Left, Shihori Kanjiya. Center, Kinya Kitaoji. Second from right(pink slippers), DP Shoji Ehara. Photo:(C)FUJI TELEVISION, SHOCHIKU
Based on a popular series of 16 novels, Kenkaku Shobai (Sword Master Business) has been produced as a TV drama series several times. Five seasons were shot on film between 1998 and 2004 and a further six 120-minute specials were shot on digital between 2004 and 2010 all with the actor Makoto Fujita in the leading sword master role. His unfortunate death in 2010 seemed to mark the demise of the series but the TV channel, Fuji Television Network (FNN) and the production company (Shochiku) decided to reprise it once more but this time shot on Kodak 16mm film stocks.
Kenkaku Shobai is set during the Tokugawa shogunate of the 18th century, one of the most peaceful times in Japanese history. With no warfare, the samurai lost their military function as warriors were no longer needed. Some became bureaucrats and administrators whilst others became sword masters teaching martial arts. In the 120 minute TV drama recently broadcast on FNN, Kohei Akiyama (now played by Kinya Kitaoji) is a retired sword master. He’s in his 60s living in his cottage in an upriver area away from busy downtown Edo. His grown-up son, Daijiro, is also a skilled samurai, and recently opened a dojo (martial art school). One day, a mysterious samurai approaches Daijiro with a huge amount of cash asking him to secretly break both the arms of one sword master. Daijiro turns down the suspicious offer. Later, Kohei and Daijiro discover that the sword master is a young woman, and in fact a daughter of the Senior Counselor. Kohei and Daijiro decide to find out what’s behind the offer, and discover an even bigger conspiracy; the assassination of the Senior Counselor himself.
Shooting on Kenkaku Shobai- Assassination of the Senior Counsellor took place in May this year and lasted some 20 days. The downtown Edo scenes were done in Shochiku Kyoto Studio in the city of Kyoto which has a long history of producing period films. The river is an essential factor in the drama and many exterior shots were done in the beautiful city of Omihachiman, Japan’s largest waterfront area. Equipment used was an ARRI 416 camera equipped with a Canon 11-165mm zoom lens and a Zeiss 8mm lens. Film stock was KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 7213.
Producer Kohei Adachi of Shochiku Co, Ltd credits the new leading actor Kinya Kitaoji with the decision to revert to film as the shooting medium. He says that, “Kitaoji, who is a big film star in Japan, strongly pushed for shooting on film and even negotiated with FNN executives. When I produce a costume drama, I too prefer film, if I am allowed. Crews in Shochiku Kyoto Studio have grown up shooting on film and I believe their skills can be fully maximized when the content is shot on film.”
“With a digital shoot, most of the Japanese actors come over to a monitor and check their acts after each shot,” he continues But with film, there is no monitor so shooting progresses really fast. And the 16mm camera has great mobility so it’s easier to deal with cables and to shoot in small spaces. Regarding budgets and schedules, there is very little difference between the two media.”
“I believe that film is better at reproducing emotion on screen. Fans of historical dramas are sufficiently observant to recognize the origination media and film is the right choice for such projects.”
The producer’s views are echoed by the DP Shoji Ebara, JSC. He says that , “My crew members and I were all really excited when we heard that Kitaoji had persuaded FNN to shoot on film. I think film enhances creativity. Everyone gathers around the camera in order to make sure their work is correctly done before the camera starts rolling. This also gives a sense of bonding, in which the crew are careful and attentive which is different from a video shoot.”
“In this drama, many shots were aimed outside at the sky from inside the dark Japanese wooden houses,“ continues Ebara. “The film stock (VISION3 7213) has a wide latitude, so I didn’t have to worry about the highlight of the sky. I could also balance the interior and exterior, thanks to the stock. Overall, I am delighted with VISION3’s color reproduction, the green especially looked more natural than digital. The leading character’s cottage was built near a pond in a quiet mountain in Kyoto, and it made us feel like we are back to the old era. Those scenes looked fantastic on film.”
“Film was also the right choice to capture the delicate emotion of the characters.
In this episode, relationships between three different couples are the key of the story. Their relationships change as the drama progresses and I wanted to create a home-drama type of look that viewers can identify with.“
Ebara concludes that film and video both have strengths and weaknesses but he says that it just doesn’t make sense to shoot on video and then try to achieve a ‘film-look’ in post. “If you want a film-look, then shoot on film from the beginning,” he argues.
Kenkaku Shobai-Assassination of the Senior Counsellor a 120 minute TV drama was processed at IMAGICA WEST Corp. It was broadcast on FNN in Japan on August 24th.