English Dub Review: The Heike Story “The Glory of the Corrupt World is a Dream in a Dream”

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OVERVIEW (SPOILERS)To make up for some rash actions by his youngest son, Shigemori sends him to a different Ise as punishment. His sister, Tokuko, is betrothed to the emperor’s son, despite him being six years younger than her. She explains this to Biwa, who also meets a female entertainer, Gio. Biwa takes a liking to Gio, though learns that she used to be used as a plaything by Kiyomori, Shigemori’s father and the leader of the Taira, who has become a monk but still holds power in the clan despite supposedly handing that over to Shigemori. Later, Gio and her sister become nuns in order to escape being used by Kiyomori, which saddens Biwa, but she learns through a vision that Gio, her sister, and even their replacement all survive as nuns. However, Tokuko goes to be betrothed, which Biwa tearfully cannot stop, even while knowing of Tokuko’s fate by drowning.

OUR TAKESo, here’s a reality that came crashing down as I tried to summarize this episode: this show is VERY unforgiving of viewers who haven’t completed their bachelor’s degree in Japanese history. Or I guess you could say that this show is very entrenched in its own country’s history that it doesn’t have time nor inclination to really slow down for those who don’t know that context. I suppose this wouldn’t be any different if someone who only grew up in Japan tried to do a review of that John Adams HBO series from 2008. My point in saying all this is that, while it was simple enough to determine who the important characters were, their role in the story, and what the episode was trying to comment on, filling in the blanks on who all those people are and the historical relevance to all of that really proved to be an uphill battle that I imagine will only get harder as we go on. That said, I do welcome that challenge, mainly because, out of the two episodes we’ve had so far, The Heike Story has proven to be quite intriguing in its stylistic approach to this material.

As for what this episode in particular is all about, I think the theme I’ve managed to parse is that this is an examination of the powerlessness of women in this period. Tokuko and her sister Moriko are married off as bargaining chips, even having to outlive their husbands and then marry children to prioritize continuing their respective lines and maintaining strong relationships with powerful families to retain their own family’s power. Likewise, performers like Gio are on their own until situations where they gain the favor of a nobleman, like Gio was picked up by Kiyomori, who has held power for so long that he doesn’t see those beneath him as human beings, least of all women. And given that Biwa’s main conflict in this story is that she is fully aware of the Taira’s eventual demise, it is all the more tragic knowing that Tokuko will indeed die, so it is also a welcome surprise that Gio, her sister, and others will survive by becoming nuns, the only way can take control of their lives in this era. There’s also some stuff to mention about Shigemori, whose US voice is doing his best Liam Neeson impression, on his own path to his own end, but we can get more into that next time.

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