I’m not particularly a fan of Takeru Sato but I’m quite fond of him in his famous Rurouni Kenshin movies. He was great in there and so is he in this drama. He has a certain flare for period movies or dramas. While Tenno is not a samurai themed work like Rurouni, it’s set in the Meiji era that chronicles the life of the emperor’s cook, Tokuzo Akiyama. As part of the preparation to film this, he went to a culinary school to learn cooking, especially the skills. All the cutting scenes were done by himself.
I would highly recommend this show to anyone who either is a fan of any of the cast or is looking for a period drama that is both exciting and touching. I admit I was tricked into thinking Ito Hideaki has a somewhat prominent role in the drama based on his picture on the poster. Turned out he only appeared in the beginning and yes, his role was major because he was basically the one who inspired Tokuzo to venture into the cooking career. But I was still disappointed Ito appeared only in the first episode.
Anyways, that was just a minor selfish desire of mine to see more of Ito Hideaki. The drama itself has a strong cast by the way. There’s no room for half-assed performance here so you can be rest assured that no one will disappoint you. I’ve seen some comments saying how Takeru Sato’s acting is a bit over exaggerated that makes his character looked a bit dumb. I can understand if that sort of annoys some people who can’t stand his speaking manner, but it’s not the entire time. I bet it was all part of his character. Put that behind and you’ll be surprised how wide his acting range can get to as you go along. The supporting cast is also one of the strongest. I have yet to be disappointed by any of them.
As for the plot, the story began in Tokuzo’s hometown in Fukui. In the first episode, he was married into his wife’s family because his father was desperate to control his attitude towards life. Tokuzo’s the kind of guy who couldn’t endure doing the same thing for a long period of time. His limit would always be 3 months and he’d eventually give up. Although initially reluctant to settle down with a wife he wasn’t in love with, he went along with the marriage anyway. One day he met a cook (Ito Hideaki) at the regiment camp who introduced to him Western food like cutlets, escargot and curry rice. Since that day, Tokuzo became so engrossed with cooking that he planned to head to Tokyo to learn more.
I won’t go into the details but instead look at what I love about the show. It’s a nice change of pace from all the dramas this season. Since it’s a period drama, it’s refreshing to see them in traditional clothing and different dialects. It’s a very heart-warming tale and as usual, Japanese shows often come with life messages. I’m a sucker for those kinds of stuffs. Besides Tokuzo’s cooking life, we get an insight of his personal love stories too. I find his love story with his wife Toshiko particularly endearing and poignant. I love every scene of them together. I do feel pity for Toshiko for the most part because Tokuzo basically fled to Tokyo without so much as saying a proper goodbye to her and yet, she forgave him and stayed by his side the entire time. They were separated of course during the time Tokuzo was in Tokyo but she defended him even though her father wanted her to divorce Tokuzo and moved on.
Prepare lots of tissues for the scenes between them both, as I wept like a little child with tears raining down my cheeks profusely. It was something I couldn’t control. Unlike other romance stories, this one was just so beautiful. I think it’s partly because it was during that era where women were still largely dependent on their husbands and wouldn’t speak up or stand up for themselves that Toshiko was extra patient with Tokuzo’s antics. If this happens in present time, they’d have gotten divorced almost immediately. By today’s standard, Tokuzo would be labeled as good-for-nothing asshole.
While Toshiko was pitiful as she waited for Tokuzo, I don’t really blame him. He was sincerely pursuing his dream as a cook and he did push himself even further when Toshiko was pregnant so that he could earn enough and bring her to Tokyo.
So yes, I really ship this two. I was devastated when they really broke up in episode 6. I should be cheering out loud for Toshiko finally stood up for herself and said enough to this doomed relationship, but instead, I found myself wishing they would mend things again.
Basically from episode 7 onwards, Tokuzo finally went to Paris to learn French culinary. There was a brief romance between him and a French girl which was mostly cute but not memorable as with Toshiko. He managed to stay in Paris for 3 years and enhanced his cooking experience by a large mile. Finally, he was offered an appointment as the Emperor’s Cook by his teacher’s recommendation. So from episode 9, he was back in his hometown.
I would like to also mention several cast which makes this drama all the more delightful. First of all, Haru Kuroki plays the role of Toshiko, Tokuzo’s wife. This is the first time I see her in a drama and she’s quite new in the industry. Despite that, she was wonderful as the gentle and amiable Toshiko.
Ryohei Suzuki as Shutaro, Tokuzo’s eldest brother was equally brilliant. He actually lost weight just to play the role of a long suffering brother from pulmonary tuberculosis. That dedication to lose weight! He looked so pale and with a sunken face, I teared up during most of his scenes.
Kaoru Kobayashi as Usami who was the first chef Tokuzo was under in Tokyo. I don’t expect any less from Kaoru since he’s a veteran. His strict no-nonsense demeanor was put across right from the beginning. He’s a pleasure to watch.
Kenta Kiritani as Shintaro, Tokuzo’s colleague in Tokyo’s restaurant. At first, I really thought he was slightly annoying because he was a lazy bum whose ambition was really to become a famous artist. He did however make it to Paris, with the help of another friend, that is. I thought he was particularly amazing during episode 8 when he gave Tokuzo the artbook he painted.
Give this show a try. Definitely one of the standouts of the season. I was particularly quite disappointed by prominent star-studded cast like I’m Home (Takuya Kimura, Aya Ueto) and in some ways, Dr Rintaro (Sakai Masato) as well. Goes to show that even when you have famous actors/actresses, it depends on the storywriting too whether or not it can deliver.