It is not often that a filmmaker of Koreeda Hirokazu’s fame writes and directs a drama series. Or a list of high profile actors and actresses like Abe Hiroshi, Miyazaki Aoi, Nishida Toshiyuki, YOU, Arai Hirofumi and Natsuyagi Isao that one would normally find in movies be put together for the cast. (Perhaps it was the very fact that Koreeda’s name was attached to the drama that these artistes signed on to act.) Add the return of one-time “ratings queen” Yamaguchi Tomoko to acting after a 16-year hiatus and it would be easy to understand why Going My Home started out the fall 2012 season as the most anticipated TV drama.
Going My Home premiered to a respectable viewership rating of 13.0%. But dipped into single digit territory in episode 2 and fell lower each subsequent week until it reached a low of 4.5% by the time episode 9 was aired.
The Japanese media were quick to pounce on its apparent unpopularity and assign blame to Yamaguchi with reasons (bordering on ridiculous and missing the whole point) like “The audience couldn’t accept Yamaguchi Tomoko.” “The image of trendy drama actress Yamaguchi Tomoko is out of place in a home drama.” “There isn’t the Kaseifu no Mita element of surprise where Matsushima Nanako made her comeback. Young females who are the regular drama audience belong to the generation that doesn’t know the golden age of Yamaguchi Tomoko.” “Yamaguchi’s “commonness” is suited for trendy dramas but doesn’t seem to quite fit this drama.”
It was rumoured that the real leading role in Going My Home was Yamaguchi’s. After Yamaguchi saw the great success of Kaseifu no Mita which Matsushima starred in, she had proposed to NTV that she be the next one to appear. However, an old producer acquaintance from her trendy drama days become Fuji TV’s executive director following a big personnel reshuffle because of the poor summer drama ratings. Hoping to turn things around, he decided to take a gamble on Yamaguchi and contacted her while she approached NTV.
Noting that there has not been a drama in recent times that polarised opinions like Going My Home had, Japanese web magazine Cyzo offered explanations from a TV network staff who presumably had inside knowledge of the production. “In fact, the possibility (of unexpected ratings) was pointed out before it aired. Koreeda Hirokazu-san has exceptional recognition and credentials in the film industry but this is his first drama series. When Koreeda was appointed, the network’s top management left everything to him, telling him to do whatever he wants. In other words, they couldn’t do anything like call high profile guests and fix the script because the ratings are bad. Because it was filmed in the way a movie is shot, the audience probably felt uncomfortable when watching it.”
“Because Fuji TV itself didn’t think the ratings would fall this much, it could only grind its teeth. With the appointment of the big name producer, the network’s leadership couldn’t pull out cards to shore (the drama) up or terminate it. They could only look on as the ratings went down and do nothing. Both the network and the production had faith in the quality of the drama but because of that they ended stuck,” said a TV magazine reporter.
The drama which delves into Koreeda’s favourite themes of family, death and memory, is beautifully filmed, subtle in its humour and in the performances delivered by the cast unlike the dramatic, exaggerated style characteristic of TV dramas. Viewers slowly discover the characters as they go through and repeat their daily routines and interactions. Koreeda intersperses this with references to environmentalism, depopulation and big-money projects in rural areas.
At turns charming, enchanting, heartwarming, placid and dispassionate, I find Going My Home much like comfort food. The slow pace does require some adjustment to for Koreeda has a penchant for digressions, many of them food related, that sometimes make it seem like nothing is quite happening although these entertaining forays help to establish relationship dynamics and family rituals. It is also hard to banish that niggling feeling that had Koreeda shown some restraint and not yielded to self-indulgence, the drama might have been more satisfying.
Even though the viewership ratings were dismal, viewers who continued watching Going My Home found that it was not a bad drama. And regardless of what the local audience thought of Going My Home, the drama will have the rare privilege of being screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam later this month.