Fukuda Yasushi on Ryomaden - Full Interview (2009.11) 1
Previously I had posted an excerpt of this inteview here. Only the parts relevant to Masha were shown at that time, as this after all, is a dedicated Fukuyama Masaharu site and I had to answer to my partners as well.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a number of comments on Ryomaden which seem to have been misquoted at best. In order to provide viewers with an accurate picture of NHK’s position on this drama, I’ve decided to release the entire translated interview with all pertinent sections to Ryomaden included this time. Please bear with me. And please feel free to link to this with the appropriate credits if you like. Thank you.
Interview with Fukuda Yasushi* on Ryomaden
I : Why Fukuda-san’s dramas are so popular
■ Before we delve into our questions on “Ryomaden”, let us take this opportunity to ask Fukuda-san about the dramas he created in the past. Fukuda-san has depicted public prosecutors in “Hero”; Japan Coast Guard rescue divers in “Umizaru”*; senate members in “Change” etc, to a certain extent, the dramas he had written illustrate uncommon lives. So the ideas he gets for the stories and circumstances in each episode, must have come from interviews and research beforehand?
FY: Before putting pen to paper, I would have had to interview all sorts of people of course. But usually, I wouldn’t get enough confidence from the stories I hear that “this would be interesting” or “this could be a story to use on TV”. Say when I was writing “Hero”, the current Public Prosecutor’s office refused my interview, so I researched from the previous prosecutor who was now an attorney. But at the outset, I was asked instead “Can you really make a TV drama about a public prosecutor? Because 99% of a prosecutor’s job is deskwork.”
I couldn’t answer to that, so I countered with “But since you have the power to search and to arrest, it is possible therefore for a prosecutor to investigate a case, right?” His reply was “Theoretically that’s true, but there are tens of dozens of cases for us to handle every day, we just don’t have the time. We spend our lives at the desk, and don’t take a single step out of the office.”
■ That must have been really discouraging to hear, some might start to have doubts on using public prosecutors as the main character or generally give up….
FY: When I first heard it, I felt really dejected. But thinking about it, that’s the foothold we needed. So, what if in real life, there was a public prosecutor who would get involved in search and investigation? And if he does go out, and he also has tens of dozens of cases to handle each day, what’s going to happen? That started me thinking.
That means, cases belonging to that prosecutor, will be passed on to his colleagues, people who were busy enough to start with will become busier. And whatever personal time these prosecutors should have, will be taken up by their slowly increasing workload, so they are bound to protest “What on earth is he trying to achieve?”
At that point, I felt we had the settings that could make a TV drama. The overworked scenario in the public prosecutors’ office, with a twist in thinking, actually gave birth to an idea for a new drama.
■ What was the reaction of the professionals you depicted, the public prosecutors and Japan Coast Guard?
FY: It was mostly criticism at the beginning (laugh). Like “Prosecutors don’t wear jeans!” and so on. But as the series went on, the prosecutors were told by their own children “Now I finally understand what Daddy’s job is about. I think it’s so cool.” And they too would settle down to enjoy the series. That was quite common.
It was the same when I went to collect information for “Umizaru”. At the beginning, they would say things like “We just hope people would stop confusing the Japan Coast Guard with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force” (i.e. navy). But as the story in the drama unfolded, they told me “Women would never used to care when we told them we were from the Coast Guard, now everytime we have gatherings, the ladies would automatically come over.”(laugh)
■ That’s probably because the lead characters created by Fukuda-san are all very charismatic. You’ve written different kinds of heroes todate. Does Fukuda-san have a hero image in your heart?
FY: I don’t think I’m good at depicting heroes at all. Although I can’t expressly say “This is my hero image!” But there’s one thing I can share, a hero is probably someone who will still stay strong in a certain aspect even at the very very end?
Perhaps it’s the enthusiasm to help others, or maybe the integrity to ask with humility when others are pretending to know better. “Someone who possesses a trait that is neither affected by changing times nor the people around him”, maybe?
Ryoma was such a man, someone who would truthfully admit he doesn’t know and will proceed to ask for advice with sincerity from those do. It is probably because of this integrity and willingness to get things done, that has made Ryoma into such a revered and noble hero.
II : The process of sketching Ryoma into “Ryoma”
■ What went through your mind when you decided to write a Taiga drama based on “Sakamoto Ryoma”?
FY: The Sakamoto Ryoma in previous Taiga dramas was based on Shiba Ryotaro-san’s (司馬遼太郎) “Ryoma ga Yuku” (竜馬がゆく Ryoma moves ahead), so I felt it was necessary to approach it from another perspective.
At that time, chief producer Suzuki-san brought my attention to this character “Iwasaki Yataro” (岩崎弥太郎). Yataro lived in the same Tosa at the same time as Ryoma, he established the Mitsubishi Corporation of today. He crossed paths with Ryoma on a number of occasions, Yataro headed Tosa’s trading office, and as an official of a branch of the Tosa clan, he provided financial support for the Kaientai (海援隊 naval auxiliary force). In due course, Ryoma’s Kaientai was ultimately inherited by Yataro who used the marine business to establish the base for the Mitsubishi conglomerate of today. So in a way, you could say that Ryoma’s aspirations are connected to the modern day through Yataro.
■ So the setting this time is by way of flashbacks by Yataro after the Meiji restoration, and the successful establishment of his own business as the Mitsubishi company.
FY: That’s right, once that notion of “Ryoma in the eyes of Yataro” arose in my head, I felt it was possible to write up a new Ryoma drama.
■ You must have visited a lot of places for research prior to writing the script……
FY: It was the same with my previous dramas, I’d start thinking about what a public prosecutor’s job would be, or what a coast guard is like, without any preconceptions whatsoever about them.
When I was researching the origins of Ryoma, I didn’t have much knowledge about him, so when I was listening to others, all I could say most of the time was “Oh…yes…” The people who were talking to me were all avid followers of Ryoma and so were very enthusiastic in their narration. But I didn’t have the same level of understanding as they did, and I had not yet fully immersed myself into this character at that time, so I could only try to follow as best as I could (laugh).
But listening to the stories without any background knowledge, gave me a frequent impression that “that’s a bit illogical” or “doesn’t the Ryoma at that time sound like a loser?”
■ Like what were some of the parts you found “illogical”?
FY: With regard to the Satsuma-Choshu alliance (薩長同盟), Katsura Kogoro (桂 小五郎) wrote a letter to Ryoma. It said “I understand that such is the agreement with Saigō Takamori-san (西郷隆盛)? Sakamoto-san is aware of it too? And there is absolutely no mistake about it? Please attest to it for me.” And Ryoma was asked to confirm the validity of the contents of the letter on the back of it.
Thinking about it seriously, wouldn’t you find that strange? Satsuma and Choshu were amongst the strongest samurai clans at that time. How could an insignificant clanless ronin like Ryoma, be asked to validate the pact between these two clans? Under normal circumstances, should they not have asked someone more influential and reputable to witness to something like that?
Up to now, no-one is able to explain this clearly to me. So what circumstances or background of events could have led to Ryoma to be the one to call together the Satsuma-Choshu alliance, and to be qualified to attest to its validity on the back of the letter? At this point, I could more or less see the direction our drama storyline would take.
■ What else did you get from your Ryoma research?
FY: The impression I got, after listening to the stories from various people and reading up on different information sources, was that Ryoma was indeed an amazing person, but parts of him had also been glorified by people. For example, I had asked in my interviews “In this story, didn’t he tell a woman ‘I want to get married, please wait for me’ and then end up in the bosom of another?” The answer was “No, no! Ryoma would never do something like that!” Many people have indeed glorified some of Ryoma’s deeds.
So in this “Ryomaden”, I would like to portay a fresh “Ryoma image”, i.e. Ryoma as a normal person through my own understanding, in an unidolized fashion.
■ What is the main difference between Shiba Ryotaro-san’s (司馬遼太郎) “Ryoma ga Yuku” and this “Ryomaden”?
FY: To start with, despite the identical name and character, this is definitely not the same Sakamoto Ryoma. Ours is an entirely original “Sakamoto Ryoma”. I read Shiba-san’s “Ryoma ga Yuku” when I was in school and I re-read it again this time round. Then I realized, Ryoma has been “Ryoma” all along.
What do I mean by that? “Ryoma” to most people personifies a straightforward, big-hearted, heroic and unaffected image, like “I’m a free spirit, that’s the way I am.” This Ryoma is no doubt very charismatic, but there is very little to tell us the process on how he developed into such a person, so we don’t know. There must have been a time when Ryoma was just like any normal youth, then he gradually took up the pistol and put on his boots and finally became the man who could look any situation in the eye calmly with a “That’s the way I am” attitude (わしゃ、かなわんぜよ).
I want to delve into that process in detail. I believe Ryoma must have gone through a number of phases where he had experienced quite drastic changes, before he could finally become the “Ryoma” that we all know now.
Continue to Final Part
*1. Fukada Yasushi is the Screenwriter for Ryomaden. He also wrote 20th Century Boys, Change, Galileo, Hero, Kyumei Byoto 24 Ji, Suspect X, Umizaru, etc.
*2. Umizaru, adapted from a popular manga, is an NHK drama series in 2002 and 2003, leading to 2 related movies and another drama spinoff.
*3. Shiba Ryotaro - more info here
*4. Iwasaki Yataro - more info here
*5. Kaientai - more info here
*6. Katsura Kogoro - more info here
*7. Saigō Takamori - more info here