Executives from Nippon TV and Medyapim give TV Drama insight into turning Japanese scripted successes into Turkish drama hits.
In 2010, Nippon TV in Japan aired an 11-part drama about an elementary school teacher who takes it upon herself to rescue a student who is being abused at home. Mother was a hit domestically and notched up a number of broadcast slots within the region, but a global rollout eluded it at the time. Now, the Turkish version of the series has landed placements on broadcasters in some 80 markets worldwide—in addition to driving ratings for Star TV domestically.
After collaborating on Mother—which is being sold by Global Agency—format holder Nippon TV recently clinched a second deal with prolific Turkish production houses MF Yapim and Medyapim. An adaptation is currently underway on Woman—My Life for My Children, which ran on Nippon TV in 2013. The award-winning show focuses on a woman who struggles to make a life for herself and her two young children after the sudden death of her husband. It hails from the same team as Mother, including producer Hisashi Tsugiya, who says he wanted to tackle the issue of women in poverty in Japan. “I wanted to feature that theme through my drama because at that time in Japan no shows were focusing on that subject,” Tsugiya tells TV Drama.
“The story in Woman is really great; it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,” says Fatih Aksoy of Medyapim. Aksoy and his team are currently working on the script for Woman. TV Drama was able to sit in on his first face-to-face meeting with Tsugiya to talk about the adaptation, providing an unfiltered look at the challenges of remaking drama series.
“There is a huge gap between the cultures of Japan and Turkey,” Tsugiya acknowledges, which means that adjustments need to be made in terms of the characters’ lifestyles. He is, however, optimistic about how Woman will translate given the success of the adaptation of Mother. “The theme was right there,” he says, “the message I wanted to portray was the same.”
However, there are issues to contend with. During their recent meeting—conducted in English via a translator, with a Turkish translator also on hand—Aksoy and Tsugiya talked about the choices made by the lead character in Nippon TV’s Woman. After the death of her husband, Koharu finds herself in dire financial straits with two young children to support and estranged from her own mother. Aksoy wanted to understand from Tsugiya why Koharu wouldn’t seek out help from her family. “We are trying to find a real reason not to go ask for the mother’s help,” Aksoy says. “Whatever happened in the past, [if you’re in trouble] you would go to your mother.”
“That’s a very good point,” Tsugiya responds, adding, “It’s not that she’s not asking for help. It seems that she cannot. That’s why people can relate to her. She was deserted by her real mother. She raised herself. So when she faces poverty, she still does not want to reach out to her mother.”
“That is very understandable if you are alone,” Aksoy responds. “But if you have two children and you’ve lost your husband, and there is nobody around, for the sake of your kids, wouldn’t you ask for your mother’s help?”
“I wanted my viewers to ask, Why doesn’t she ask her mother for help?” Tsugiya says. “Her real mother was not a mother to her. She doesn’t want that impure essence in her pure life. And then she finds out that her mother has another daughter. And she also feels like she doesn’t want to destroy this new family, this new life the mother has now.”
Aksoy notes that the nature of Turkish drama—with 35 to 40 two-hour episodes in a season—adds a further complication to the adaptation process and requires that the producers provide more explanation about a character’s choices and motivations than would be necessary for a shorter-run show. “In 11 45-minute episodes [the duration of the Japanese original] you can’t go deep into every detail,” Aksoy explains. “In a Turkish episode, we have 120 minutes. [The Japanese version] had 30 minutes of [the character experiencing] poverty. In our case, we have to show 100 minutes of poverty, which is a lot! After 100 minutes of poverty, people will think, she has a mother, why doesn’t she go there? This is one difficulty we have to face.”
Aksoy notes that the producers were able to address similar challenges when adapting Mother. In its 20th episode, for example, the storyline jumps forward by a year and a half and introduces a new character not in the original—a baby sister for Melek, the child rescued by the show’s lead character, Zeynep. “We have to create new stories,” Aksoy explains. “With Mother, we skipped the second episode [of the Japanese original], and then we mixed the fourth and fifth. And in nine episodes we finished the original story.”
Aksoy is hopeful that Woman will also reach the 35- to 40-episode mark for season one. And as the writers and producers devise new stories and new characters, Aksoy is eager to continue the dialog with Tsugiya and the team at Nippon TV. “It is very helpful” to talk to the original producer, he says. “So we know what the weaknesses are, where the problems are, in advance.”