Episode three begins with a rather bizarre sight gag with Sadaie dressed as the Tokyo Sky Tree. He then introduces us to Ki no Tsuruyaki (Yonaga Tsubasa). He was a low-level courtier assigned to compile an anthology of poetry, the Kokin Wakashuu (this was the first Waka, a poetry anthology commissioned by an Emperor, and would be included in the Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu), and appears to us dressed as Tokyo Tower. It may be purely coincidental that such modern imagery was chosen for this episodes – merely an attempt at visual humor – but in reality it’s a tipoff that the episode is going to be built around some very modern themes.
At this point it seems silly to debate the historical accuracy of Uta Koi’s interpretation of any of the 100 Poets – it’s not as if any such debate could ever be settled authoritatively – so let’s restrict ourselves to the story as presented. Here, the above poem is envisioned through the remembrance of the elderly Monk Kisen, relating a story of his friend Henjo’s youthful days as Yoshimine Munesada (Uchida Yuuya), an illegitimate grandson of a former Emperor and a low-ranking noble at the Heian court. As a boy, he was raised as a stepbrother to the beautiful Yoshiko (Endou Aya) – now a young woman subjecting all potential suitors to a ritual of 100 consecutive nights of calling upon her if they wish to be her husband. Munesada seems to look upon this with a good deal of mirth – until he hears that she’s likely to become one of the Emperor’s Maidens soon if she doesn’t marry. At last the truth is revealed – Munesada loves her himself, and decides to subject himself to the 100 nights in order to win her hand.
Once again, we’re met with a very different sort of love story from what we’ve been presented with earlier in the series. This is a pretty contemporary drama, as Yoshiko is very much a woman chafing at the rigid definitions of a woman of nobility in the Ninth Century. She has great ambition – largely as a poet – and rebels at the notion of any life that will force her to die with her potential unfulfilled. The problem is, she loves Munesada as much as he loves her, and has since she was a girl. Clearly, he’s the only one of her callers (most of whom never made it past the fifth night) for whom she has even the slightest consideration – to the others she never even deigned to speak.
As stubborn as Yoshiko is, Munesada is her match. Having seen the shabby treatment is Grandmother received at the Palace, he fears that her relatively minor stature (and his) will force the same on Yoshiko, and crush her naïve dreams of palace life. She dreams of greatness, he dreams of a happy life with the woman of loves where she stays at home and raises the children. This is a model Munesada seems to believe in (which is quite normal) but his concern for his beloved are also quite genuine – he truly believes she’d be unhappy when her dreams meet the reality of what her life would be like. Each is tempted by what the other offers, and contemplates surrendering in order to be with the one they love – but each resists, to the end. And after 99 nights of treks to her side through raid and cold, on the stormy 100th night he pleads with her one last time to reconsider – and in the end, they pretend that the 100th visit never took place, and let their romantic dream scatter like Sakura in an April storm.
That Yoshiko went one to become the revered poet Ono no Komachi is hardly surprising, nor is the fact that her poems are legendary for their erotic themes, and that most are tales of solitude. As for Henjo’s poem, it seems to me a sad sort of benediction – a quiet wish to freeze time for a moment and stop Yoshiko on her journey inside the Emperor’s circle, and out of his life forever. A woman forced to choose between career and love could hardly be a more timeless tale, but as sad as this one is I wouldn’t call it a tragedy. It feels as if in the end, both were willing to give in to the other’s wishes – but each resisted the impulse, knowing that to do so would be a selfish act and that their marriage would be an unhappy one. In this case the expression of love is in allowing your beloved to be free, rather than trapped inside a dream not of their own making – even with their true love. Of such contradictions is life constructed, and sometimes fate conspires to block the path to happiness with the one we love.