enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Toshiba Sunday Theatre(石井展)

Family Portraits: Ishii Fukuko’s TV Dramas

Toshiba Sunday Theatre

Toshiba Sunday Theatre started in 1956 as a slot for dramas sponsored by Toshiba and changed its name to Sunday Theatre after gathering multiple sponsors in 2002. It is a long-running program that continues to this day. It used to be single-episode dramas that changed weekly, but shifted to serial dramas from 1993. Ishii Fukuko worked as a producer for 35 years, from making The Seven Bridges in 1958 to making serial dramas in the 90s.

An early masterpiece was the television series Kamisan to Watashi (『カミさんと私』; my wife and I) (1959–1972) with her father Ishii Kan playing the lead. Next, Ai to Shi o Mitsumete (『愛と死をみつめて』; gazing at love and death) from 1964 is an excellent drama that people talk about to this day. Hashida Sugako, the scriptwriter, was indispensable to the Toshiba Sunday Theatre as she later also wrote the television series Onna no Ie (『おんなの家』; a house of women) (1974–1993) and Onnatachi no Chushingura (『女たちの忠臣蔵 いのち燃ゆるとき』; women’s Chushingura) (1979), which marked the occasion of the programme’s 1,200th broadcast. One of Ishii’s valuable contributions to this programme was her outstanding teamwork ability, as reflected in her enduring relationships with outstanding screenwriters. She created top-rated series like Onna to Misoshiru (『女と味噌汁』;a woman and miso soup) (1965–1980) and Shitamachi no Onna (『下町の女』; a woman of the working-class districts) (1970–1974) together with Hiraiwa Yumie. A host of other eminent screenwriters were also involved in the Toshiba Sunday Theatre, such as Matsuyama Zenzo who created many dramas starting with Kotobuki (『寿』; long life) (1961), Mukoda Kuniko who wrote many original scripts such as Hanayome (『花嫁』; the bride) (1977), and Yamada Yoji who wrote important works like Chichi (『父』; father) (1971) and Shukko (『出航』; setting sail) (1981), which marked the occasion of the programme’s 1,300th broadcast.

A major appeal of the Toshiba Sunday Theatre during the days of the single-episode dramas was that the audiences could enjoy various scripts and performances every week. This is different from today’s television where serial dramas have long been the norm. Unlike serial dramas, series do not have to be shown every week, so viewers look forward to watching when a favourite drama is shown again after some time. The many dramas that Ishii worked on for the Toshiba Sunday Theatre were domestic dramas set in the household. It is also doubtful that masterpieces such as Kimottama Kasan (1968–1972), Arigato (1970–1975), and Relentlessness Is Found Everywhere (1990–2019) would have come about if she had not met people like Hiraiwa and Hashida during the making of dramas for Toshiba Sunday Theatre. From this perspective, the history of Japanese domestic dramas can stand on the foundation of the works produced by Ishii for the Toshiba Sunday Theatre.

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