Back in the days when Japan was still a far-off and exotic land, filled with mystery and romance, James was not the only Bond to venture to its unknown shores.
As part of the new BBC Classics Collection, Simply Media has uncovered a rare gem of Sunday evening viewing in the BAFTA winning The Ginger Tree, a charming East-meets-West tale in which a young Samantha Bond finds herself lost in sea of troubles in turn-of-the-century Japan.
After meeting young army officer, Captain Collingsworth (Adrian Rawlings – James Potter of Harry Potter fame), innocent yet headstrong Mary (Bond) journeys to war-torn Manchuria for their wedding, only to quickly discover that her new husband is arrogant and dull, keeping her “safely” in the house, and only actually seeing her for his nightly all-too-brief bout of stress-relief. Alone and unloved, Mary soon becomes acquainted with a charming Japanese officer by the name of Kurihama (Daisuke Ryu – Ran, Kagemusha). Intrigued by his kindness and mystery, and disenchanted by her own marriage, the two soon begin a passionate relationship, with Mary quickly falling pregnant. Rather than return to England in shame, Mary decides to join her new lover, blissfully unaware of the social and racial ostracism that lie ahead of her and her newborn son.
Filled with all the traditional beats one would expect from a BBC period drama, The Ginger Tree by no means shows its age. The acting is top-class, with Samantha Bond perfectly suited for the role of young Mary, bringing equal amounts of grace and strength to the character. Rawlings as the self-centred upper class twit of a husband is both loatheable and hilarious in his utter obliviousness to the needs of his wife. The real star, however, is Ryu as the enchanting Count Kurihama. Owning each scene with effortless charm, Ryu’s rich timbre and porcelain features make him a true delight to watch.
As Mary struggles with her newfound life in Japan, a few things do begin to niggle; sure, the mandatory cries of “gaijin!” (foreigner) at every turn are still a reality for those visiting Japan, but the high level of English spoken by the locals is down-right ridiculous, especially given the time period, and the ease with which Mary is able to get hold of English-language newspapers is just laughable. Believe me, it’s hard enough to get a paper in English in Tokyo nowadays, let alone a hundred years ago.
The small inaccuracies aside, The Ginger Tree is a delightful watch. Think Downton Abbey Goes East and you’re not too far off. A lovingly-crafted exploration into social acceptance in both the East and the West during the first few years of the century, this is a timeless tale that is still relevant today.
Dir: Anthony Garner, Morimasa Matsumoto
Scr: Christopher Hampton, Oswald Wynd
Starring: Samantha Bond, Daisuke Ryu, Fumi Dan, Joanna McCallum, Adrian Rawlins
Music: Dominic Muldowney
DOP: Ron Green
Number of Episodes: 4
Episode Runtime: 60mins
The Ginger Tree is out on DVD on 25th April from Simply Media