enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Japanese Domestic Dramas and Ishii Fukuko (石井展)

Family Portraits: Ishii Fukuko’s TV Dramas

Japanese Domestic Dramas and Ishii Fukuko

‘Domestic drama’ is a translation of the pseudo-English Japanese word ‘home drama’. This genre has been influenced by the American sitcom (situational comedy) but has also played a major role as a distinct category in the history of Japanese television. One reason for the popularity of domestic dramas in Japan is likely the post-war restoration. The image of family members clashing emotionally about various issues, reaffirming their bonds, and overcoming those issues were presented as a new, bright, and democratic vision of the family, becoming a model to emulate. Television spread instantaneously as Japan advanced into rapid economic growth and became an everyday medium for families to watch in the living room, with the domestic dramas directly asking questions about how families can be happy.

However, the characteristics of families changed drastically over the 70 years that followed the first television broadcasts. ‘Nuclear family’ was a buzzword in 1963, and in 1970, experimental domestic dramas like Onimotsu Konimotsu (『お荷物小荷物』; luggage and parcels) that weaved in the Okinawa issue started to appear. In the late 1970s, Yamada Taichi and Mukoda Kuniko wrote scripts perceptively revealing family secrets and family breakdowns, such as Kishibe no Arubamu (『岸辺のアルバム』; photo albums on the shore) and Ashura no Gotoku (『阿修羅のごとく』; like Asura). In 1983, Kamata Toshio depicted the infidelity of baby boomers in Kinyobi no Tsumatachi e (『金曜日の妻たちへ』; to the Friday wives). After that, the domestic dramas kept changing and have remained close to us, with this year’s Ore no Ie no Hanashi (『俺の家の話』; about my house) by Kudo Kankuro being a recent example.

Ishii Fukuko has been leading Japanese domestic dramas for more than 60 years. She has produced a diverse range of dramas based on the scripts of people like Yamada and Mukoda, but at the centre has been her work with Hiraiwa Yumie and Hashida Sugako. Arigato by Hiraiwa, which recorded a top rating of 56.3% and was called an obake bangumi (お化け番組; extremely popular long-running television show), was a bright depiction of the close connections amongst families and the local community in the Showa period, focusing especially on mother-daughter relationships. Relentlessness Is Found Everywhere by Hashida, which continued for about 30 years if we count the specials, realistically showed the image of Heisei-period families by depicting the disagreements and frictions present in all families, sometimes harshly and sometimes warmly.

Ishii’s dramas have changed with the times. Nonetheless, there seems to be a constant nostalgic feeling at their core that we can term ‘human empathy’. Regardless of people’s suffering and different circumstances, they nevertheless care for each other and connect with others. In this day and age where Japanese society is fraught with disparities and divisions and people are increasingly separated from one another as we isolate ourselves due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be extremely interesting to see how the human empathy Ishii’s dramas portray will progress from here.