Jidaigeki (Period Drama) (時代劇)

Jidaigeki (period drama) is a genre of theater, film and television shows based on various periods in Japanese history.

A jidaigeki often features quasi-historical events and famous figures from throughout Japanese history, but customs, manners, sound effect, dialogue and language in addition to the characterisation of these figures are significantly fictionalised to appeal to a mass audience. The storyline is written in such a manner that the leading character's viewpoint aligns with modern values.


Although there is no clear definition as to which periods qualify as jidaigeki, those based on periods up to the Meiji Restoration are often referred to as such. On the other hand, stories which go too far back in history are often not referred to as jidaigeki (for example, the mythological age and the Yayoi Period, the time of Queen Himiko). In general, jidaigeki mainly refers to works based on with the period between the Heian and the Meiji Restoration.

Just as we differentiate between period novels and historical fictions, it is possible to refer to a more non-fiction piece as a 'historical drama.'
In practice, however, those created abroad are often referred to as 'historical dramas,' whereas those made in Japan are referred to as 'jidaigeki' to distinguish between them. In English-speaking countries, plays equivalent to the Japanese jidaigeki are referred to as 'period pieces' or 'period dramas' and the Japanese period dramas (characterised by the importance of swordfighting) are often distinguished by calling them jidaigeki.


Jidaigeki began in the Meiji period when literature became popular with the masses and studios were built in Kyoto to produce jidaigeki films. Jidaigeki evolved from what was known as 'Kyugeki'(old drama). With their main element being swordfighting, both kyugeki and jidaigeki were hugely popular.

After Japan's surrender in the Pacific War, they came under the occupation of the General Headquarters (GHQ). Through the terms of the occupation, jidaigeki production was temporarily restricted on the basis that dramas with characters brandishing Japanese swords were militaristic and glorified acts of vengeance, thus had an element of arousing hostility towards the States.
(Detective novels and films were allowed, as their main theme was solving a mystery.)

In 1953, in conjunction with the start of television broadcasting in Japan, televised jidaigeki dramas also began to be produced. In 1963, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) began broadcasting of the long-running jidaigeki television series NHK Saga Drama which is still shown today. Ever since, vast numbers of jidaigeki dramas have been produced.
Whilst video-tape was rapidly taking over as the recording medium for other television shows, jidaigeki continued mainly to be shot using motion-picture film, thus establishing a unique status of being more 'movies' than 'dramas.'
This was a unique characteristic of jidaigeki dramas, police dramas and superhero shows.

In recent years, viewer ratings among young people have dropped and production costs (such as checks for historical accuracy and licensing for the use of related data, production and procurement of sets and props, securing of locations and related licensing, plus costs and labour involved in makeup, wigs, costumes) have increased compared to contemporary dramas. In addition there has been lack of new blood and insufficient human resources to carry on the production thus jidaigeki are becoming cliche. As a result, television stations have begun to shy away from production and airing of jidaigeki dramas. This trend became particularly noticeable since around 1997 when Kinnosuke YOROZUYA, who had made a major contribution as a jidaigeki actor of his generation, passed away. However, jidaigeki still remains in high demand and is valued for reruns, paid broadcasting on satellite television networks and DVD and magnetic tape sales.

Historical Accuracy
In jidaigeki, ohaguro (dyed-black teeth) and hikimayu (painted eyebrows) were often used up to the 1960s but to a modern audience these past customs look bizarre and are not readily accepted. Consequently, even if it is appropriate for a character to wear ohaguro and hikimayu, they are almost never used nowadays except for in a few special circumstances. Additionally, sloppiness in historical accuracy is frequently seen in jidaigeki such as men wearing suteteko (undershorts) when they should be wearing loincloths and people wearing their hair in late-Edo-Period style when the story takes place in the Genroku era. On the other hand, whilst it was once common for women to use full wigs, as high definition video recording became popular, partial wigs became widely used to ensure the natural appearance of the hairline. Additionally, since Uchigatana (a sword kept in the 'obi' belt), essentially makes no noise when it cuts or is drawn from and returned to its sheath, no sound effects used to be used. However, since the times of movies such as 'Seven Samurai' the use of sound effects for swords became common practice. For scenes involving riding, horses of Western origin are favoured for their aesthetic qualities. Positions such as daikan (local governor), meakashi (hired thief-catcher), doshin (policeman) and komono (lower servant) and everyday items such food stalls are depicted based on information collected without a rigorous study of historical evidence.

Classification of Jidaigeki
Classification by Media
Jidaigeki films
Jidaigeki made for television

Classification by contents
Swordfighting dramas (known as chanbara jidaigeki) where the story centres around fighting with Japanese swords. The majority of jidaigeki are swordfighting dramas.

Jidaigeki with swordsmanship where the main themes are Bushido (samurai spirit) and loyalty.
Matatabi stories (stories of yakuza and gamblers) (Ninkyo [yakuza] stories)
Torimonocho (cop stories rewarding good and punishing evil); the majority of jidaigeki made for television are torimonocho. If the chief retainer, the lord or heir of a certain domain is the villain, a fictional domain is created for the purposes of the story. In the Mito Komon series, since there are no domain lords as villains, real domain names are used.

Shogun (and vice-shogun) stories and magistrate (bugyo) stories
Onihe Hankacho' (Onihei's records of criminal incidents) is a magistrate story, but has elements of a literary drama and rather than the principle of rewarding good and punishing evil, pays greater attention to the storyline and the description of people's lifestyles at the time.

Okappiki (hired thief-catcher) stories, Doshin (police constable) stories and Jitte (a specialized weapon used by low-rank law officers such as okappiki or doshin during the Edo Period) stories
Chivalrous outlaw stories
Battle stories: those about fightings in the Warring States Period and the rise and fall of daimyo (Japanese feudal lords). Battle stories include the film "Kagemusha (film)" (Body Double), NHK historical dramas and TBS's televised drama "Sekigahara."

Literary stories include adaptations of literary works such as novels (except for swordfighting dramas).

Edo Literature adapted for film includes The Life of Oharu (Saikaku Ichidai Onna), The Story of Chikamatsu Chikamatsu Monogatari) and Chikamatsu Monogatari (Saikaku Ichidai Otoko) produced by Daiei Film Company.

Stories of everyday life of common people in Edo (such as 'Cold Rice, Osan and Dad' [Hiyameshi to Osan to Chan] by Toei))
Stories set in the period other than the Edo

Heian Period stories include The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), Tales of Moon and Rain (Ugetsu Monogatari), Sanshō the Bailiff (Sanshodayu) and Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow (Koiyakoi Nasuna Koi).
Jidaigeki with female leads (except for swordfighting dramas)
O-oku (shogun's harem) stories
Mature jidaigeki and Pornographic jidaigeki
Special effects movies which have the premise of jidaigeki but feature supernatural elements such as shapeshifting heroes, powerful evil organizations and monsters.
Jidaigeki for mature audience include "Bangoro SHIBUKAWA"
Special effects movies for children include "Daimajin" (great devil), 'Akakage the Masked Ninja, 'Swift Hero Lion-maru' (Kaiketsu Lion-maru) and 'Arashi the Transforming Ninja.'
Hyper jidaigeki include works that are a mishmash of elements from various genres such as Westerns and science fiction with little regard for historical accuracy.
Hyper jidaigeki are closely related to the aforementioned "Special effects movies" ('Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle' (Gojo Reisenki) and 'ZIPANG')

* In a broad sense, Ninja movies are sometimes included in the category of jidaigeki but for the most part they are treated as a fundamentally separate genre.

(In this section, only those featuring well-known ninja [whether or not they actually existed] from the Warring State to early Edo Period are described as "jidaigeki")

Classification by producer and trend
Makino jidaigeki of the early days, characterized by beautifully choreographed Kabuki-style swordfighting.

Nonsense jidaigeki of the pre-war era, with absurdity as its main selling point.

The Toei jidaigeki were a series of jidaigeki made by Toei that were all the rage in the post-war era. Toei Jidaigeki were often set in the Edo Period.

The Daiei jidaigeki included not only swordfight stories but also many literary stories and those set in the periods other than the Edo. Close attention was paid to historical accuracy such as ohaguro and hikimayu in the Daiei jidaigeki.

The Kurosawa jidaigeki means a series of works by Akira KUROSAWA. The Kurosawa jidaigeki were characterized by realistic swordfights and storylines with a keen insight into human nature.

[Original Japanese]