– Emperor Yozei
Any guesses I had as to the format of Uta Koi were clearly just assumptions, as the second episode already sets aside the two-poem format of the premiere and dedicates the entire ep to one poem and its accompanying interpretation. After a brief visit with Utsunomiya Yoritsuna (Shimono Hiro), the Lord who commissioned the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, we jump right into a tale that begins where the last one left off – with the story of young Sadaakira Shinnou, who ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 877 AD at the tender age of nine and became Emperor Youzei. You might remember him as the young Emperor we saw with Takaiko when her former lover General Nurihara came to visit in the first episode.
It was suggested by some viewers that we were intended to believe Youzei was actually Narihara’s son, which didn’t strike me as likely at the time – but of course, Narihara showing up as the young Emperor’s companion and teacher makes me wonder if that might in fact be the case. In any event, this story too is a short dissertation on a specific kind of love – the sort that grows slowly and patiently over time, the fruit of compassion and familiarity. Sadaakira was a handful as a boy (sort of an anti-Chagum), but even the version here is quite a bit toned down from the violent sociopath recorded in the history books. What we see here is a boy who’s fundamentally lonely, aware that he was chosen to rule strictly as a figurehead and loved only by his mother and Narihara. He runs afoul of young Yasuko (Takaragi Kumi), a playmate of his younger sister who Sadaakira clearly has a crush on but is capable only of treating with derision. Finally an episode where he feeds frogs to snakes (based on an event that supposedly really happened) causes her to declare her hatred for him once and for all.
The death of Narihara (presumably of disease, as he seemed to be expecting it) causes great grief to Youzei and of course, to Takaiko – and sends the boy off on a spiral of even worse behavior. He grows into an angry young man (played by Morikubo Showtaro) who’s eventually deposed from the throne at 17 and married off to Yasuko as a sort of consolation prize. To his credit Sadaakira doesn’t force himself on her – in fact, encourages her to get a lover – but Yasuko is a woman of principle, and won’t be persuaded to act dishonorably simply because everyone else does it. She declares her intention to fall in love with Sadaakira whether he wants it or not, and he recalls the words Narihara told him – poetry allows you to say what you wouldn’t be able to say openly (and he should know) leading to the poem inspired by a story Narihara had told the boy.
There’s a modern expression – “Still waters run deep” – that expresses the same sentiments I see in Sadaakira’s poem. It expresses a love not born of simmering passion but of gratitude to a woman who determined to love him no matter what reasons he gave her not to – and finally won him over to loving her back. I also rather like the notion that this one lovely poem confounds the historians, who otherwise would be eager to toss Youzei into the ashcan of time, remembering him as nothing more than a failure and a miscreant. How much of this is historically accurate is of course an unsolvable riddle, but then all of the poems in the Hyakunin Isshu are – they exist as much as reflections of ourselves in the way we interpret them as they do of the people that wrote them. And Uta Koi has taken a rather lovely approach to this one – that love exists in everyone, and that happiness is possible no matter how much unhappiness we must endure to find it.