With romance powerhouse Kenichi Kasai (Nodame Catabile, Honey and Clover) directing Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi, does this series sing a pretty love song?
Fujiwara no Sadaie, our narrator for the evening, greets us with a coy smile. Throughout this series he will share his favorite types of poems with us: love poems. Who better to be our host for these 24 minutes?
First a little lesson so you can’t say I didn’t teach you anything. Historically Fujiwara no Sadaie is responsible for compiling the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, the anthology which this series is based on. While Ogura is considered the most famous of the Hyakunin Isshu it isn’t the only one. The word literally translates into “one hundred people, one poem each”.
Typically each poem follows the tanka poetic form. Each line has a fixed syllabic count that goes as follows: 5-7-5-7-7. The first three lines are the kami-no-ku, or the upper verse, which became the basis for the haiku form. At first tanka poetry was written to express personal concerns regarding the poets private life, but during Fujiwara no Sadaie’s time the use of the tanka had become much more widespread and was used more frequently to capture the imagery of nature.
Er… Come back soon! I still have to do my first impression of the series.
It’s hard to ignore the beautiful artwork that is reminiscent of Japanese block printing. There is exquisite detail in the setting with a particular attention to foliage in the background. Textures in the foreground consist of bright colors on simple patterns that stand out against the watercolor environments.
After the opening sequences I really thought I was in for a treat. I had seen some of art from the manga and was pleasantly surprised at how they were translated to the small screen. Sadly, all I really saw were missed opportunities.
After Sadaie’s very seductive introduction we are given a very uninspiring story. It’s not that the writing was terrible or that the pacing was choppy. Saori Hayami (Takaiko) and Junichi Sawabe (Narihira) just give very wooden performances that don’t sell their illicit aristocratic love affair. I couldn’t feel the chemistry between Narihira and Takaiko and that diminished the impact of their ultimate fate. They were torn apart.
The entire episode felt like half a story. Now I know all the bases were covered in regards to what a story entails: a beginning, a middle and an end. Now I’m not a staunch conservative when it comes to structuring a plot, hell in media res is one of my favorite literary devices to use. There is always time to get to the backstory later! The problem is when going with a serialized format you always want the viewer to feel fulfilled at the end of each episode. Uta Koi’s first episode lacks an emotional or moral bite that would give it the punctuation that it needs.
Yukihira, Narihira’s older brother, is brought in as a foil for his sibling. Where the younger one is a playboy and a slacker, he’s a devoutly loyal husband and a hard worker. It isn’t an effective use of the device because each of these characters are given context through their relationships with their respective partners. Both of which display what we are expected to believe is true love. The differences in the outcomes of these two relationships is not related to the brothers’ personalities but the circumstances in which the romance occurred. With such a focus on the insignificant differences between the characters it’s hard to glean what the story was trying to tell us from a moral or emotional perspective.
You can say I’m being dense for not getting at the deeper poetic meaning, but the elements of intense love that are highlighted by episode don’t leave an impression because of the nonchalant storytelling.
I’ll be sticking with this series regardless of my complaints because the writing isn’t terrible and the artwork is simply phenomenal. Maybe the next episode can deliver something both intellectual and visceral.