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Wataru Seiken wa Ona Bakari

[KIKU TV synopsis]:Setsuko and Daikichi are always there with a helping hand or wise word for their five daughters as they deal with the problems of marriage, child-rearing, in-laws and caring for the aged. The series begins with a 2-hour special.

A long ongoing drama series on TBS.

[Daily Yomiuri, February 28, 2004, Wm. Penn]: Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari will be back April 1 at 9 p.m. on the TBS network. The series began in 1990 and is returning for its seventh season, making it one of the more venerable programs on air. This year viewers will be asked to commiserate with Shin (Kazuki Enari) as he faces the aftermath of his entrance exam fail.

[Daily Yomiuri, March 28, 2006, Wm. Penn]: Families change and evolve. Nothing stays the same, and fans of the long-running Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari series are going to have to brace themselves for lots of casting changes this spring. Two of the central characters will be missing when the series starts its eighth season with a two-hour special April 6 on the TBS network, 9:00-10:59 p.m.

The long-running drama is the closest thing Japan has to a typical soap opera. Most domestic continuing dramas, even the NHK morning serials, last six months to a year at most. If they are very good or very lucky, they may be brought back for another 11-week run or two-hour special, but Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari is a national institution that debuted way back in 1990.

Compared to U.S. soap operas, there is not much action, no murder or mayhem or passionate love affairs run amok. In fact, there is little romance at all. The emphasis has been on the constant challenges of everyday life--husbands, children, careers and mothers-in-law--faced by the five sisters of the mythical Okakura clan and their relationship with their dear old dad, Daikichi (Takuya Fujioka), who runs a Japanese restaurant.

In Hawaii, the series airs under the title Making It Through, and we have watched the women make it through an awful lot in the last 16 years. Along the way, scriptwriting superstar Sugako Hashida, of Oshin fame and 80 years old herself now, has provided a fairly accurate portrait of how Japanese society and Japanese women in particular have changed in the last two decades. Despite the arduous task of rattling off the lengthy, fast-paced dialogue Hashida creates, the drama has been blessed with a strong, enduring cast, a family of actors who really do seem like family. There have been very few casting changes, and the public clearly identifies the actors with their roles, but like any family they are aging, and the weekly magazines are predicting this may be the series' last season.

When actress Hisano Yamaoka, who played the girls' mother, Setsuko, died several years ago, her death was written into the script and the cast and fans of the show grieved all over again together. At that time, Taki (the wonderful character actress Akiko Nomura, 79) was added to the storyline as an old friend of Setsuko's who came in to help manage the restaurant.

This year, illness forced Fujioka, 75, to give up his role at the last minute, and there was no time for a rewrite. In Season 8, Ken Utsui will be playing father. One doesn't envy Utsui the job. After 16 years of Fujioka as Daikichi, it will be a challenge for viewers to accept anyone else in the role. To add to the disconcerting mood in the oh-so-believable, make-believe world of Okakura-land, Harue Akagi, 81, who plays Kimi, the mother-in-law from hell for the Okakura's third daughter, ramen shop waitress Satsuki (Pinko Izumi), has pretty much left the series. In an uncharacteristically unrealistic storyline, she suffered a stroke and was shipped off to the United States for rehabilitation under the care of her eldest daughter, Hisako (Masami Sawada), at the end of Season 7. She may make a few return appearances, but the chore of making sure Satsuki's life is miserable has now, like the family shamoji (rice ladle), been handed over to Hisako, who will return from the United States without Kimi to rattle the nerves of everyone at the ramen shop.

Reports have it that the series also plans a marriage for Satsuki's daughter, Ai, this season, while her son, Shin (Kazuki Enari, who has been a star of the series since he was in first grade), will at long last be rewarded with a beautiful girlfriend. Yes, all the usual antics and more are in store for fans of life in the nation's most famous noodle bowl.

Featuring: Izumi Pinko, Nomura Mami, Nagayama Aiko, Fujita Tomoko, Nakata Yoshiko, Uekusa Katsuhide, Mabuchi Erika, Akagi Harue, Maeda Gin, Yamoka Hisano, Uekusa Katsuhide, Enari Kazuki and more.
Station: TBS
DURATION: Ongoing. Started back in 1990.
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