Picture credits to: http://wiki.d-addicts.com/static/images/4/43/Nankyokutairiku.jpg
Takuya Kimura, welcome back. By that I mean – welcome back to a show of epic proportions, one where only you are able to pull off. Oh how I have missed the strong presentation of pathos that you display in your acting in the past; so glad that made a comeback here. Bravo!
Nankyoku Tairiku is the 60th anniversary project by TBS and comprised of a slew of A-list veteran actors, coupled with some up-and-coming young’uns and lots of really adorable children who injected all the right doses of warmth and tears. And of course, how could I possibly forget the 20-odd (plus and minus considering the circumstance and the like) Sakhalin Huskies?
Nankyoku Tairiku is a remake of 1983 film, “Nankyoku Monogatari” or globally known simply as “Antartica”, though it’s really more like an inspired-by remake and not a total replica. It tells the story of Japan’s first Cross-Winter Expedition in Antartica that took place in 1958, including the huskies left behind.
The first episode spanned 2 hours and though the beginning felt somewhat slow, the anticipation and strong desire in wanting to make the expedition to Antartica happen; man, coupled together, they simply were inspiring and moving. Kuramochi Takeshi as played by Takuya Kimura is a Geology professor and has always had the desire to visit Antartica since his own father was part of Japan’s first team that reached Antartica way back in 1912 or so. In this opening, the focus was on trying to make the donation because at that time post-war Japan was still stricken by poverty, hardship and tight financial woes plus not forgetting still-fragile sentiments. Kuramochi himself had lost his wife in the war ten years ago, though he remained close to his sister-in-law Takaoka Miyuki played by Ayase Haruka – she of whom has played with KimuTaku in just about half a dozen times or more by now. I don’t know why he likes her so much – though I now have a sort of inkling after watching her in Hotaru no Hikari last year – but for once, casting her along was completely apt. She carried the nuances of Miyuki, a schoolteacher to poor children and beacon of good and hope for Kuramochi to a tee. There is a certain kind of warmth and gentleness required of the character and frankly, I’m happy to report that I think Ayase Haruka did a phenomenal job in this series.
Once the story got going, it really got going. Frankly I’ve never been much of an animal-lover, but the dogs really kept my attention full-on. From finding them, training them and falling in love with them in such good camaraderie spirit, Nankyoku Tairiku excelled in depicting the story of friendships between not just members of the Hoshino expedition team – 11 men – but also the friendship between men and the dogs, whom the former literally owed their lives to.
I loved the show for not only the above, but more than that: the portrayal of hope, of conquering the impossible. Of staying true to their Japanese spirit through and through: never give up. Gambatte! has seriously never been more inspiring as this show portrayed it. I particularly loved the fact that when they were at a standstill in getting funding and Kuramochi was beyond disappointed at that news, the little kid who carried his baby sibling wherever with him, Haruo ran to Kuramochi; tattered shoes and clothes and all, he ran with determination to Kuramochi to hand him a small yen coin. “Will this be enough?” he asked. Kuramochi tried to hold his tears in, so extremely touched he was and across the screen, I bawled like a baby. Seconds later, he looked up to see the rest of the kids running towards him, coins in hand. For them who were already living such hard lives and yet still wanting to give their hard-earned coin away for the cause; aw, I can’t even.
Friendship, as aforementioned, also really played central stage in this show and applause for that. The rusty friendship that went way back between Kuramochi and Himuro Haruhiko (Masato Sakai), the government representative of the Hoshino team finally found its closure mid-series in a most touching execution. At first I thought Himuro kept looking constipated – okay, face it, he did! – but that conviction he showed and heartbreak upon finding out they could not return to base to take the dogs with them, guh that gutted me. His statement, “I owe my life to them; they’re the very reason why I’m alive,” was so true and so heartfelt, so much so I loved that he really fought to 1) make the third cross-winter expedition happen and 2) allow Kuramochi to return to Antartica to find his friends.
Because it is based on a true story, the fact that 15 dogs were left at the base unmanned and 8 of them died of hunger because their leashes were tightened so it was much harder for them to try escaping and the rest who did either disappeared or died … Ugh, heart-wrenching. Some dogs held my heart near and dear and I know I am not the only one. I mean, SURELY I am not the only right? Anyone?
To Riki who died pitifully facing the base awating Kuramochi’s return (sob), Fuuren Kuma (Bear) who disappeared and probably eventually died because the ice split and thus separated him from his kids and friend (double sob), extremely adorable siblings Taro and Jiro who lived!, Shiro who died in the whale carcass waiting for Himuro (triple sob), Jack who died because of a glacier and all the rest that died due to starvation (sob sob sob) – you guys were really award-winning actors and lovely creatures. Thank you for appearing on my screen even just this once!
Nankyoku Tairiku is a show of epic proportions, grandiose in production and casting and earlier mentioned, one that I strongly believe only someone with the likes of KimuTaku – both in terms of reputation and talent – deserve to rein. For that, I am SO glad to report that the awesome KimuTaku completely owned the story from beginning to end. Of course, props not only to him but the entire production crew and the rest of the cast for such brilliance and commitment in depicting a story that I believe, must be told. I’m glad to have been able to tune in and to discover this not-so-little gem. If you’re looking for a love story – it really depends what you’re seeking because here’s a love that isn’t typical, yet so awe-inspiring. It turned out to exceed my expectations, so absolutely moving. What a winning series!
Final verdict: 10/10.
PS For the curious/interested, here’s a blog I found that explained quite in-detailed about Real Life Taro and Jiro as well as the separation and similarities between fiction and fact as depicted in the series: Taro & Jiro Story.