Fūrin Kazan 風林火山 was NHK’s 46th taiga drama.
The translation of the title is not straight forward. Word by word, it basically means Wind, forest, fire, mountain. However, this is a phrase taken from The art of war by Sun Tzu, meaning, “As swift as wind, as gentle as forest, as fierce as fire, as unshakable as mountain.” So, the translation of the title is not straightforward.
A direct translation is wind forest fire mountain.
This taiga drama was very unique in a fact that two very high profile actors were employed. Well, one of them is more of a singer.
The first actor was Gackt (Gakuto Oshiro) as Uesugi Kenshin.
The second actor was Seiyō Uchino as Yamamoto Kansuke.
Gackt is more of a singer, a very popular one. I bet a lot of female fans reached orgasm when they saw him acting as Uesugi Kenshin. In my honest opinion, yeah, he looked really awesome. He had a completely different vibe from the kind of actors you spot from taiga drama.
And Seiyō Uchino …, he is a really good actor. I’ve seen a lot of J-drama where he was featured in. Long story story, he did not disappoint.
Basically, the amount of manly testosterone is overflowing in this drama. To be honest with you, Seiyō Uchino was (still is) a really good actor. He alone altered what would have been a mediocre taiga drama into something memorable although I must admit that Gackt himself brought in a quite different flavor.
In short, those two actors made this taiga drama shine. Money well spent, I’d say.
About Yamamoto Kansuke
We see yet another Sengoku period through the eyes of Yamamoto Kansuke. Historically, there isn’t much solid information about him. This allows NHK to conjure their own story, which I think they went too far. Basically, they’ve made this a bittersweet love story.
What I can tell you for 100% certain is that he was the brain of Takeda Shingen in his early life. After him, it was Sanada Masayuki (from Sanada Maru).
In other words, this taiga drama takes its place in very early Sengoku era. Indeed, this drama ends just when Oda Nobunaga starts to gain powers.
Kansuke hailed from a fairly decent family. But having lost an eye due to smallpox as well as having a stiff leg had basically shut him off from pursuing the path of a samurai. He was largely discarded at the beginning of the series.
What most failed to grasp was that he had a fine brain. He had to prove that he had the brain.
Now, onto the story
The story begins as Kansuke attempting to find “anything to eat” in a house.
Its place is somewhere in a small village in Kai province, the home of the Takeda clan. Kai province is generally a poor region for farming. But it had rather active gold mines during Sengoku era which enabled the Takeda clan to be stronger than others financially. It is dried up in 2021.
Even so, the riches of the gold went to the Takeda clan, not the people. The general populace of the province was really poor, and this drama shows exactly that.
Kansuke’s goal is simple as he wanders around the province. It is to gain some sort of spotlight on him and get himself hired into a daimyo. It doesn’t matter which daimyo for him although he prefers bigger ones, such as the Takeda and the Imagawa although Imagawa appears to be out of his reach due to familial ties and prejudices against him from the clan itself.
Basically, he needed a leader who was open-minded and was willing to employ anyone as long as he had abilities. It was easier to be said than done though.
In my book, only one person in Sengoku era was vastly open-mined enough that he would go against traditions. That was Oda Nobunaga who was open-minded enough to have employed Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was just a farmer with no noble root.
Sadly for Yamamoto Kansuke, Oda Nobunaga wasn’t quite there yet. He wasn’t even an adult at that time, so he had to find another daimyo.
Because his pregnant partner is murdered by Takeda Nobutora in early episodes ( This part is made up by the drama. No historical record of his early life exists. ), he initially works against the Takeda clan.
However, as Takeda Shingen destroys minor revolts and other minor clans under Nobutora, he is eventually captured but spared.
Again, no historical record of such an event exists. Thus, it’s been made up.
If you know the history of the Takeda clan in Sengoku era, you know what will happen exactly. Nobutora is eventually exiled from his clan because of his reckless behaviors. He took his authority for granted and cared nothing for his subjects.
Kansuke exacts soft revenge from him shortly afterwards.
Since Shingen removes Nobutoa, Kansuke is compelled to join the Takeda. At this point, Kansuke is a known figure among Takeda vassals. Many agree that he has the brain but some do not like his approach which is seen cowardly.
Basically, Kansuke is a schemer and firmly believes that overcoming enemies with wits and money is better than bloody battles. The Takeda clan has the money in their gold mines. But, so far, they have lacked a brain.
Now, they’ve got one in Kansuke.
Now, let’s move on to Uesugi Kenshin.
Historically, Uesugi Kenshin is known as the God of War in Japanese Buddhism. For a good reason as well, Uesugi forces led by himself crushed prime Oda clan forces.
Oda Nobunaga was shitting in his pants as his armies were utterly defeated. The Oda clan would have been likely defeated if it wasn’t for the fate that Kenshin would die of a sudden illness during the conflict. I say “an illness” but he had a stroke at a toilet. Never really woke up from that.
……… A, anyway –
Kenshin’s historical nemesis was Takeda Shingen.
Neither Shingen nor Kenshin was 100% victorious against the other. They clashed each other five times in their life time. All of their clashes were contained around a small plain called Kawanakajima. Sometimes, Shingen would have the upper hand. Sometimes, Kenshin would.
In the end, neither won convincingly.
Kansuke is sometimes credited for making Takeda Shingen not lose, and this drama makes a good story out of this. Kansuke himself gets killed in the 4th battle of Kawanakajima which is where the drama ends.
But you said it’s a bittersweet love story?
I have. Kansuke’s love story comes from a forbidden subject.
Historically, Takeda Shingen was a womanizer. Despite having a fine wife from the Japanese imperial court, he had numerous mistresses. In general, mistresses in Sengoku era were almost always low born.
But Shingen had a really high profile mistress in Koi hime (Hime means a princess) who was the daughter of Suwa Yorishige. Basically, he crushed the Suwa clan in Shinano and took an enemy lord’s daughter. It wasn’t just a daughter. It was the flower of Shinano as well as being the heiress to the Suwa clan.
Generally, an unmarried woman of such a stature is either killed off or is sent out to become a nun in order to make a clean end. But she was said to be quite pretty, and Shingen didn’t want to let such a beauty go waste.
Still, making such a woman his mistress was unheard of in Sengoku era. It was the first and the last as far as I know in that era.
In fact, Koi hime may have been “a mistress” but she was largely regarded as a full wife. This is further backed up by a fact that her son, Takeda Katsuyori, ended up inheriting the Takeda clan.
In this drama, Kansuke grows strong feelings for Koi hime. Not initially but he starts to see his former partner in her. Koi hime, lamenting her fate as she becomes a mere mistress, starts to grow some feelings for him as well.
A large portion of the drama is dedicated to the eventual bittersweet indirect romance between them.
For me, the most bittersweet moment was when Koi hime orders Kansuke to take on a wife instead of being stuck in the past.
Another powerful moment was when Kansuke visits her grave stone in middle of winter. This was after a mission. He wasn’t aware that she passed away.
I did say the two actors made a mediocre drama a good one.
If it weren’t for Gakuto Oshiro and Seiyō Uchino, this drama wouldn’t have been worth spending days to watch all 49 episodes. Their performances are worth watching.
However, the story is far too detached from the reality, especially from the reality of Sengoku era. In NHK’s defense, very little historical records of Yamamoto Kansuke exists. Therefore, they had to come up with pretty much everything for the story.
Even so, the overall love story simply does not fit in the theme of Sengoku era. A suggestion to be able to enjoy this drama would be that you should not consider this as a taiga drama. Then, everything becomes far more acceptable.
I’ve reviewed three taiga drama at this point. I shall rank them in this order.