TÖKYÖ — A little-known American actress is proving to be a hit with viewers of NHK’s latest morning television drama series and is helping to maintain its high ratings.

The drama, “Massan,” is inspired by the lives of Masataka Taketsuru, who is regarded as the “father of Japan’s whisky industry,” and his Scottish wife, Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan.

Charlotte Kate Fox, 29, stars as Ellie Kameyama, whose character is based on Rita. Japanese actor Tetsuji Tamayama, 34, plays Masaharu Kameyama, whose character is based on Taketsuru’s life.
NHK’s decision to cast Fox was a controversial one, despite her having gone through an audition. She had never previously visited Japan and does not speak Japanese.

But the drama has maintained viewer ratings of around 20 percent in both the Kanto (Tökyö-area) and Kansai (Ösaka-area) regions since starting in late September, according to Video Research Ltd.

In an internet survey conducted by NHK last November, 65 percent of the participants said they watch “Massan” because they are intrigued by the story and the theme. Another 60 percent said they like Charlotte Fox.

“Asadora,” as NHK’s morning drama series are known, “usually feature unknown, but promising actresses to ‘follow their growth,’” said “Massan” chief producer Ken Sakurai. He said Fox is an “extreme case,” as she has been struggling to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers.

Despite its good ratings, the program has attracted some criticism.

Takahiko Kageyama, professor of media theory at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, said the story behind the development of Japan’s whisky industry must have been an eye-opener for many viewers. However, the industry’s extraordinary nature is not being fully unveiled, he said.

Tamayama and Fox “speak monotonically without showing delicate emotions,” he said. “I want to see scenes that show the couple’s devotion to whisky and torment.”

This year, the drama is focusing on the couple’s life in Yoichi, Hokkaidö, where Taketsuru’s Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. has a distillery.

Since “Massan” started airing, the number of visitors to the distillery has increased from 2013. According to Asahi Breweries Ltd., which owns Nikka Whisky, the drama has stimulated demand for Japanese whiskies and the Taketsuru brand has been hard-pressed to keep up with demand.

With the publication of the couple’s biographies and beginning guides for whisky drinking, “Massan” is creating new opportunities for promoting Japanese whiskies. — by Shigeko Segawa


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