May 14, 2012

Role of a lifetime

NHK's "Big River" (Taiga) historical series and Asadora Showa dramas usually cover most or all of the protagonist's life. This presents an interesting casting challenge.

A typical approach is to cast a child for six Asadora episodes (a week's worth), and just the ninety-minute premier in a Taiga drama. And then quickly introduce the "star" of the series, who plays the character from her teens to her forties or fifties.

The last two Asadora series, Ohisama and Carnation, made a third casting change, bringing in an older actress to play the protagonist in her seventies and eighties. (This transition is often more jarring than going from child to teenager.)

In the Taiga drama Atsuhime, the main character (Tenshôin) and the actress Aoi Miyazaki were within five years of each other for much of the series. Tenshôin died at the age of 47. The last decade of her life was covered in a single episode.

Another approach is to lie a little. The 25-year-old Juri Ueno played the eponymous character in Gô, the wife of the second Tokugawa shogun. I didn't notice anything amiss until the episodes covering the year Gô lived with her stepfather, Shibata Katsuie.

One of the mini-documentaries that accompanies each Taiga series episode featured the famous statue in Fukui City of Shibata (out of frame to the right), his wife (on the left) and stepdaughters. As you can see here and here, Gô (in front) was ten years old at the time.

In the previous scenes with her famous uncle, Oda Nobunaga (below), Gô couldn't have been older than eight. And while Juri Ueno can pass as fifteen, she can't play ten, let alone eight (she's almost as tall as he is, to start with).

Of course, these scenes were less about Gô than about these towering figures of the Warring States period, whose actions would drastically affect the rest of her life. I consider this sort of cinematic fibbing a perfectly acceptable use of dramatic license.

The current Asadora starts with Umeko as a teenager. The 24-year-old Maki Horikita has a slight build that easily allows her to play half a dozen years younger (for that matter, few teenage characters in Hollywood are played by actual teenagers).

I'll be interested to see how long Maki Horikita stays in the role. Many Japanese women between thirty and fifty are blessed with a timeless quality, so it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to stretch it that far.

As Dick Clark said, "If you want to stay young-looking, choose your parents very carefully." Or be on good terms with the casting director.

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