Sundays, 8.00 – 9.00 p.m. from 8 January 2012
In the last days of the Heian period, the Ise Heike signaled their presence to the aristocratic society by eradicating piracy in the Seto Inland Sea. Taira no Kiyomori had been raised to be a samurai by his adoptive father, Taira no Tadamori, and learnt the importance of “human bonds”. He also acquired foresight and judgment from life aboard ships and grew up to be rugged young man through his dealings with foreign merchants and pirates. When Kiyomori goes up to the imperial capital, he meets unique individuals: Minamoto Yoshitomo who would be a rival in the first half of his life; Sato Norikiyo a master in literary and military arts who would later become the monk Saigyou; and Prince Masahito who would transformed from a delicate youth to become Japan’s supreme ruler, the future Emperor Go-Shirakawa. These men see the world with the young Kiyomori and talk about their own dreams. However, it is a war-torn world. The battle for succession within the imperial family begins with the Hogen.Heiji Rebellion. What Kiyomori sees there are scenes from hell as children attack their parents, and older brothers destroy their younger siblings. In the midst of this, Kiyomori is ordered by Emperor Go-Shirakawa to put down Yoshitomo who has become an enemy of the court. However, he saves the life of Yoshitomo’s son, Yoritomo, out of compassion – a decision that would create a huge tragedy. While the Fujiwara regents and advisors as well as the Genji lose power as a result of the fight, Kiyomori becomes the leader of the samurai and influences national politics. His sworn friend, the cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa, runs a government and wields political power. The two men form an alliance, but soon end up in a bitter dispute. To Kiyomori, who has no knowledge of his birth parents, his family is his pillar of support. He obeys the teachings of Tadamori and maintains the clan’s ties. However, when Kiyomori loses his beloved eldest son, Shigemori, to illness, Emperor Go-Shirakawa attempts to oust the Heike. Unable to put up with it any longer, Kiyomori stages a coup which puts an end to the emperor’s cloistered rule. He becomes the supreme ruler, and in that moment, the first samurai in the nation’s history to take power. Moving the capital from Kyoto to Fukuhara (present day Kobe) for the first time in 400 years, he takes the reins of the government and tries to return to his dreams of establishing a huge trading port centred around trade with the Song Dynasty and building a trading nation open to the outside. However, these swift reforms invite criticism from society and Kiyomori is made into a big-time villain. Riding the wave of public opinion, Emperor Go-Shirakawa issues an order to expel the Heike. While the Genji led by Yoritomo rally in a call to arms across the nation, Kiyomori dies of fever … …
Matsuyama Kenichi as Taira no Kiyomori
Raised as the son of Taira no Tadamori, the leader of the Heike, he is actually the illegitimate child of Emperor Shirakawa and has conflicted feelings about his birth. For a mere low-ranking samurai, he becomes the first court noble of the third court rank and climbs his way to the top as grand minister. He has been familiar with the sea since he was a child and because of his deep involvement with pirates and merchants from the Song dynasty, he grows up with an enterprising spirit and an unusual sensitivity. Before long, he shifts the capital to Fukuhara. Dreaming of building a trading nation for trade between Japan and the Song dynasty, he spends his life running about in order to make it a reality. Forced into the life of a vagabond in his boyhood, he soon seeks to reform the aristocracy as he lives up to the way of life of a member of the samurai and builds up the formidable Heike clan. He is bold as well as vulnerably sensitive. Emperor Go-Shirakawa takes advantage of this and a long battle with the imperial family begins.
Nakai Kiichi as Taira no Tadamori
He raised Kiyomori, the illegitimate child of Emperor Shirakawa, as his own and that of the Heike clan. He trains Kiyomori in the martial arts required of a Heike successor, and even though he soon learns the secret of Kiyomori’s birth and starts to put a distance between them, he continues to be a stern father. A man who dramatically raised the fortunes, might and status of the Heike through his activities in suppressing piracy and private trading in the service of the Emperors Shirakawa and Toba. He has reservations about the aristocratic society which discriminates against the samurai, and soon harbours aspirations to climb to the top in politics. But dies of illness without fulfilling his ambition.
Toyohara Kosuke as Taira no Tadamasa
He supports the advancement of his older brother, Tadamori, and does his best for the clan’s progress. On the other hand, he openly opposes raising Kiyomori, who is not Tadamori’s biological son, as the heir, and instead makes the case that Iemori, the son of Tadamori’s legal wife, Muneko, should be the successor. He takes the side of Emperor Sutoku against Kiyomori in the Hogen Rebellion, causing a split within the Heike.
Daito Shunsuke as Taira no Iemori
The son of Taira no Tadamori and his legal wife, Muneko. Following the teachings of his father, he supports his elder brother Kiyomori, even though he is the rightful heir. Like Tadamori, he is chivalrous, dignified and learned. When Kiyomori is punished for being the main culprit in the Gion Brawlling Incident, he is put under the spotlight as Tadamori’s heir but dies in an accident.
Kamikawa Takaya as Taira no Morikuni
Although he was the son of a fisherman, he became an adopted child of the Heike clan through Taira no Tadamori’s good grace after his father died as a result of Emperor Shirakawa’s prohibition against hunting and fishing. He is self-effacing and judges things calmly. He restrains Kiyomori who has a tendency to be reckless and is like an older brother to him. Kiyomori is said to have ended his life in Morikuni’s home.
Tamaki Hiroshi as Minamoto Yoshitomo
Taira no Kiyomori’s good friend and lifelong rival. He grew up under his father, Tameyoshi, a man who never rewarded however hard he worked, and had misgivings about the way of the samurai. Then, he meets Kiyomori and his eyes are opened to the potential of the samurai even though he dislikes walking the same path. He leaves the Genji stronghold of Kanto to build a powerbase. He is famous for being the father of Minamoto Yoritomo and Yoshitsune.
Okada Masaki as Minamoto Yoritomo
“Can I really triumph over that man?” that is what Yoritomo thought as he watched jubilant troops destroy the Heike clan in the battle of Dannoura. His father, Minamoto Yoshitomo, was defeated and yet his own life was saved and he was sent to Izu as Taira no Kiyomori’s prisoner. He dreams of vanquishing the detestable, haughty Kiyomori, and trains continuously. But when that moment comes and he reaches the summit, he comes to appreciate Kiyomori’s might once again.
Fujiki Naohito as Saigyou (Sato Norikiyo)
A samurai who participates actively with Taira no Kiyomori in the ‘Hokumen no Bushi’ (an army in the service of cloistered emperors). He appreciates poetry and martial arts. He has a wife and an easy life, but gets involved with Emperor Toba’s consort, Tamako, by accident. That is the catalyst that leads him to enter priesthood. He abandons a future as a high-ranking samurai and embraces the life of a drifter. He becomes a good friend of Kiyomori during his lifetime.
Matsuda Shohei as Emperor Go-Shirakawa
A self-indulgent fool who had little hope of succeeding the throne, he developed a passion for popular music to cover up his loneliness and areas where he is lacking and led a carefree youth. He ascends the throne at the age of 29 in the midst of a political power game following the sudden demise of Emperor Konoe. Because he dreams of becoming a sovereign who stands above his great-great-grandfather Emperor Shirakawa, he soon gets in Kiyomori’s way.
Mikami Hiroshi as Emperor Toba
The father of the Emperors Sutoku and Go-Shirakawa. After the death of his grandfather, Emperor Shirakawa, he establishes a stable political system and reigns at the top. At times, the Heike clan becomes a big barrier to his rule. The feud between his consorts Tamako and Nariko as well as the bad blood between his two sons trouble him and later become flashpoints. He is the last emperor who built the prosperity of the nation in the final years of the 400-year Heian period.
Abe Sadao as Shinzei (Takashina no Michinori)
Taira no Kiyomori’s mentor in trade with the Song dynasty and the concept of nation-state. He is also proficient in the language of the Song people. He was appointed a councillor of the third rank in the imperial court despite his middle-class aristocratic lineage. However, he steps away from further personal aggrandisement, enters priesthood and takes the name Shinzei. Closely associated with Kiyomori and Bifukumon-in, he strives to fulfill his political ideals, but the rapid reforms antagonise the aristocracy and samurais.
Fukiishi Kazue as Maiko
Called to Emperor Shirakawa as a dancing girl, she was raised as a younger sister under Gion Nyogo, the favoured concubine of Shirakawa. She soon conceives Emperor Shirakawa’s child, but is told by an exorcist that the child in her womb will wreak disaster and finds herself being pursued. That child would become the future Taira no Kiyomori. Touched by Maiko’s fortitude, Taira no Tadamori decides to raise the child as his own.
Fukada Kyoko as Tokiko
Fascinated with court literature with the appearance of Hikaru Genji, the protagonist in the Tales of Genji, she came late to marriage. She weds Taira no Kiyomori, a man who is the exact opposite of the figure imposed upon by the people around her as well as her ideals. However, as she learns about his background and lofty ambitions, she comes to realise that he is the perfect husband. A gutsy woman who works hard for the unity and glory of the clan. After Kiyomori’s death, she decides as the spiritual pillar of the Heike that the clan will have a showdown with the Genji.
Kato Ai as Akiko
Taira no Kiyomori’s first wife. The woman whom Kiyomori first loved. Although theirs was a fateful encounter, there is strong opposition to their marriage from the people around them because she is the daughter of Takashina no Motoaki who is of a lower birth than the Heike. Although demure and submissive, she has fortitude and will not have a change of heart once her mind is made up, and supports Kiyomori’s way of life.
Tanaka Rena as Yura Gozen
The daughter of Atsuta Daiguji. A noble woman who loves the boorish Minamoto Yoshitomo for making his way in the world. While she is jealous of Yoshitomo’s female relationships, she holds dreams of being made the leader of the samurai and provides their son, Yoritomo who is the heir, with special education. After the Hogen Rebellion, she gains great pleasure in having her young son become a keeper of the imperial archives, while the Minamoto clan finds itself in dire straits.
Takei Emi as Tokiwa Gozen
She was chosen from among a thousand beauties for employment as a maid of the Fujiwara family. While born a commoner, she became a concubine of Minamoto Yoshitomo and bore him Ushiwakamaru who would later become Yoshitsune. When Yoshitomo was put to death during the Heiji Rebellion, she became the beloved concubine of Taira no Kiyomori.
Dan Rei as Tamako (Taikenmon-in)
Emperor Toba’s consort. The future Taikenmonin. She has been in Emperor Shirakawa’s favour since she was a child and even after she entered the court of his grandson, Toba, as his wife, she continues to have a relationship with Shirakawa and eventually becomes pregnant with the future Emperor Sutoku. She has Masahito (later Emperor Go-Shirawaka) with Emperor Toba, but he transfers his affections to Nariko and she learns that her children are being discriminated in the imperial family. As a result of that, she becomes aware of something about herself for the first time: her foolishness.
Matsuyuki Yasuko as Nariko (Bifukumon-in)
Born to a middle-class nobleman, she entered the court of Emperor Toba as his wife. She ostensibly has the affections of Emperor Toba, but realises that it is in fact, Tamako, who is in his heart and burns with rivalry. She sees Tamako’s sad death and decides to embark on politics. The political savvy and feminine sentimentality that she has always had serves to make her exercise tremendous power within the court. Upon the emperor’s death, she is entrusted with handling the affairs of the nation and reigns supreme.
Matsuda Seiko as Gion Nyogo
Emperor Shirakawa’s beloved concubine. A former dancing girl. Having been at his side for a long time, she sees the imperial family and aristocracy from this perspective and anticipates a huge change in the workings of the nation in the near future. She has her sights on Taira no Tadamori’s heroism when she pushes him to raise Maiko’s son, Kiyomori, as his own. After that, she leaves the capital, changes her name to Otsumae and leads a quiet life as an accomplished music and dance performer. At the invitation of the new Emperor, Go-Shirakawa, she returns to Kyoto as a teacher of songs in Heian poetry style and also meets Kiyomori again. She becomes a confidant to Kiyomori and Go-Shirakawa when they are in doubt or lonely.
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Thanks so much for the detailed character descriptions, jade! Some very complex relationships there, hopefully that will translate well onto the screen and the taiga will be awesome. Still have my reservations about certain characters and their respective actors/actresses (*coughFukadaMatsuyamacoughcough*), but will see how this goes.
Thanks so much! Been watching the first five English-subbed episodes and I am now hooked! I have subscribed to NHK World Premium on my TV cable just to see ep 35 onwards (big fan of Masaki-kun). Will watch ep 36 this Sunday. Almost can’t wait!