Big news for former ozeki Baruto. He will be taking on the title role in a new drama on NHK called Ototo no Otto (弟の夫), “Brother-in-Law.” Those of you familiar with the kanji will be quickly clued in on why this is a landmark series – and it doesn’t really have to do with the fact that a foreigner is playing the title role. An alternative, literal translation is, “Little Brother’s Husband.”
In the US, this would be seen as rather tame. There are many gay and LGBT characters on TV and in movies. However, in Japan, especially the conservative NHK, this is a turning point. The description for Baruto’s NHK interview points out, “今までにない”, meaning until now, there’s not been a show of this type.
This is a big step for Baruto. He’s got Japanese citizenship and has been making his living as a TV talent and even recently he was giving MMA a try. But why is NHK introducing this show now? Personally, I think this series is being aired in preparation for the 2020 Olympics. The Winter Olympics in Korea featured many homosexual athletes so I presume there is a desire to normalize attitudes toward homosexuality before hosting the games. Western visitors are already accustomed to acceptance and could be seriously put off by having negative, discriminatory experiences.
The plotline is that Baruto plays Mike, the jovial Canadian husband of the lead character’s deceased brother. He goes to Japan to visit his husband’s brother, 弥一 (Yaichi?)…and awkwardness ensues. The awkwardness gives way to acceptance as Hisaichi’s daughter takes a shine to Mike. Perhaps sensing that this will be a bit of an adjustment for Japanese audiences, the lead role is Japanese and straight (divorced father) and the gay role is played by a straight foreigner who was a popular sumo wrestler. Breaking taboos is about baby steps. It also helps that the story comes from an award winning manga [hat tip to Herouth].
In Baruto’s interview, he was asked about food; he was a sumo wrestler after all, and stereotypes are really hard to break. :) Apparently, food-related scenes play a big part of the new series so they asked him what was most memorable. He said that while on set he made chanko for the cast and crew and that his chanko is pretty darn good. So while it’s not something that’s actually a scene from the show, he’s proud of it because apparently everyone loved it. I’m hungry now and am going to go have dinner.