「娑婆の栄華は夢のゆめ」 (Shaba no Eiga wa Yume no Yume)
“The Glory of the Corrupt World is a Dream in a Dream”
The approach to Heike Monogatari is akin to fruit cake-mincing up different pieces, throwing it in, and using the cake batter to stick it all together. In Heike Monogatari, Biwa sticks the mish mash together. Biwa-not the historical events-is the driver behind what events are introduced when. Gio’s story was out of order with the book where it was one of the first events and the anime’s retelling through conversations with Biwa left out the depth of Gio’s tragedy.
As much of a hackneyed job that they did on Gio, I am relieved they at least included her, because I find the historical element of the Shirabyoshi fascinating. If you thought Gio’s clothing resembled that of a shrine maiden-you would be correct. The Shirabyoshi were originally shrine maidens who danced for gods while wearing men’s clothing because they believed they could be possessed by a god of the opposite gender. In the Heian era, these dances became secular and Gio would have been a prostitute. That may explain why Biwa did not know her mother, who was also a Shirabyoshi.
Gio’s dance into despair introduces the mournful refrain that women (or anyone less powerful) are the play pieces of powerful men, subject to being traded or simply discarded. Shigemori’s sister, Tokuko lives with this sentence hanging over her head, preparing for marriage to the much younger (i.e. 10 year-old) sovereign, Norihito. Biwa’s grim foresight aside, I don’t think Tokuko’s marriage will be happy if the in-laws are scheming to use her in the power play between the Fujiwara and Taira/Heike families. The only release for her would be death or becoming a nun.
Gio’s fate as a nun follows a standard in classical literature where the heroine resorts to becoming a nun after a tragedy (this is seen even in Western literature, with Queen Guinevere, for example). To me, being so heartbroken that a character forsakes the world to become a nun seems grim. For Gio, this is not so-forsaking the world frees her. As a nun, she no longer has to dance to the tune of the powerful. Gio’s true happiness and peace found as a nun makes a lot of sense, given that this was a tale written by monks who viewed following Buddha’s wisdom as the path to life.
Characters under religious orders who are the powerful are the Enryakuji monks. I disliked how this adaptation took the name but left out the story. I was looking forward to seeing them adapt some of the monk drama (I find the idea of warrior monks fascinating), but maybe they’ll throw it in somewhere else.
Another character they threw in haphazardly was someone on the Enryakuji public enemy list-Narichika, a Fujiwara. The anime didn’t emphasize why it was so controversial that Shigemori went to bat for Narichika in advocating for exile over death (or maybe it did, but I just missed it), which it should have done. Leaving out the context made it feel like I was just being machinegunned with names and events.
In summary, the Fujiwara and Heike/Taira are old enemies, vying for power in the court. The Heiji Rebellion that was name dropped was when the Fujiwara rebelled against the Taira, with the end result that the Taira won. That historical bad blood makes it impressive that Shigemori would become friends with Narichika and go so far as to ensure Narichika’s physical safety, foregoing family loyalty that would dictate leaving Narichika to the dogs.
Shigemori himself is an interesting character, in that unlike his father, he sees things for what they are rather than what he wants them to be. A case in point would be Shigemori’s son, Sukemori. Shigemori is the only Taira who takes Sukemori’s disrespect seriously-so seriously he exiles him and then resigns his own position. In contrast, Kiyomori defends his grandson’s arrogant behavior. Since the anime had to add in the whole bit with having “the sight”, Shigemori was at least, an appropriate choice for it. His future-vision is symbolic of how he thinks in terms of the long-run in trying to maintain decent relationships with the Fujiwara and presenting a good public face, rather than burning bridges with selfish behavior and marrying off a daughter or two as a temporary band-aid.
As much as I critique the anime, one thing they do quite well is the strikingly beautiful animation. I love how it almost has the quality of a ukiyo-e woodblock painting-a true delight for the eyes. Whether it will be a delight for the heart or mind remains to be seen, but I am looking forward to diving further into the history, with all of its tragedies and morals.