Shiroi Kyoto

Reviewed by: il_mare

July 15, 2005

Rating: five

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Also Known As: Great White Tower
Episodes: 21
Broadcasted by: Fuji TV
Broadcast period: 2003-10-09 to 2004-3-18
Directors: Nishitani Hiroshi and Kouno Keita
Author: Yamazaki Toyoko
Screenwriter: Inoue Yumiko


Karasawa Toshiaki as Zaizen Goro
Eguchi Yosuke as Satomi Shuji
Kuroki Hitomi as Hanamori Keiko
Yada Akiko as Azuma Saeko
Mizuno Maki as Satomi Michiyo
Sawamura Ikki as Kikukawa Noboru
Kataoka Tokataro as Tsukuda Tomohiro
Ibu Masato as Ugai Igaku-bucho
Wakamura Mayumi as Zaizen Kyoko
Nishida Naomi as Kameyama Kimiko
Nogawa Yumiko as Ugai Norie
Ikeuchi Junko as Kurokawa Kinu
Ito Hideaki as Yahagihara Hiroshi
Ishizaka Koji as Azuma Teizo
Nishida Toshiyuki as Zaizen Matachi

Synopsis (Spoilers)

Goro Zaizen and Shuji Satomi are assistant professors at Naniwa University Hospital. Goro is a brilliant surgeon who will do anything to make his way up the corporate ladder. On the other hand, Shuji is a physician who earnestly devotes himself to medical research. Though the two doctors have contrasting personalities and are considered to be rivals, they highly recognize each other's skills.

The entire medical department is restless while preparing for the election to choose a new Surgical Department Professor. All Goro has on his mind is how to win the election. Meanwhile, Shuji is looking after a patient who apparently has pancreatic cancer. He carries out tests on the patient cautiously, and is very careful in telling the patient of the cancer. However, Goro barges in on their conversation, and out of the blue, tells the patient he has cancer, and that he needs an operation right away. Shuji is furious at Goro's rude attitude, and yells, "Doctors are not God!" Goro ignores this, and starts laying the groundwork for the operation. But when Goro finds out that the Director of the Medical Department has already given a diagnosis of stomach cancer, he cancels the operation. He feels that pointing out his boss's misdiagnosis will only hurt him in the upcoming election. Shuji however, is determined to save the patient's life and go on with the operation.

Il_mare's add on
Part I
Zaizen Goro is a brilliant surgeon, an outstanding doctor who is next in line to succeed his boss, Professor Azuma who is retiring soon. Opportunities like these, to ascend to be a professor come once in decades, and Zaizen is not going to let what he believes as his rightful position to be taken away from him. However, Azuma has other plans as he is increasingly dissatisfied that Zaizen is outshining him, and is determined not to let Zaizen secure the position of professor so easily. And thus begins a game of power play and politics as both Azuma and Zaizen lobby different interest groups to fight for the position of Professor of the First Surgery Department of Naniwa University Hospital.

Part II
Zaizen succeeds Azuma and is made a professor of the First Surgery Department of Naniwa University Hospital. He feels on top of the world and is invited to participate in a Global conference in Poland. Before he left, he operates on a patient who is diagnosed with cancer of the intestine. When he returns from his trip, the patient has died and Zaizen is sued by the family for malpractice and negligence. And the next battle begins again for Zaizen, defending himself for what he believes as to what was the best he could have done for the patient.


Fuji TV, to celebrate its 45 anniversary, commissioned the remake of "Shiroi Tower", adapted from the book of the same name written by Toyoko Yamazaki. Set against a top notch university hospital in Osaka, “Shiroi Kyoto” depicts the power struggles of the medical profession, explores the pitfalls of the health and medical system and unfolds the moral and ethical issues associated with the profession. The book has been remade into a movie once and a TV series thrice since its publication in 1963.

With an impressive cast and on location shooting in Poland, no expense was spared for this production and it did not fail to deliver an outstanding jdorama that grabs your attention from start to finish (It won the 40th Japanese Drama awards for best drama, best director, and best cast).

The series is fast-paced and pumped with vivid, varied and realistic characters to create a multi-dimensional story of the challenges and moral issued face by people working in the medical profession as they try to strike a fine balance between saving lives and surviving in a flawed and imperfect system. The show is quite overwhelming as it sucks you into the story with the ethical dilemmas the characters face and the profound issues it explores.

What is the role of a doctor? What is the value of life? How do you prioritise when your work is saving lives? How does one life measure up to another? What is the difference between confident and arrogant? How does idealism become naivety? When does living your dream become living your nightmare? And when does the savior turn into a butcher? “Shiroi Kyoto” attempts to address these questions, and engages the audience to reflect about our personal values and how we would deal with the situation while trying to survive in this world of the fittest.

There were 2 parts to the story, with the first 10 episodes centered on Zaizen's fight for the hot seat as professor of the First Surgery Department, and the second part focused on a medical law suit which Zaizen was embroiled in soon after ascending to professor-hood.

During the promotion battle, we see the power struggles and the political maneuvers of the different interest parties. The politics in the medical profession are no different from any other profession, they are just as dirty and driven by personal interest with intense lobbying in the background as the contenders fight for the coveted position. You can see how everyone in the First Surgery department got completely caught up with professor race, right down to the junior staff. Everyone had a personal interest in whom they want to be the new man in charge, and each stuck their little foot into the dirty puddle to try and influence the results.

In the second part, when the focus was on the medical lawsuit, it was amazing how a simple case could have such far and wide implications besides the plaintiff and defendant. To think that the original story was written in 1963, yet the issues and problems are still relevant in the new millennium! Taking responsibility for one's error is still considered a big taboo, whistle blowers are still ostracized for telling the truth, the plaintiffs are not sympathized with for their action, and the act of covering up and looking out for each other runs deep in the medical profession. Even the lawyer who fought for the plaintiff was on the verge of closing down his law firm as he could not make enough money from taking medical cases like this. The story does not glamorize the medical profession; instead the writer presented the sad and blatant truth on the pitfalls and shortcomings of the situation. In this story, no one was spared from the persecution, and there were no winners in this story. It was not a case against Zaizen, rather it was an outcry against the entire medical system.

The writer created 2 strong and contrasting characters: Zaizen and Satomi. Zaizen is the realist and Satomi the idealist. Sometimes I see both of them as one. Satomi is Zaizen's conscience, calling out to him to return to the fundamentals of why he became a doctor; Zaizen is Satomi's critique, constantly reminding him that we all live in the real world and the playing the game is part and parcel of survival. Both graduated from the same class, and although they majored in different fields of medicine, they are passionate about their work and outstanding in their field. They share a deep respect for each other's work and are competitive in pursuing their dreams and beliefs.

Satomi is earnest and true, and he does not conform nor does he participate in the politics and games of his peers and his superior. But Zaizen is deep into the game, and as he loses himself in chasing his goal, the means of how he does it diminishes in importance as his need for power possesses him.

Zaizen believes that he can only be the best in his work and save more lives by gaining more power, but Satomi believes that he can only be the best in his work and save more lives by research and staying true to his conscience. “Shiroi Kyoto” tells of how, as both doctors pursue their dreams, the conflict of reality and idealism tears them apart.

Gaining power and controlling power are 2 very different things. For Zaizen, power gives him the recognition and acceptance he yearned for. But it also corrupts his ideals and sinks him eventually as he loses sight of his priorities. There were moments when I can't totally figure out whether Zaizen was playing the game or whether he was the puppet of the game, with the puppet masters doing their maneuvers behind the scenes, making their moves to put the right pawn for their future interest.

There is no question of Zaizen's skills and competence in this drama. He is ambitious and he makes no pretence of his intentions. Although Satomi is made out to be the idealist, and Zaizen the realist, you will never detest Zaizen; instead the audience can empathise with Zaizen's course of action. He is where he is through sheer hardwork and talent, and he is proud of what he has achieved for himself.

As a poor student from the countryside, Zaizen lost his father at a young age and he had to struggle during his younger days to be what he is now. He carries not only his own ambition and aspirations but also that of his mother's, his father-in-law's and all those who support him. He cannot fail, he has come too far and sacrificed too much to fail. But what made him successful eventually fails him as he becomes arrogant. His arrogance makes him careless, showing more faith in his personal judgment versus doing the necessary test to double check his patient's condition.

It is ironic that Zaizen's meteoric career rise comes to a halt by the very same illness that killed his patients: cancer. With Zaizen's unexpected premature demise, he is left with nothing but endless regret on the what-ifs and the what-could-have-been. But what I admire about this character is how Zaizen keeps moving on and never looks back, how he is fearless in his ways, and how he always believes in what he does and stands firm on his beliefs. Even during his final days, he is not going to leave the very place he has fought so hard to stay in, and he is going to live his last days as professor of Naniwa University, nothing more, nothing less.

Sometimes, I find Zaizen just as naïve as Satomi in his blind ambition. Although he hates Satomi for being the whistle blower, he offers Satomi a key position in the new cancer centre as he believes there is no one more qualified than Satomi. It shows that Zaizen admires Satomi as much as he hates him, and you can't help but laugh at the odd relationship these 2 share.

Satomi is on the other end of the spectrum. He is a total idealist, and he never deviates from his duty as a doctor, placing the patient's interest on top of anything. Satomi throws himself into research and dedicates himself totally to his patient. He needs to work closely with Zaizen, and he trusts and respects Zaizen's views, yet he can never agree with Zaizen on his approach or values about work. Just like Zaizen, Satomi is equally stubborn in upholding tightly to his belief. He will not trade personal favors at the expense of his beliefs, not even for a patient's life. But Satomi tries relentlessly in his little ways to influence and hopefully direct Zaizen to be the worthy opponent that Satomi wishes for him to be. Like Saeko, I envy Zaizen to have such a friend in Satomi.

My heart aches for Satomi as he whips himself over the death of Sasaki. He could only stand helpless outside the ward and sob for Sasaki's passing. He must have felt responsible as he is also part of the system, and he believes that only by telling the truth will the system learn from its mistake, and thus progress to avoid future problems. So Satomi chooses a path that no one shares with him, not even his wife.

But in a society like Japan, where the team is valued greater than the individual, the social pressure to conform runs deep in its culture. When one breaches any unspoken social rules, one risks getting ostracized by all, including your own family and the ones you love. This sometimes leaves the individual little choice on the options available. It takes extraordinary strength and courage to take the unknown path in that context. Satomi is the brave yet burdened lone ranger on this path. And like Zaizen, he is fearless as well in holding on to what he believes is the right thing to do.

Besides the doctors, I wanted to spare a few moments to talk about the women of this show. They played a complementary yet important role to the entire story. While the power play goes on in the hospital, another one on the smaller scale is being mirrored in the professor wives club. You will see how the wives' actions mimic that of their husbands and the subtle influences these women behind the scene have cannot be ignored as well.

Zaizen Kyoko is as much a realist as is her husband and her father. She wants to be the wife of a professor and as Zaizen keeps himself busy lobbying with the doctors, she keeps herself busy with the professor wives. Zaizen's mistress is another charismatic and charming woman. A medical school drop-out turned mama-san (what a career switch!), she watches with intense interest Zaizen's rise, and she reads Zaizen like an open book on his aspirations, his fears and his insecurities. She is his true soulmate as she loves him unconditionally (I loved how both of Zaizen's women interacted, cool, level-headed and mature in sharing their man).

Satomi Michiyo on the other is the simple housewife who stands quietly by her husband and is awkward in the presence of the superficial functions organized by the professor wives. But Satomi Michiyo is not an idealist like Satomi; she had personal aspirations for her husband. She is crushed that Satomi puts his ideals above his family. And in that way I felt Zaizen was lucky as he had the support from the women in his life, while Satomi did not.

And as Zaizen is in a marriage of convenience and is personally in love with his mistress, I find Satomi to be somehow (subtly implied) to be in the same situation. (It is so clever how the writer drew so many similarities to both characters yet made them so different) You can literally see the attraction Satomi has for Saeko and vice versa. How she makes him feel uncomfortable, how she makes his heart miss a beat (I could feel it, could you?); even his wife noticed. And in the heat of all that Satomi was going through, Azuma Saeko was the only one who supported Satomi's decision, this beautiful young girl who used to detest doctors. But Saeko is not the soulmate to be, as she appears 8 years too late. The connection and mutual attraction Saeko and Satomi have is to remain an unfulfilled one.

The success of this drama is also highly attributed to the other sub-character of the show as well. Zaizen's vulgar father-in-law who uses money to solve all his problems, Zaizen's mentor, the selfish Professor Azuma, who could not bear the thought of his padawan upstaging him, his dragon lady of a wife Mrs Azuma, the crafty Ugai Igaku-bucho who was the most senior yet most corrupted doctor of them all, the meek and young Dr Yahagihara who was being eaten alive by his conscience, the down and out scruffy lawyer Sekiguchi who never gave up on the case etc. Each brought life, blood and tears to the story in their little own ways, which makes “Shoroi Kyoto” such a classic piece of work.

As the story progressed, I sniffed and sighed several times for Satomi, as I see him strive to uphold his beliefs and carry the burden of a life as a whistle blower. However, in the end, it is Zaizen who gave me one of the biggest sobs I ever had from a TV series. No matter how despicable a person is, at a personal level, he was blessed as he was loved. His mother, his father-in-law, his wife, his mistress and his friend – Satomi. On his death bed, as he held on to Satomi's hand, in his delirious state he was living his dream! He sees the new cancer center, he invites all to be there, he cannot die! I wept for his regret, I wept for his sacrifice and I wept for the loss of a brilliant man! I never thought I could be moved so much by a non-sappy story, this is absolutely one of the best dramas I have seen in years!

My memories of Toshiaki Karasawa and Yosuke Eguchi stood still in the jdramas of the 90s when they were still marketed as idols and they tend to play prince charming characters. After taking such a long break from their works, I am totally impressed with their performance as Zaizen and Satomi! Both of them have graduated from idol-hood to character actors, and both of them played out the 2 doctors with opposite values to perfection. Karasawa as the self righteous, arrogant yet charismatic Zaizen was charming and convincing. Eguchi as the admirable and compassionate Satomi was warm and earnest. The casting director had truly found 2 outstanding actors who could balance each others' screen presence so well.

Credit goes to the actresses in the cast as well. I have always admire Kuroki Hitomi's performance. But I was pleasantly surprised by Wakamura Mayumi's Zaizen Kyoko. One moment she seemed like a ditzy tai-tai who does not have a worry in this world, and then the next she is so smart and clever in managing the other professor wives and also her husband's mistress. Her beauty and charming performance left a deep impression in me.

Actually it is difficult for me to highlight anyone specific actor in this production as I felt that every one added their personal magic to their roles and delivered an outstanding production. Especially the veteran actors, who in the face of the younger stars were not upstaged at all and instead added a dose of depth and vintage with their performances.

Initially I did not understand why the hymn “Amazing Grace” was chosen to be the theme song for the story. But towards the last 2 episodes, as Zaizen caves in to his illness, I see the significance of the song. As flawed humans are, we are also capable of little greatness.

Sometimes the role of friend or foe seems to hang on such a fine line. Despite the flaws and imperfection we have witnessed, the key to the doctor-patient relationship is the capacity to show grace to each other by the patient entrusting his life to the doctor, and the doctor valuing the life that he's been trusted with, e.g. when Azuma agreed to operate for Zaizen, when Satomi gave his honest diagnosis of Zaizen's condition, and when Zaizen asks Satomi to join him in the new cancer center.

Catch this jdrama – it's life altering

My favorite scenes
1) Zaizen at work
2) Satomi at work
3) All scenes of Zaizen with Keiko
4) All scenes of Zaizen talking to his mother
5) Zaizen taking a seat on Azuma's chair
6) All scenes of Kyoko and Keiko
7) Satomi stood outside Sasaki's ward sobbing for his passing
8) Satomi attending Sasaki's funeral
9) Satomi refusing to be transferred but chose to resign
10) When Satomi moved to the new hospital, Zaizen came over and asked him to stay away for 3 years and then come back to work in his new cancer centre
11) Satomi asking Zaizen to let him save him after his diagnosis
12) Zaizen on his deathbed, holding Satomi's hand

What I don't understand
1) Why must the rest take the stairs and only the professor take the lift? And they to reach the floor before the professor?

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