshi) and joins as a Page, fighting off sexual advances from his effete colleagues and, thanks to support from influential Senior Chamberlain Fujinami (Sasaki Kuranosuke), proving his swordfighting skills in a match against Tsuruoka (Okura Tadayoshi), Matsushima's lover. When the young shogun dies that winter, the adult Yoshimune Onobu (Shibasaki Ko) takes over, dedicated to restoring the shogunate's finances and cutting back on the court's profligacy. Mizuno, now promoted to the rank of Chamber Groom, catches her eye and he's chosen to be her first bed mate - an honour that's not all it seems.
Based on a section of YOSHINAGA Fumi よしながふみ's popular manga series Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, The Lady Shogun and Her Men 大奥 (2010) emerges as a low-key role-reversal comedy that's been shorn of much of its gender politics but is kept afloat by some likable performances and smooth, well-appointed direction by TV veteran KANEKO Fuminori 金子文紀. Instead of grandstanding the manga's fantasy element — which presents an 18th-century Japan ruled by women after a plague of red boils has decimated the male population — the adaptation plays it for real. The bickering world of the now-male Inner Chambers is toned down, as well as as its homosexual side, and the film has none of the overt, candy-coloured gayness of another Yoshinaga adaptation — South Korean director MIN Kyu-dong 민규동 | 閔奎東's Antique 서양골동양과자점 앤티크 (2008), from her 1999-2002 manga series Antique Bakery.
Instead, the film's incidental humour, which is more smiley than laugh-out-loud, comes from the two unconventional lead characters: a teenage wannabe samurai, engagingly played by Arashi boy band member NINOMIYA Kazunari 二宮和也 (Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)), who's still trying to be macho and heroic in a neutered world, and a female shogun, commandingly played by singer-actress SHIBASAKI Ko 柴咲コウ (Battle Royale バトル・ロワイアル (2000), Shaolin Girl 少林少女 (2008)) — now of an age to take on such a role — who takes on the court establishment with her own austerity programme. The problem with the movie is its structure. After considerable time backgrounding Ninomiya's character, Shibasaki's shogun doesn't enter until the halfway point, and has few chances to make a strong enough mark against the already established characters and, more importantly, with Ninomiya's cheeky teenager. With its peremptory ending, the film ends up feeling lopsided, as if a further half-an-hour has been chopped off.
Despite the under-use of Shibasaki, the film is rich in supporting roles. HORIKITA Maki 堀北真希 (Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac 誰かが私にキスをした (2009)) isn't allowed to be much more than sulky as Mizuno's girlfriend Onobu, but both actor-singer TAMAKI Hiroshi 玉木宏 and SASAKI Kuranosuke 佐々木蔵之介 (The Mamiya Brothers 間宮兄弟 (2006)) are excellent as powerful court schemers. Production and costume design are both spotlessly rich, though Edo itself looks a tad underpopulated apart from one street set.
ContactSales: Shochiku, Tokyo (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: Japan, 1 Oct 2010.
Presented by The Lady Shogun and Her Men Film Partners (Asmik Ace Entertainment, TBS Pictures, Mainichi Broadcasting System, Shochiku, J Storm, Dentsu, Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting, RKB, Yahoo! Japan) (JP). Produced by Asmik Ace Entertainment (JP), TBS Pictures (JP). Executive producers: Teshima Masao, Hamana Kazuya. Producers: Araki Miyako, Isoyama Aki.
Script: Takahashi Natsuko. Manga: Yoshinaga Fumi (Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, 2005-present). Photography: Kikumura Tokusho. Editing: Matsuo Shigeki. Music: Muramatsu Takatsugu. Song: Oshima Kosuke. Production design: Hanatani Hidefumi. Costume design: Ogawa Kumiko. Sound: Yamagata Hiroshi.
Cast: Ninomiya Kazunari (Mizuno Yunoshin), Shibasaki Ko (Yoshimune Onobu, the lady Tokugawa shogun), Horikita Maki (Onobu), Okura Tadayoshi (Tsuruoka), Nakamura Aoi (Kakiten), Tamaki Hiroshi (Matsushima, a Chamber Groom), Baisho Mitsuko (Mizuno Yorinobu, Mizuno's mother), Takewaki Muga (Mizuno's father), Wakui Emi (Kano Hisamichi, Yoshimune's attendant), Abe Sadao (Sugishita), Sasaki Kuranosuke (Fujinami, the Senior Chamberlain), Hosoda Yoshihiko (Sekawa), Takezai Terunosuke (Shirakawa), Matsushima Shota (Kashiwagi), Muro Tsuyoshi (Soezima), Sakimoto Hiromi (Yamamoto), Mikami Masashi (Ishikuza), Kaneko Nobuaki (Kiburo Hidari), Shirahane Yuri (Mizuno Shino, Mizuno's sister), Tanoe Kokichi (Mita Mura), Shishido Miwako (Hachi Zhu), Asano Kazuyuki (Otogi Bozhu), Itaya Yuka (Okawa Tadashuke), Kikukawa Rei (Mabe Akihusa).