坂本 龍馬 Sakamoto Ryoma, one of my favorite historical figures in Japanese history. His story was brought to life by NHK Japan’s taiga series Ryoma Den, an amazing four season drama that I highly recommend watching if you love learning about Japanese history, or even if you love samurai! To be completely honest, when I went to Japan in May 2010 I had no idea who Sakamoto Ryoma was and had never heard his name before. It wasn’t until 2011 when I started watching the Japanese drama JIN that in the first episode I noticed the main character’s surprise that he ran into Sakamoto Ryoma. Since JIN was my first “historical” or period drama, I was curious about who Sakamoto Ryoma was so I Googled his name and learned a bit about him thanks to Wikipedia. I loved the show Jin, and as I was surfing through older dramas, I came across Ryoma Den and learned that it was a historical drama about Sakamoto Ryoma’s life. I was drawn in like a moth to a light and it was in late April 2011 that I started watching this four season long drama, without knowing that my life was about to change. Not to be dramatic or anything, but truly, learning about Sakamoto Ryoma really did change my life! I used to hate learning about history, but I loved the samurai and everything they stood for. I have no explanation as to why I am so drawn to Japan, why I felt so at home there or why older things like shrines, temples, Japanese museums, kimonos, geta, geisha etc., interests me. I thought I was just otaku and a Japanophile, but my roommate and my “brother” Aiden seem to think that it’s because in my past lives I was Japanese. That’s besides the point…
I remember thinking that the first episode of Ryoma Den was rather slow, but in forty minutes they had to establish the background of Ryoma’s life, his family, his friends, the fact that kashi and joshi were completely different classes of Samurai in Tosa and the kashi were always regarded as inferior. The tension between the two classes could not be established in just one episode, however slow the first episode was, I found myself completely sucked into this world known as the Edo period in Japan. The scenery, the clothing, the lifestyles, the kitchens and everything else fascinated me. As the drama progressed, I found myself drawn more and more to Ryoma’s character, his personality, his devotion, his spirit, his passion for kenjutsu and desire to learn. What drew me in even more was the fact that, like me, Ryoma felt “stuck” in his lifestyle at home although he knew he was meant for greater things. I’m not saying that I think I’m meant for great things like Ryoma, but I’ve always felt that I was destined to lead a greater life than what I had previously been leading. Everything about this world drew me in, and before I knew it I had watched two seasons by the time I moved to my new place in a much nicer part of the city. I continued watching faithfully until about season 3, where school work became heavier and slowly, I stopped watching. In 2012 I picked it up again around the same time I had started the drama in 2011, but I only managed to get halfway through the episodes in season 3 before I became sidetracked with watching animes for the rest of the year until last week. I normally watch dramas while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and pause them when I’m finished so I can continue studying or go to school, etc., so I was surprised at how quickly I was able to plow through the rest of season 3 and season 4.
Although I had only watched about two seasons in 2011 by the time I started my spring East Asian course, I decided that for my essay I wanted to write about Sakamoto Ryoma and the naval forces, however, I soon realized that he had a bigger role in bringing about a change in Japan rather than the navy. This is when I took out Jansen’s book Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration, which helped me learn a lot more about Ryoma’s life in a quicker amount of time than I could finish the dramas. I was able to write my paper about Ryoma’s life and the small contributions that he made to the navy as well as his life with Katsu Kaishu (a.k.a Katsu Rintaro).
The day I realized how addicted I am to the show was the episode where something happened between the Tosa daimyo and two of Ryoma’s childhood friends. I won’t give any spoilers by giving names and for those of you who have already watched this, I’m sure you know who I am talking about. The song embedded above on YouTube was playing during the scene and I can remember everything so clearly. Throughout the seasons I never realized how myself as a viewer formed an attachment to certain characters. I loved both of those characters very much, one of them more so than the other because he was adorable and faithful to two men. I can remember something that he said to the woman he loved “zutto washi no soba ni ite kure” (please, always stay by my side). So, during the particular moment that I shall not spoil for anyone by using names or describing what happened, I balled my eyes out because I had become so attached to them as characters. Plus, the directors did a damn good job during this scene and really captured the emotion perfectly. This was not the first time I balled my eyes out, there were many other times, especially the ending of Ryoma Den, which I had been prepared for since 2011 after I wrote my essay about him.
Everything about this drama, the people, the screenplay, the way the actors portrayed these people, the camera angles, the music, the scenery…everything was beautiful. What I enjoyed even more was the travelogue at the end of the show that talked about different areas in Japan that are significant to the people mentioned in Ryoma Den. When I go back to Japan, depending on the area that I visit, I am definitely going to check out some of these places! I can’t believe I missed the Ikedaya when I was in Kyoto! There was one thing that surprised me over the last week of watching the rest of the episodes, though. I am surprised at how they portrayed the Shinsengumi in this drama, especially Kondo Isami. From all the stuff I have gathered on my own about the Shinsengumi as well as from the NHK taiga drama Shinsengumi!, I was under the impression that Kondo Isami was a very kind, caring and honest man. I knew that he also had a passion to carry out his duties as a samurai, especially since he was deemed as a lower ranked samurai back home, however, I did not expect him to be portrayed so coldly and negatively in Ryoma Den! In fact, Kondo’s portrayal in Ryoma Den reminded me of the way that Saito Hajime is portrayed in Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X)! In real life, Saito Hajime was actually a very quiet man that kept to himself! I still need to finish watching Shinsengumi!, which I started watching in 2012 and then I need to buy that book about the Shinsengumi so I can edit my story Mizuki and make the appropriate changes and additions…
So, besides falling in love with the actor that plays Ryoma, Masaharu Fukuyama, I also fell in love with Izo Okada’s actor, Takeru Sato:
So when I found out that Takeru Sato was going to play Rurouni Kenshin, I was THRILLED! I already saw his amazing acting in Ryoma Den, so I knew he would play Kenshin perfectly! I even learned that Saito Hajime was to be played by the same actor who played Sakamoto Ryoma in Shinsengumi!, Yosuke Eguchi so I was also excited to see how he was going to portray Saito, my favorite Shinsengumi member. I think the reason why I’m so obsessed with Saito Hajime is in part because of the way he’s played in Rurouni Kenshin, an astounding swordsman and especially as the way he is portrayed in Hakuouki Shinsengumi. Hakuouki Saito is THE most beautiful bishie I have ever seen in my life!
Anyway, everything about Ryoma Den is superb! The acting is phenomenal, to the point where, if you don’t have tears in your eyes after watching this drama, I may think that something is seriously wrong with you! Just kidding!
Here’s my rating for Ryoma Den:
Camera Angles: 10
Hair: 9.5 (the only reason is because during some close ups, or even just regular shots, I have noticed the mesh of the wig showing, otherwise it would have gotten a perfect 10!).
out of 80, Ryoma Den gets 79.5/80!! I think for a drama, that’s the highest rating I have ever given! Check out some of the music from Ryoma Den!
If you haven’t heard Masahara Fukuyama sing, then I recommend you listen to these two songs:
And in case you haven’t watched Rurouni Kenshin live action with Takeru Sato and Yosuke Eguchi: