I accomplished 1/12 of one of my goals this year: read one book a month. I did it 15 days in advance too.
I started reading Botchan (young master) last year as soon as it was announced that Nino would act the title role in Fuji’s adaptation of the classic as part of its new year special. But by the time the drama aired, I was barely halfway through it.
I watched the drama raw and my Nihongo has long rested in peace so I could barely understand what was going on.
But that helped when I picked the book again because it was easier to read, picturing Nino as Botchan, as well as the superb support cast in the other roles.
The translation by Umeji Sasaki can be quite difficult to read at the beginning but it must be because he was faithful to the book, which was first published in 1906. One soon gets the hang of the writing although I suspect a lot of that could be attributed to the fact that I’ve already watched the drama adaptation so it was easier for me to understand.
Reading the book, it’s obvious why they chose Nino to play Botchan, the upright, if not, socially clumsy youngest son of a family in Tokyo who goes to the countryside to teach after his parents died.
Botchan is Nino, and Nino is Botchan.
Though that is not an entirely fair thing to say because Nino owns every role that he is given. It’s just that the personality of Botchan, who can be outspoken, reminds me of Arashi’s Ninomiya Kazunari. Nino, 1/5 of the group, is irreverent and naughty, as much as his dry humor can be hilarious. Botchan is irreverent especially to senpais who he thinks are unscrupulous. He is stubborn as much as he is arrogant. He also loves to give people funny–subtly insulting–names such as Porcupine, Mr Red Shirt, Mr Green Squash and Clown. And the thoughts that go on in his head are funny I found myself laughing out loud many times while reading.
The book offers interesting moral lessons that are still very relevant in this day and age. But what resonates for me the most is honesty and sincerity. Botchan is caught up in this little village where, as the newcomer, he’s bullied and thought of as strange because of his set ways. Shikoku island where he gets sent to, is a microcosm of Japanese society that has a strong sense of homogeneity. Botchan stands out not only because he comes from the big city but because nothing unnerves him. His stubborn uprightness soon makes him the target of bullying by his own students and the object of power play by his fellow teachers. How Botchan survives this and does not compromise his character is how the story unfolds.
The drama, however, is more satisfying especially towards the ending because it showed Botchan giving his long-desired retribution to Mr Red Shirt in front of the whole school. The book only has the confrontation between Botchan and Porcupine, and Mr Red Shirt and his loyal Clown in a forest.
The drama also shows what happened after Botchan has left the island and Mr Red Shirt went to take over his class with the rebel students. Both the book and drama ends with Botchan returning to Tokyo and settling in a new home with his loyal nurse, Kiyo, until she died. In a way, the story is Botchan’s tribute to the only person, ironically not even blood-related, who has shown him love and affection in the world.
Never in the book, told in the first-person, does Botchan refer to himself with his real name. But the story is based on the experience of the author when he was sent to Matsuyama in Shikoku to teach.
The drama was a fitting tribute to the original material, if not, a more satisfying, vivid adaptation. Omedetou to Nino for giving life to Botchan. He is indeed a young master in acting.
Now on to the second book for the year.
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