不毛地帯 means a waste land. This series is based on a popular novel in Japan. It has been serialized for TV two times. I will be talking about 2009 literation.
In Japanese drama industry, a series having 19 episodes is very rare. In 2021, most drama run from 3 ~ 12 episodes. They are very short and are mostly, if not entirely, forgettable.
Fumo Chitai is an exception and is a very good watch overall. I could even say this was the last worthwhile drama. I personally haven’t seen anything better than this. Yes, since 2009.
The cast of this drama includes numerous powerful actors and actresses. The most notable actor is probably Karasawa Toshiaki as Iki Tadashi. This gentleman is probably my most favorite Japanese actor. He has featured in a very wide range of cinema: melrodrama, taiga drama, action, etc.
Besides him, there are really a lot of now-famous actors and actresses. In fact, it feels like a giant family reunion. If you’ve watched a lot of Japanese drama, you will find the whole cast really familiar.
The whole drama felt really comfortable due to really familiar cast. You wouldn’t be able to cast them now all at once in a single film in 2021 due to their insane wage demands.
The story takes 11 years after World War II. The main character, Iki, is finally released from a prisoner camp from Siberia. Most of his comrades had already perished in the harsh everlasting winter.
While other prisoners have a hard time adapting to the new, rapidly changing, world, Iki gets a call from a corporation. You see, Iki was the brain of Japanese army in the region at the time. It seems that he is widely credited to be one of the brightest minds at that time. The company hopes to make a good use of his brilliant mind.
So, Iki becomes a salaryman. His job is simple: conquer the wild west industry.
The general mood of this drama is dark. You will not see Iki himself smile. Logically, he can’t. 11 years of hard labor in Siberia as well as a fact that his country, Japan, lost the war has sucked joy out of his soul. In addition, you will see his flashbacks of his comrades succumbing to death due to either harsh winter or malnutrition, often both.
Basically, he has crushing burden and guilt on his shoulders which prevent him to enjoy his life. Even when he gets to finally reunite with his wife and children, the best he can do is a faint grin.
His relationship with his wife remains rather stoic as well. On surface, people comment that they get along well, but you will see that they struggle to support each other internally.
Above shot is when Iki has a fight with his wife. He absolutely hates to argue with his wife because, when he gets back home, he is usually beat. But he has to end up comforting her. You can see it in his face. He doesn’t want the troubles.
In conclusion, he simply does not have much, if any, sources of joy in his life which leads to below.
Iki’s affair (Spoiler warning)
This is probably a spoiler.
Iki has an affair of sort in his later life with a woman who is like 20 years younger than him. Technically, it isn’t an affair because he is single at that time. His wife is already dead at this point. However, he has had a connection with the young woman long before his wife passed. So, in a sense, it is an affair.
Only after his wife’s death, he brings the relationship to light.
Now, the affair isn’t exactly Iki’s fault. While his wife was a good woman, her focus was family and family only. She really didn’t try to mend Iki’s wounds. Even his children didn’t try to understand their father and would side with their mother whenever the couple had a fight.
Basically, Iki stood alone with his internal wounds slowly eating him away from inside. He needed someone to understand him better, and there was one in Chisato.
The young woman, Chisato, does not see Iki as a potential target for her relationship initially because he is married. However, as she observes him from a distance, she notices that something is bothering him greatly.
Regardless, Iki has a family, and she does not dare.
In order to shake and bury her growing feelings, she decides to marry a man who her uncle recommends. The arranged marriage is progressing okay-ish to a point where her wedding date is set.
Then, however, Iki’s wife passes away from a car accident. The moment she learns that she breaks down her arranged marriage.
When their relationship is exposed by Iki himself, his children cannot hide their disgust because Chisato is not much older than them. But he doesn’t ask for any sort of understanding. He simply moves on with Chisato. Perhaps, it is a harsh way to settle things, but from Iki’s point, he sees no point in making excuses. So, he simply exposes the relationship and moves on with whatever circumstances there may be.
His children do start to understand him at the very end of the series after they begin their own families.
The industrial era makes an excellent background for a lot of drama. It’s because of a fact that the whole world feels like the wild west. Laws matter little, and if a man has a will and a brain, he could accomplish virtually anything. It is indeed my favorite era.
In the case of Fumo Chitai, despite the overall dark atmosphere, the story does provide a ray of light for Iki in the end which I am thankful for because the guy doesn’t really get a break in his life.
Do I recommend this to you?
Actually, no, I do not. This series is not for everyone. Personally, I think you may find it hard to understand Iki in the first place. He is the definition of an old guard, a type of men seen only in a certain era under certain circumstances.
He is not a righteous guy, nor does he claim so. But he has a strong and strict sense of personal codes. He values his principles but knows well enough that there are other darker methods to his problems. He weights both routes and chooses whichever benefits him more.
Basically, the charming point of Fumo Chitai is Iki himself.