Rumor has it that NHK's taiga drama series — year-long Sunday night staples — may be cursed. Taiga (literally "big river," but here refers to a historical saga) has been an institution since the first installment launched in 1963. As one of NHK's best-known shows, taiga has traced epic moments in Japanese history, often in impressive depth and detail. Generations of Japanese students (including this writer) plowed through their history exams with knowledge garnered from the shows.
But trouble seems to be brewing. Last year's iteration, "Idaten," which was the first to draw on more modern times by looking at Japanese Olympians, was plagued by two things: the arrest of actor Pierre Taki midway into the series, and ratings hitting an all-time low. Taki was a principal cast member, and NHK reshot his scenes with another actor. The ratings, however, were beyond the broadcaster's control.
Unfortunately, history seemed to repeat itself ahead of this year's series, "Kirin ga Kuru" ("Awaiting Kirin"), when actress Erika Sawajiri was arrested in November for drugs offences. NHK producers announced a fortnight's delay to the start date and reshot all of Sawajiri's scenes, along with advertising and promo footage. NHK had already finished taping the first 10 episodes and, as with "Idaten," it had to scrap everything and start over. Haruna Kawaguchi, a 24-year-old film and television actress, took over Sawajiri's role as Kicho, the wife of the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582).