owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
I have a new fandom obsession!

If you wanted to make a show just for me, there is a good chance it would have a young woman with a dream -- a dream that involves a lot of hard and hands-on work, something traditional or close to the land. And she would face many difficult challenges but not be discouraged and succeed, in the end, through her hard work and absolute unstoppability.

Also she might spend a lot of time riding her bike around the countryside in overalls, and there might be sake involved.

This is where 1994 j-dorama Natsuko no Sake comes in.

Natsuko is a young woman working as a copywriter in Tokyo. Her family owns a small, very hands-on sake brewery, but her older brother Yasuo dreams of making an even better sake -- a sake that glitters with all the colors of the rainbow, made with the rare Dragon Brocade rice, which takes a lot of labor to cultivate because it doesn't stand up well to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But Yasuo dies from a weak heart. In the weeks that follow, Natsuko realizes just how empty and inauthentic her life as a copywriter is, and she decides to go back to her family, grow the Dragon Brocade rice by herself, and fulfill her brother's dream of making a great sake. Even though everyone stands against her, from her gruff, skeptical father to Yasuo's widow to the villagers who think that she's going to attract crop diseases and insects to their fields by growing rice organically.

I'd be happy if all we had was the scenes of Natsuko tilling the ground, anxiously checking to see if her seedlings have come up, spreading tarps to protect her rice from the crop sprayers. But there's also a compelling family drama about her relationships with her father and her sister-in-law Kazuko, and how her whole family is affected by Yasuo's death; Kazuko doesn't know how she fits in with her in-laws now that her husband is dead. And there's a touch of romance that doesn't overwhelm the rice-growing, sake-brewing part of the plot.

I recognize the agrarian, traditionalist, Wendell Berry kind of ideology for what it is... while really being charmed by it, at least in a fantasy kind of way. I absolutely don't want to do hard agricultural labor myself, and I definitely don't want to live in a rural village, but there's definitely a part of me that feels theoretically nostalgic for what is local and hand-made and personal. There's one way in which the ideology is hard to ignore; of course the girl who wears overalls and ivory sweaters is the Good Girl, and of course Sayoko, the girl who went to Tokyo to try to be an actress, and who wears lipstick, is the Bad Girl. Sometimes that gets complicated and subverted, but just as frequently Sayoko is simply... the Bad Girl. So, I get annoyed by that, and then I'm charmed again by the long shots of the rice fields.

The theme song on YouTube! ... Which is followed by 4 minutes of some random song I don't know? Oh well.
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June 2017

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