Ohoku (Japanese Film)

Original Title: 大奥
Alternate English Title: The Lady Shogun and her Men / Ooku: The Inner Chambers
Release date: October 1, 2010
Director: Fuminori Kaneko
Manga by: Fumi Yoshinaga
Screenplay by: Natsuko Takahashi
Cast: Kazunari Ninomiya, Kou Shibasaki, Maki Horikita, Hiroshi Tamaki, Sadao Abe, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Tadayoshi Okura, Aoi Nakamura, Mitsuko Baisho, Muga Takewaki, Emi Wakui

Based on the on-going manga series by Fumi Yoshinaga, distributed in English by Viz Media as Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Ohoku tells the story of an Edo period alternate universe Japan, in which the male population is stricken by a bizarre disease, which shifts the ratio of men to women to 1:4, turning society upside down and giving the most powerful position in society to a female Shogun.

I’m not going to lie to you, the idea of role inversion in a period piece is really an exciting one, and I’m not the only one thinking this since the manga series Ohoku is adapted from has won many awards in Japan. Plus, the idea of Kou Shibasaki as a female Shogun excites me beyond belief~

The main issue with this, however, is that the film should be called The Men and the Lady Shogun — at least — considering most of the story revolves around the men in the Shogun’s inner chambers (known as Ooku), and little about the female Shogun.

After a very blink-and-you-will-miss-it moment at the very beginning, the first half of the film is entirely dedicated to Mizuno (Ninomiya), who is developed as the good guy… so self-sacrificing that he sleeps with all the women without getting paid, giving out his seed to those women who are desperate to conceive and bare a child. Mizuno is painted as such a Marty Stu… a skilled kendo dueler, good son, a man through and through — in a setting that lends itself for some soft boy-on-boy action — and understanding.

Mizuno’s got a girl, his longtime friend Onobu (Horikita), who despite the gender reversal, still acts like a girl, bothering to make rice balls so Mizuno can eat them, and waiting for him to make a move… when, in fact, if the disease had been around long enough, should have been sufficient time to give role reversal in how the family seeks new blood. You wouldn’t wait for your daughter to get a suitor, you would require your daughter to find a suitable male.

The most interesting scenes dealing with all the male cast are Mizuno’s relation to Sugishita (Sadao Abe), who was the first one lending a helping hand as Mizuno entered the Ooku, and explained how his life never amounted to anything. There were also some machinations between the men just to get ahead, which would have been interesting if there had been more focus on them.

However, the most interesting aspect, which is sadly under-explored, is female Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa (Shibasaki), who reaches power and begins cutting down unnecessary spending to lead her country back on track. What does her ruling do to deal with the disease crisis? How does the high society work with the gender inversion? We see women in town working, we see the men who have become prostitutes, we see the women howling at men posing in display windows… but what is it like for the female Shogun?

While Shibasaki commands attention when she’s on screen, and orders people around like it’s nobody’s business, Kazunari Ninomiya seems… miscast. He’s short and everyone seems to tower over him, he’s scrawnier than your average ikemen (beautiful, generally delicate men) in a room full of those.

Though the ending is a little too practical, it leaves it open enough to make a second part that could focus on the reconstruction aspect of society — if the manga deals with that.

This one seems… like an opportunity missed.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

4 Responses

  1. Julyssa says:

    Ok, so I finally was able to get my hands on this movie and I must say I am a bit disappointed. I’ve read so many good things about the manga and I was excited about the movie, yet I found myself snorting through-out it.

    The notion of the power of the genders being thrown around was fascinating. But I want to know why there was a female Shogun. If men are such a commodity, wouldn’t a male be a Shogun? I mean, he could father as many children as he wanted. I know that the disease might cause some form of issue here, but it’s hard to imagine a man of that time giving away his power so easily…

    Also, the whole notion about the make Ooku was a bit off. If men are so rare, why are so many kept inside a castle where they can’t share their precious “seed”?

    I kind of appreciated that the power between the genders were equally distorted. I liked that one gender didn’t have more power over the other, they needed each other as much. It was a bit funny though, how important it became to have a child, the women crazy for seed and the men either giving it for free or becoming prostitutes. How sad wasn’t that walk the Shogun took in the alleys at night?

    I think I will still give the manga a shot. It might give me the answers I am looking for. I hope so at least.

    Oh, you are right about Ninomiya eing miscast (he is cute but he was a puppy compared to the other men in the Ooku) and there was way too little Shibasaki. I like the story of the Ooku, but I want to know more about the Shogun! She was so kick-ass with her simple yet frank ways.

    • amy says:

      @Julyssa, well – I haven’t read the manga either, and I’m pretty sure it’s on-going (as with all manga), so I decided to stay away. LOL You know it’s frustrating to me to follow on-going stuff.

      Anyway, I don’t know why the Shogun became female – I suspect that the disease might have wiped out all the men in the Shogun family, and only Shibasaki was able to succeed the position. And because men were a commodity, the female Shogun had her assortment of men in the Ooku – that’s actually the part with the most logic.

      The Ooku in reality was just a place where the Shogun kept all ‘his women’ – and even his wife was kept in it. So it made sense the female Shogun had her pick of men. With 3/4 of the male population wiped out, I supposed the economy went down until finally the women were able to put themselves in those positions to keep the society going, and because they probably didn’t have a way to keep the currency, sex – or I guess, selling your seed – became an easy currency for the few men left.

      Of course, that’s a lot of “I guess” in my explanation. It wasn’t a bad movie, but the best part of it was the short screentime Shibasaki had. I can’t wait to see her in her Hollywood debut. :)

  1. April 29, 2011

    […] Thoughts on Ooku? […]

  2. November 14, 2013

    […] I prefer Shibasaki acting even in so-so movies like Ohoku. […]

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