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.
Thank you for this fascinating article! I personally found “Going My Home” absolutely excellent. Very pleasant to watch and full of lovely performances, cinematography and editing. This is now my second favorite Japanese drama of all time (just behind “Kekkon Dekinai Otoko”). It’s really a pity that the viewers didn’t seem to connect with the story and the pacing. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the series could be appreciated by an international audience? The showing at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam sounds exciting. Thank you once again for this insightful piece!
That’s very interesting that it’s being shown internationally already. It would be a deserved bonus to Fuji TV if this series sells well abroad. I’ll keep an eye on the BBC4 schedule!
Great post. I enjoy Koreeda’s films but as you noted his style of story telling is deliberate which is fine if you have the opportunity to understand the characters and the story within two hours. But this may not be the best approach for an 8.5 hour drama aired over ten weeks. While I was ultimately satisfied by the end of the story, I must admit I almost gave up on it in week 5 or 6. Perhaps I too expect (and look forward to) the twists and turns of a “Kaseifu no mita” in the dramas I watch…
Thank you for this article.
I like Going My Home, but can understand the critics by the common audience.
Not everyone is used to the slow pace of the show. Watching this kind of drama with loud and crazy commercials breaks, arhh…
I missed a goal in the plot at the begin. No real climax push the story.
The kuna idea was nice, but distract to much from the other questions. What is dead in global matter. Inside the famliy, the father-son relationship.
It was like renting a canal boat for holidays and shipping through ireland. beautiful ambience for hours, you have to discover details, no distraction, no manual.
But many people like entertainment. A guided bus tour with jokes, explanations and suprises, curious what behind the next corner.
Many viewer had expected a twist in the story and got disapointed.
I know Yamaguchi for more comic and action drama. It was little vexing to see her in such a grounded role.
The character and acting of the daughter Moe, the interactions between Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) with sister (YOU) and mother made this drama watchable. This is one of the dama, where you have to focus apart the main characters (Abe, Yamaguchi, Miyazaki)
i don’t understand this article who intend to minimize the quality of japanese dramas. Japanese dramas have a lot more subtitility, emotional power, great performance acting, poetry and beautiful images and scenes than a lot of movies of all countries. Dramas like tayou no uta, long vacation, ichi ritoru no namida, byakuyakou, kou kou kioushi 93 is a great exemple of cinematography power. Even drama with exageration like naodame cantabile offer great moment of cinema and music. I don’t know a lot of movie in the world who use well the classical music like nodame cantabile. i admit than japanese dramas loose in quality this recent years. But a lots of masterpiece since the 90’s should’nt be forgotten.
In the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2013 I recently saw all episodes with only one half hour intermission between episode 5 and 6. And I loved every minute!