Sundays, 8.00 – 8.45 p.m. from 5 January 2014
In Odawara in July 1590 (Tensho 18), Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s large army of 220,000 troops have laid siege to its last enemy, Odawara Castle, for three months. If this castle falls, Hideyoshi’s dominion of the whole country will be complete, but there is a stalemate on the battlefront because the enemy is prepared to die and has put up resistance. In the midst of this, a lone military commander stands in front of the castle door that has been sealed tight. The garrison intimidates but the man does not falter despite the arrows fired. He removes his arms there and asks for a meeting with the lord of the castle. “We value lives. You’ll be able to live!” The door slowly opens, and the castle surrenders … … The man who persuaded the enemy to capitulate at the risk of his own life is Kuroda Kanbei (Kuroda Yoshitaka). He is a rare strategist who has joined with Hideyoshi in support of his rule over the whole country. In 1558 (Eiroku 1), Mankichi (later called Kanbei), the eldest son of the commander of Himeji Castle of Harima Province, was a lad who was curious about everything. Kanbei’s father Mototaka was a chief retainer in the service of one of the most prominent and powerful clans, the Koderas of Harima. However, that position was by no means secure. The Kurodas had once been wandering samurai and made its fortune by selling the family’s traditional eyewash. They are always treated as outsiders by the long-serving senior retainers and while they are relied on by their lord Kodera Masamoto, they are also wary. The Akamatsus, a longstanding foe, invade time and again. Mototaka would be in the vanguard each time to defend the Koderas territory. He had to demonstrate his loyalty even when the Akamatsus started to reach out to entice him to betray Masamoto. This was all for the sake of survival. The Kurodas would constantly be forced to make decisions that cut close to the bone. When Kanbei was 22, he became head of the family and was given the position of chief retainer to the Koderas. Masamoto had strong faith in his protege and married off his adopted daughter Teru. An heir Shoujumaru (later called Nagamasa) was born to the happy couple. However, Kanbei lost many people in the never-ending battles and his thoughts turned to what to do with his life; being an asset was making the most of life. He also had difficulty having a second child. In the summer of 1575 (Tensho 3), when Kanbei was 30, a big turning point came. Oda Nobunaga, the revolutionary of the east who had set his sights on unifying the whole country, and Mori Terumoto, the hero of the west, came close to a clash, and Harima Province was seen as the likely stage for their showdown. Could they survive whomever they side? Kanbei was quick to notice Nobunaga’s potential. In the rattled Harima Province, he prevailed on the conservative faction and brought about the Koderas submission to Nobunaga. To Kanbei, who had been absorbed in safeguarding his own territory in order to survive this far, Nobunaga’s progressiveness fascinated him. He quickly visited Nobunaga in Gifu Castle, and amidst the tense atmosphere, eloquently exhorted him to take Harima Province. Nobunaga granted two gems to him. One was his famed sword Heshikiri. The other was Hashiba Hideyoshi (later known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi). At Nobunaga’s command, Hideyoshi helped to subjugate Harima Province, and at some point in doing so, Kanbei became a crucial adviser to him. This would be the birth of Kanbei the strategist. Kanbei was so trusted that he was like a younger brother to Hideyoshi. When Masamoto betrayed the Odas, Kanbei fell into a trap in an attempt to persuade him and was locked away in a dungeon for more than a year. After his escape, he cut ties with the Koderas and became Hideyoshi’s strategist. He was the first to learn of the shocking Honnoji Incident in June 1582 (Tensho 2). While Hideyoshi broke down and cried, it was Kanbei who whispered in his ear, “Your fortune will change for the better”. At that moment, he could already see Hideyoshi’s reign. Kanbei brought about Hideyoshi’s swift response to Oda’s death at the hands of Akechi Mitsuhide and projected Hideyoshi as the one who would rule over the whole country. As they got closer to the reunification of Japan, Kanbei learned that Hideyoshi was wary of “the man who would aim to be the next ruler”. So at the young age of 44, he gave the reins of the family to his son Nagamasa and simply went into retirement. After that, he took the tonsure and the name Josui. At the Battle of Sekigahara, Kanbei led a troop of wandering samurai to storm Kyushu in his last crucial duel but the outcome of Sekigahara was decided in half a day through Nagamasa’s efforts and that ended his dream of ruling over the whole country. After the battle, Kanbei refused all rewards. He led a quiet life in Chikuzen province (present day Fukuoka prefecture) which had been offered by his son, and passed away at the age of 59.
Okada Junichi as Kuroda Kanbe
The eldest son of the commander of Himeji Castle of Harima Province. His ancestors were samurai of Omi Province that found their way to Himeji during his grandfather’s generation after being wandering samurai. His father Mototaka was given the important post of chief retainer in the service of the local feudal lord Kodera Masamoto. He marries at 22. At the same time, he takes over the reins of the clan and becomes the chief retainer of the Koderas. He is quick to spot Oda Nobunaga’s potential and is trusted to the extent that he and Hashiba Hideyoshi (later known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi) are as good as brothers. When his lord betrays the Odas, he tries to persuade him and falls into a trap. He spends more than a year confined in a dungeon. After he breaks out, he severs ties with the Koderas and becomes Hideyoshi’s strategist. He is first to learn of the Honnoji Incident, accomplish the Great Chugoku Reversal and stage Hideyoshi’s eventual rule over the whole country. As they are approaching this day, he learns that Hideyoshi is wary about him being the “man with designs on the next kingdom”. He hands over the reins of the clan to his son Nagamasa and simply retires at the young age of 44. After that, he takes the tonsure and the name Josui. During the Battle of Sekigahara, he is in his territory of Nakatsu Domain, Buzen Province (present day Oita Prefecture). He leads a troop of wandering samurai to sweep Kyushu and sets out on his last big battle, but the outcome of Sekigahara is decided in half a day through Nagamasa’s efforts. After the battle, he refuses all rewards for his exploits and lives out the rest of his life quietly in Chikuzen Province (present day Fukuoka Prefecture) which had been given by his son, and passes away at the age of 59.
Nakatani Miki as Teru
The second daughter of Kushihashi Sakyonosuke, a relative of Kuroda Kanbei’s lord Kodera Masamoto. Wife of Kuroda Kanbei. Theirs is a political marriage arranged by Masamoto who sees the promise Kanbei holds for the future. But before that, she happened to have the opportunity to converse with Kanbei and they have favourable impressions of each other. A spirited, plain-speaking woman who firmly guards the Kuroda family while Kanbei is away from home in battles. After giving birth to an heir Shoujumaru (later called Nagamasa), she is not blessed with children for 10 odd years but acts as a surrogate mother to her husband’s proteges. When Kanbei submits to Oda Nobunaga, she becomes an enemy of her own family which is on the side of the Moris. Then Shoujumaru, who has been presented as a hostage to the Oda clan, is almost killed and she gets dragged into the torrent of the turbulent times. However, the bond between husband and wife is strong and Kanbei never has a concubine in his lifetime.
Shibata Kyohei as Kuroda Mototaka
The chief retainer of the head of the Kodera family who is made the commander of Himeji Castle. His father Shigetaka used to be a wandering samurai who drifted to Himeji and built a fortune selling the family’s traditional eyewash. As the second generation, he finds favour with the Koderas. Although the senior retainers who esteem lineage snipe about him being an “eyewash seller” behind his back, he quietly carries out his duties and earns the lord’s confidence. After turning over the reins of the family to Kanbei, he becomes a trustworthy aide despite his retirement, but a big crisis comes in 1578. While Harima Province is caught between the Odas and the Moris, Kanbei is betrayed by Masamoto and gets imprisoned by the hostile party. If he attempts to save Kanbei, his grandson Shoujumaru, who is now a hostage of Nobunaga, will be killed. The agonising decision he has to make is … …
Toda Naho as Iwa
Kuroda Kanbe’s mother. Kodera Masamoto’s adopted daughter who was allowed to marry Kuroda Mototaka. Although this was a political marriage to assimilate the Kurodas with the Koderas, they were a happy couple. She was an affectionate mother but died young due to her delicate health. The young Kanbei overcomes her death and starts to enter adulthood.
Matsuzaka Tori as Kuroda Nagamasa
Kuroda Kanbei’s heir and his only biological child, except for a period of time. His childhood name is Shoujumaru. When he is 10, he becomes a hostage of Oda Nobunaga as proof of the Koderas’ submission to Nobunaga, and is brought up by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and One. He has been unruly since he was a child and gains prominence as a brave general after he grows up. However, there are times when he is near reckless. This valour is risky in the eyes of Kanbei, the wise general. His father is strict with him and he wants to win his father’s approval. This father and son relationship gradually gets warped.
Eguchi Yosuke as Oda Nobunaga
A revolutionary who would greatly transform Japanese society from the middle ages to early modern times. At that time, he cleared a surface of the earth that no one had seen before, but he was a solitary, charismatic figure who died an untimely death in the end. He is a complicated character; audacious yet careful, cruel yet benevolent. He has the air of an adult as well as the curiosity of a child. He becomes an object of fear as the harsh, fiery destructor. On the other hand, he also becomes a revered figure as a progressive ruler. Born the eldest son of a feudal lord of Owari, he was called “big fool” in his youth. However, he rises to the top because of his keen mind, willingness to assassinate relatives and cool head. He implements a string of bold reforms with his broad perspective and genius ideas. He deposes the Muromachi shogunate, is fearless of the imperial court’s authority and soon even starts to identify himself with god. These ideologies would gradually be beyond the understanding of the ordinary person. Even Kuroda Kanbei who admires and has hopes for Nobunaga’s progressiveness, begins to feel a sense of apprehension.
Uchida Yuki as Onou
Oda Nobunaga’s legal wife, and the only one allowed to speak her mind to the man whom everyone fears. Her father is Saito Dosan. Known as the pit viper, Dosan went from a mere merchant to become the feudal lord of Mino Province, the personification of a retainer supplanting his lord. She is a wife in a typical political marriage of convenience. She does not bear children during her lifetime, but endears herself to Nobunaga because she takes after her father’s wit and intelligence. Nobunaga sets her aside his whole life and never lets her go. This is one of the few exceptions for Nobunaga, a man who judges people on their usefulness.
Shunputei Koasa as Akechi Mitsuhide
A native of Mino, but his origins are largely a mystery. As a close associate of Ashikaga Yoshiaki, he works hard to make Yoshiaki’s procession to the capital happen and wins the approval of Oda Nobunaga in the process. He tries to mediate between Yoshiaki and Nobunaga during their hostilities but soon deserts Yoshiaki. As Nobunaga’s retainer, he is as successful as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and becomes a powerful person in possession of Tamba-Tango in addition to a part of Omi Province, but in the end he decides to attack Nobunaga who intends to destroy the entire old order.
Takenaka Naoto as Hashiba/Toyotomi Hideyoshi
He goes from “sandal-bearing monkey” to “cajoling conqueror”. Although he was born to a poor farmer, he rapidly rises to the top with his quick wits and exceptional skill at manipulating sentiment. He is a man who achieved the greatest story of success in the history of Japan by accomplishing the unification of whole country. He meets Kuroda Kanbei in 1575 when he is 39 and Kanbei is 30. Of low birth and with few allies in the Oda clan, he finds a kindred spirit in Kanbei as soon as he makes his acquaintance. The two of them exchange pledges to be sworn brothers. United in their purpose, Kanbei becomes an essential strategist to him at some point during the push forward to capture Chugoku. The best part about the two of them is claiming victory, preferably without killing enemies. Nobunaga is soon felled at Honnoji, and Hideyoshi sets his sights on ruling over the whole country with Kanbei’s support. The Great Chugoku Reversal, Battle of Yamazaki, Battle of Shizugatake … … When this becomes Hideyoshi’s world, the turbulent times will end. This is the big dream that Kanbei begins to cherish somewhere down the line. However, their close relationship changes to a love-hate struggle with the passage of time.
Kuroki Hitomi as One
The first lady of the warring states who supports Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s rule of the whole country from within. Oda Nobunaga even acknowledges her beauty and wisdom, and extols that Hideyoshi will never be able to get as fine a wife as her again. Besides giving her husband support behind the scenes, she even offers him advice on governance and also has influence with the retainers. Although she is not blessed with children, she is a surrogate mother to many people including Kanbei’s heir Shoujumaru (later called Nagamasa) whom Kanbei has offered as Nobunaga’s hostage. Even when the wives and daughters of various feudal lords are made to dwell together on land near Osaka Castle, she takes good care of them. After Hideyoshi conquers the whole country, she is relied on all the more by Kanbei, Nagamasa and other retainers as a check on her husband who grows increasingly power hungry.
Tanaka Kei as Ishida Mitsunari
A native of Omi. He serves Toyotomi Hideyoshi who has become the lord of Nagahama Castle and finds favour from a young age. A rare pragmatist in the Sengoku Period which has nothing but roughnecks. He excels in the task of military logistics such as the mass transport of provisions and troops, and even displays an outstanding ability in managing the feudal domains. He is a close associate of Hideyoshi’s. Because he does not do particularly well in battles, he is unable to hit it off with the military faction. He is especially bitterly at odds with Kuroda Kanbei’s heir Nagamasa, and this would split the Battle of Sekigahara into victory and defeat.
Kataoka Tsurutaro as Kodera Masamoto
The head of the Koderas, a prominent and powerful clan of Harima Province, and the lord of Gochaku Castle. Kuroda Kanbei’s first master. Despite his indecisive personality, he is able to spot someone’s talent and is clever in taking measures for his own self-protection. He grants the Kurodas the Kodera name and marries off his niece to Kanbei while he makes full use of them as retainers. A complex person, he particularly favours Kanbei, who served him at the tender age of 16, like his own son, but is also alert to presumptuousness. When the Koderas are wavering over whether to take the side of Oda Nobunaga or the Moris, he decides to give his allegiance to Nobunaga due to Kanbei’s persuasion. However, he is pressured by senior retainers of the old guard and changes side to the Moris. Kanbei tries to urge him to reconsider and he secretly attempts to get rid of Kanbei. This is a betrayal that will greatly change Kanbei’s life.
Takaoka Saki as Okon
The legal wife of the lord Kodera Masamoto who aggrieves Kuroda Kanbei because of his indecisiveness. She firmly suppresses this vulnerability. In the beginning, she has difficulty having a child and her marriage is also not happy. Because of that, her strong will and sarcasm draws attention, but she has had a rapport with Kanbei from the first time they met. After giving birth to an heir Itsuki, she supports the Koderas with her innate wisdom and is depended on by Masamoto. But it is not long before she dies. Her death will be the start of the Koderas wandering off course and the biggest crisis in Kanbei’s life.
Masuoka Toru as Kushihashi Sakyonosuke
A cousin of Kodera Masamoto and father of Teru. In a clan where many look down on the Kurodas, he is the first to appreciate Kuroda Kanbei’s genius and let his daughter marry him. He can be depended on for backing. However, he is soon struck down by illness, and Kanbei is forced into a lonely battle with the Koderas.
Kaneko Nobuaki as Kushihashi Sakyonoshin
The heir of the lord of Shikata Castle of Harima Province. During his youth, he served Kodera Masamoto as an attendant, and scorns Kuroda Kanbei, the outsider. His younger sister Teru is soon married to Kanbei, and they become brothers-in-law although their relationship does not improve. After he takes over the reigns of the family and becomes the lord of Shikata Castle, he sides with the Moris in direct opposition to Kanbei who asserts that he should take the side of Oda Nobunaga. In addition, he develops a deep grudge against Kanbei because Kanbei captured a castle which another younger sister had married to. This will escalate into an upheaval that will rock Harima Province.
Minamisawa Nao as Otatsu
The first love that Kuroda Kanbei cannot forget. She is the daughter of a low-ranking priest who serves Hirominemyojin which is not far from Himeji Castle, and Kanbei’s childhood friend. A well-grounded person, she has been meddling in the younger Kanbei’s affairs in various ways since childhood, but they start to get conscious of each other as they grow up. However, Otatsu is married off to an ally as an adopted daughter of the Kurodas in order to project Himeji from repeated battles. The two of them swallow the feelings that cannot be expressed with words and part ways. But even more tragedy lies ahead.
Wow! I’m not sure how you managed to compile such a thorough and intriguing synopsis in English, but it’s quite impressive! My command of the Japanese language is still far from fluency, but I very much enjoy the NHK Taiga Dramas. Reading this blog post has already helped me to enjoy this year’s story much more than had I not read it. Thanks very much for putting so much effort into this, I will definitely be reading more posts!
I can’t say practice makes perfect but definitely a lot of that and some cross references against known facts helps when doing synopses for taiga.
I hope you enjoy Gunshi Kanbei.
Thank you for making this drama easier to understand. You’ve done a wonderful job!