Perhaps one of the most ambitious television projects taken on by any network in the world is NHK’s Taiga Drama. The program consists of 52 weekly 45 minute episodes to air every Saturday night of the year. The stories are re-tellings or embellishments of historical legend or fact, ranging in eras from the prehistoric to the modern. Most are about influential people who helped shape the history of Japan as it has come to be. The production value of these series are extremely high, and the actors and writer often well known. They have become one of the showcases of NHK’s programming.
The problem: in recent years viewership has been way down. The youth of the nation just don’t seem to be interested in history, legend and lore. So a couple runs back, at the risk of alienating some of its older viewers, NHK began to redesign the series, for a younger hipper audience.
The first series in the experiment was the extremely successful Shin Sen Gumi, a story about the last days of the Shogun and a group of Ronin who supported his rule. The lead role was portrayed by Katori Shingo, of the wildly popular musical group SMAP. The series catapulted him to acting stardom, and several other new, young talent also left with their careers in high gear.
The following year saw ratings tank when NHK returned to the older format for “Yoshitsune”, so the following year featured the beautiful Nakama Yukie as a strong wife of a Samurai in Komyo Ga Tsuji. Last year’s Atsu Hime, starring a very young Miyazaki Aoi as the venerable wife of the Shogun Tokugawa Iesada. The story is probably more myth than fact, and based on a very recent novel Tenshou-in Atsuhime (1984). While the premise of a strong intelligent wife of the Shogun calling the shots from behind the castle walls is unlikely, it makes for compelling programming and last years Drama numbers were up once again.
This year we’re just being introduced to Tenchijin, a story of a young Vassal of Uesugi Kagekatsu, Naoe Kanetsugu played by Tsumabuki Satoshi. NHK states that the purpose of this drama is to remind the Japanese people of love of country, a concept that is widely believed to have drifted away from the thoughts of Japan’s younger generations.
The concept of the Taiga Drama has been a staple of NHK’s Saturday programming since 1963 when the first drama, Hana No Shougai aired. Plans for the upcoming year 2010 are to produce Ryoma-Den.