S-Space Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원) Institute for Japanese Studies(일본연구소) Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies (SJJS) Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies vol.7 no.1(2021)
The 1964 Olympics and the Landscape of Defeat: The Potentiality of Idaten within the Genre of Taiga Drama
- Kim, Bokyoung
- Issue Date
- Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol.7 No.1, pp. 139-165
- This paper discusses the significance of the NHK taiga drama Idaten: Tokyo Olympics Story, which was the first such drama to thematize the darker aspects of modern Japanese history against the backdrop of the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics. In this respect Idaten was unprecedented as a taiga drama and was thus largely neglected by viewers. In light of this problematic reception, here we examine the narrative conventions of Japanese taiga drama and how the 1964 Olympics was typically portrayed in visual media, that is, the norms that Idaten subverted. The characters in Idaten, “running” as a motif, and the drama’s narrative structure are all analyzed in terms of their affinity with rakugo storytelling to identify the dramatic possibilities and limitations exposed by Idaten, and the drama’s utility as an authoritative framework for remembering and communicating the history of Japan. On the surface, Idaten places the spotlight on the sports heroes of modern Japan who competed on the international stage for the country’s honor, not for money. At the same time, it highlights how these iconic figures deviated from or fell into conflict with the approved version of the spirit of the times. The drama evokes memories of the Shōwa period, including the most problematic and avoided topics of the era. In other words, it boldly includes characters and events that should have been excluded according to the conventions of taiga drama. For instance, in the final episode, a performance of the rakugo “Tomikyu” is used as a medium for relaying the narrative, as the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics is overlaid with the story of a Japanese soldier who lost his life in colonial Manchuria when Japan was defeated at the end of the AsiaPacific War. In this challenging manner, Idaten inserts uncomfortable themes from the past into the narrative of the 1964 Olympics, using this celebrated sports event to juxtapose Japan’s imperial era crimes of colonial aggression and ignominious wartime defeat relative to the postwar idea of Japan as a “cultural nation” (bunka kokka) and economic powerhouse. Before Idaten, the history reflected in NHK taiga dramas had mostly excluded elements of conflict and division. Viewers were thus able to complacently watch characters who were not surrounded by the controversies which still ripple through modern Japan. Idaten’s focus was discomfiting because it intentionally deviated from the established tacit conventions of taiga drama. However, the discomfort caused by Idaten should be seen as indicative of an attempt to open up a new world of possibilities for this prominent television genre.