Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – 01
OP: 「ラブレター・フロム・何か?」 (Love Letter From Nani ka?) by ecosystem
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「高子と業平 在原業平朝臣／行平と弘子 中納言行平」 (Takaiko to Narihira Arihara no Narihira Choushin/Yukihira to Hiroko Chuunagon Yukihira)
“Takaiko and Narihira – Court Retainer Arihara no Narihira/Yukihira and Hiroko – Middle-Rank Councillor Yukihira”
Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi not only takes the audience back to the days of old, but also takes them back to the days of high-school English class when using SparkNotes and Wikipedia was the solution to everything. It certainly lives up to the claim of being “super liberal”, and while there is no doubt in my mind events have been dramatized, I’d have to say I’m liking Uta Koi‘s foray into the summer season. And also a note: despite what my drivels may imply no knowledge of the poems or literary analysis is required! The poems are not terrifyingly difficult, and the analyses are purely to supplement, and is not necessary to enjoy the show in any shape or form.
The set-up is simple, so there’s no need for drawn-out explanations of setting or premise. With just a short introduction by Fujiwara no Sadaie (Kaji Yuuki), the premiere digs right into the story of the poem made famous by Chihayafuru:
Even when the impassionate gods
Held sway in the ancient days,
The water in Tatsuta River
Has never been dyed
Such an autumn red (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu)
Written by Ariwara no Narihira (Suwabe Junichi) for the imperial consort Fujiwara no Takaiko (Hayami Saori), the first half of the episode is dedicated to uncovering the origins of the poem – a bittersweet affair between the two aristocrats. The courtship certainly turned out to be very different from what I had expected, as Fujiwara no Takaiko turned out to be quite the tsundere (or is it a kuudere?) and Ariwara no Narihira a seemingly cavalier playboy. The two work quite well though, but it’s a love that can never be. Affairs – especially the imperial kind – are always a little bittersweet I find, since the love can never go anywhere. Somewhere along the line the lovers will be forced to part, as the two are here. They could have continued running theoretically, but where would it have led them? Treason is not a light charge, and it’s highly likely they would have both faced death. Their parting as lovers was quite well done, if not a tad understated, and their reunion as imperial consort and vassal was a lot more light-hearted and upbeat than I thought it would be. I do like how it was portrayed though, and the implication it sends – that life is not built around that ‘one great love’, if you will. Both of them will certainly never forget, as the scene suggests, but life does go on and that love should not be so aggrandized that one stops living in the present.
Ariwara no Narihira’s love affair might have ended in a bittersweet manner, but the second poem showcased by his older brother Ariwara no Yukihira (Endou Daichi) tells of a more grounded and heartfelt love story:
Though we are apart,
If on Mount Inaba’s peak
I hear the sound
Of the pine trees growing there,
I shall return to you (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu)
Yukihira’s tale is much less romantic and grand in terms of the scale and dramatic tension of the love itself, but it was a fitting contrast to Narihira’s relationship with Takaiko. It’s also a testament to the difference between the two brothers, as the younger one is more like a whirlwind and the older one a sturdy tree – I appreciate the fact this was shown rather than told, with the love stories acting as a framework for comparison. Narihira’s clandestine affair carries a sense of excitement and is full of passion, as evidenced by the words he uses in his poem. In particular, I find “autumn red” is a vivid imagery that evokes feelings of strong passion, as red has always been a color associated with love. Add the word “autumn” in there, and the viewers are instantly reminded of the beautiful red maple leaves that mark the coming of fall – the sheer vivacity of the colors add fire to the emotion. It’s also noting that the maple motif was constantly used throughout the first half, which reinforces the impassioned feelings for each other. I could go on and on about this, but that would be digressing too much!
On the other hand, Yukihira’s poem to his wife Hiroko (Kobayashi Sanae) is one marked by dedication and unchanging emotion – no matter how far apart they may be, he will return if she should call for him. The use of distance is a pretty great way to illustrate his love for her, and his promise to return is a testament to the magnitude of that love. One thing that might be difficult to understand about this poem is the third and fourth line; the metaphor is a little vague at first, and there are several elements at play. The most obvious device is the personification of the pine trees – they don’t make sounds as they grow. Next, the context of the poem needs to be taken into consideration, which is where the adaptation’s dialogue is such a great help. The poem is the declaration of Yukihira’s love for his wife, an earnest declaim she can call for him if she needs. With that in mind, the “sound of the pine trees growing” starts to make a little more sense, and it can be taken as a stand-in for Hiroko longing for her husband instead. It’s also important to note the sense of time associated with the image – theoretically, a tree will never ever make a sound as it grows, and compounded with the first line, the metaphor can be taken as fantastically flowery way of saying, “No matter where and no matter when, if you need me, I will come to you”. Finally, the third and fourth line imply a deeper connection that can’t be encompassed with a simple verbal call, which is why the poem is all the more sincere and romantic.
The adaptation did a splendid job bringing the relationship to life, and the dialogue between Yukihira and Hiroko was particularly well done and went a long ways in illustrating the deep bond shared by married couples.
Needless to say, I’m impressed by Uta Koi‘s premiere – the art is distinct, but is absolutely gorgeous, and the stories themselves are quite the treat. What impresses me the most, however, is the show’s ability to deliver a proper beginning, middle, and conclusion to each of the two vignettes. With roughly around 10 minutes for each portion, such a feat is not easy to accomplish, but Uta Koi manages to build an engaging world around the two poems, telling two self-contained tales that has all the elements of a well-thought out progression. Not a second is wasted, and each line of dialogue is chock full of purpose and is meant to convey something to the audience – considering all this, it’s amazing how easy to watch the show is. No prior knowledge of the poems or Japanese history is required (always a bonus), and even without paying attention to every single word, it’s very easy to enjoy this adaptation. To add to all the positives, there is absolutely no need to worry about those pesky “what-ifs” or wondering if the couple is going to get together or not! Everything is streamlined, but nothing is left out!
This is a beautiful series (for both the eyes and the mind), and it’s a surprisingly friendly adaptation for those not familiar with the original work and/or history. Heck one doesn’t even have to like poetry to enjoy Uta Koi – the only thing the show really needs from its audience is a cup of nice, hot tea to accompany the lovely stories it has to tell.
Note: I am using, and will continue to use the English translations found on this site, as it seems to be the closest to the original translations by McCauley in his book concerning the 100 Poets.
ED: 「Singin’ My Lu」 by SOUL’d OUT
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