Haikei, Chichiue-sama starrs Ninomiya Kazunari (of Arashi and Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima) and is a gentle drama about a traditional ryotei (Japanese restaurant serving kaiseki or traditional Japanese cuisine) in Kagurazaka, a part of Tokyo that retains its old-world roots, traditional restaurants and geisha houses. It is often called hana no machi or flower town (pleasure quarter) where there is an abundance of bars and drinking spots run by retired geishas.

Ninomiya’s character Ippei is a young itamae (traditional Japanese chef) who has been apprenticed to Ryu-san, a legendary itamae at the ryotei Sakashita, for seven years. Sakashita is run by Ritsuko who has taken over the reins from her mother Yumeko, a forma geisha.

The drama begins when Yumeko’s danna (common-law husband and Ritsuko’s father), the main figure behind Sakashita and a powerful minister, collapses and is taken to hospital. With his demise, the real estate developers who have had their eyes on the old and venerated property move to buy the restaurant’s land, and Sakashita’s world is turned upside down as it is forced into the 21st century. Ritsuko who has been trying hard to keep Sakashita afloat is torn between staying true to her mother’s dreams of keeping the restaurant as it is and fighting to save the restaurant in whatever necessary form.

I was particularly touched by the scenes in which Yumeko has to deal with her danna’s death. As a mistress, she and her family are unable to officially attend his wake and can only watch the proceedings from a respectable distance. Yet after the funeral, she receives a visit from his wife to thank and acknowledge her role in the life of the man they both loved. In a society where everyone’s role is specific, respected and acknowledged, it was a very poignant moment, although it is a situation which I would find difficult to accept or understand. Yet I somehow felt deeply touched by it.

While this is happening, Ippei’s new assistant Tokio arrives straight out of juvie but willing to learn. He also has to deal with his mother Yukino, a former geisha who runs a nearby bar.

Haikei, Chichiue-sama (loosely translated as Dear Father) is how Ippei always ends the narration of each episode, as imaginary letters to a father he has never met. It’s a wonderful drama series and harks back to a bygone era where a man’s worth was measured by his dedication to his chosen path, the integrity of his intentions and his loyalty to the people around him. We follow Ippei as he stumbles through the uncertain future of Sakashita, falls in love with a girl who will only converse in French (Kagurazaka is a Francophone town) and his search for his father whom his mother refuses to name. It’s a glimpse into the watery world of Japanese entertainment and pleasure, and the silent and sometimes harsh rules binding the people who live in that society.

I really enjoyed this series and there were several episodes which made me cry. It’s a heart-warming story of a Japan that is slowly slipping away.

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