Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – 03
「宗貞と吉子 僧正遍昭」 (Munesada to Yoshiko Houshi Henjou)
“Munesada and Yoshiko – the Monk Henjou”
To be or not to be – that is the question. This was my favorite episode, but I’d be a liar if I said this episode didn’t make me rage… massive tl;dr ahead.
Poems aside, on an emotional level this episode didn’t grip me in the same way as the last two did, and part of it is the pitfall of trying to adapt a full love story into twenty-something minutes. Yoshiko (Endou Aya) and Munesada’s (Uchida Yuuya) tale had all the essential elements – the beginning, middle, and end. I do appreciate it on several different levels, especially the attempt to portray Yoshiko’s avant-garde thinking and her desire to find happiness on her own terms. It’s certainly a bold thing to say for a woman of any long-gone time period, and it’s always been emphasized in ancient cultures that a woman’s place is within the home, tending to her family. While it’s almost an outlandish notion that would incite endless rage in feminists, that way of thinking was the norm during those times, and anything else would have been considered heresy. Well, perhaps that’s quite the harsh word… but the fact of the matter is, it was an uphill struggle for women to be defined by anything other than whose house they were born into and after marriage, who their husbands were. It was simply much easier to get married and have a family. No matter how boring or unfulfilling that would have been, the fact of the matter is that for women of Yoshiko’s status, marriage brought stability.
Now, I really did appreciate the show’s attempt to give Yoshiko a desire to become her own person and how that created an irresolvable conflict with Munesada. Of course the key word here is “attempt”. It’s a rich layer of conflict to explore – the role of women in society, the issue of chasing self-fulfillment as opposed to familial happiness. The olden day version of self-sufficient career woman being pressured to marry and have children, if you will. The only issue with Uta Koi‘s rendition is that Yoshiko simply is not cut out to carry out that conflict. This love story should have made both sides equally sympathetic to the audience, molding their core problems in such a way that when they part, the audience should have had tears in their eyes – a woman who wants to go beyond her time and seek happiness on her own terms, no matter how harsh that road might be, and the man who gave her up so she could chase her dream. That sacrifice should have been gutting, because it’s big.
Munesada knows the palace life in a way Yoshiko does not, and he knows the difficulties she will face. But most of all, he loves her – that’s what enables him to make that sacrifice, to let his own happiness go so she can live the way she wants. Sure, it seems like what any sensible, loving man should have done, but that’s taking Munesada’s actions for granted – it was not out of his place to tell Yoshiko to stay at home and play house. It’s frustrating to hear at first, but his way of thinking is mostly dictated by the societal norms of that time period, and another issue that might have been lost in the shuffle. He makes frequent references to her beauty, and how that will attract the men in the palace. I don’t claim to be an expert in history, but it’s pretty easy to make the inference that there will be some leering and possible sexual harassment involved once a woman enters the palace grounds. This is further compounded by the tidbit Munesada’s grandmother was a servant, not a consort/queen/etc. Once in the palace, Yoshiko would have lost her identity on some level anyway – to Munesada it becomes the question of letting the woman he loves do what she wants but be perceived as an object and leave her to that misery, or giving her what he can by treating her as his wife but keeping her like a bird in a gilded cage. It’s almost easier to sympathize with his plight – whether or not he would have been unfaithful is another question, but if he loved her enough to give her up, it’s no stretch to say he would have given her a very good life.
(Rest under spoiler tags for brevity’s sake)
Now, for the requisite poetry analysis: