50 Years of NHK Television

Drama Programs

They started with the slogan, "We can match the movies!" NHK's Annual Historical Dramas, now in their 43rd year, are set in a wide variety of periods and places. They are also now shown using the fine image and sound quality of Hi-Vision (HDTV), with data broadcasting also adding to the viewing pleasure.

Annual Historical Dramas: 40 years sketching the shape of the nation

Previous page
Left pageNext page

NHK's first Annual Historical Drama serial, A Flamboyant Life, began in April 1963, during the golden age of Japanese cinema. Under the slogan "We can match the movies!" NHK fought for audience share through the new medium of television, then sometimes described as "story-telling with electronic pictures." The first serial featured a number of famous actors, including Onoe Shoroku, Sata Keiji, Awashima Chikage, Kagawa Kyoko, and Yachigusa Kaoru.
The second serial, Ako-Roshi, had an even more distinguished cast. In the leading role was Hasegawa Kazuo, then at the height of his popularity, with support from Onoe Baiko, Yamada Isuzu and Takizawa Osamu. By featuring top actors from film, kabuki and contemporary theater, NHK's period dramas quickly won a huge public following.
The importance of casting was underscored by the third serial, Taikoki. A rising star of contemporary theater, Ogata Ken, took the lead role, with Takahashi Koji, an understudy at Bungakuza Theater, playing Oda Nobunaga, and Ishizaka Koji, a student at Keio University, taking the role of Ishida Mitsunari. A key scene in a big battle was shot from a helicopter, opening up new horizons for TV drama. Ako-Roshi achieved an average 31.9% audience share and Taikoki 31.2%. And so, by as early as the third serial, NHK's Annual Historical Dramas had established themselves as a Sunday evening fixture.
Up to and including the 15th serial, Kashin, the leading characters were mainly samurai warriors and feudal lords, but Golden Days marked a significant departure. The main character was the merchant Ruson Sukezaemon, and the story focused on Japan's early encounters with the outside world as seen through the lives of ordinary people instead of the ruling establishment.

The Age of Lions in 1980 marked another first. Based on an original script for the first time, it was the first drama of its kind to focus on the Meiji era (late 19th century), when Japan was opening up to the world. Burning Mountains and Rivers (1984), Spring Waves (1985) and Life (1986) formed a trilogy about the coming of the modern age, and ushered in a new phase.
The popularity of the Annual Historical Dramas peaked with Masamune, One-eyed Dragon (average audience share: 39.7%) in 1987, and the next serial, Takeda Shingen (average share: 39.2%). The geographical areas in which they were set subsequently experienced a huge tourist boom—evidence of the powerful impact TV drama can have.
Musashi, the current drama, is the 42nd. Some of the historical figures who appear again and again in these dramas are the feudal lords Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. In Toshiie and Matsu (2002), Nobunaga was played by Sorimachi Takashi, Hideyoshi by Kagawa Teruyuki and Ieyasu by Takashima Masahiro. Earlier, Nobunaga was played by Sugi Ryotaro in Heaven and Earth, Yakusho Koji in Tokugawa Ieyasu, Ogata Naoto in Nobunaga, and Watari Tetsuya in Hideyoshi.


Memorable lines
Masamune, One-eyed Dragon
Masamune, One-eyed Dragon
Just as the No.1 hit morning drama serial Oshin led to the use of new expressions that included the name Oshin, the two most popular Annual Historical Dramas—Masamune, One-eyed Dragon and Takeda Shingen—also spawned popular phrases. One example is the line spoken by the young Masamune (boyhood name Bontenmaru), who says, when looking at a statue of the Buddha, "Bontenmaru wants to be like that too." Another example from Takeda Shingen was, "That's all for this evening," delivered in archaic language by the narrator Wakao Ayako at the close of each episode.

Annual Historial Dramas


Previous page
Left pageNext page