Tokyo, Japam

TV drama based on Takuji Ichikawa’s ‘I-Novel’ launching next month in Japan

I-novel, Shishosetsu, by Takuji Ichikawa starting Koji Seto and Juri Ueno. Image: TV AsahiStill from 2023 TV Asahi adaptation of I-novel, Shishosetsu, by Takuji Ichikawa, starting Koji Seto and Juri Ueno. Image: TV Asahi

A mini television drama will be released next month in Japan by TV Asahi, a major Japanese national broadcaster linked to Japan’s most prestigious national newspaper the Asahi Shimbun, based on Takuji Ichikawa’s 2018 novel Shishosetsu, I-novel, a highly personal work that delves into how someone with a developmental disorder became a multimillion selling novelist.

Cover of 2018 Shishostesu, I-novel, by Takuji Ichikawa.

Ichikawa, an author of fantastic fiction who ignores traditional boundaries, and is impossible to pigeonhole, is best known for his second novel Be With You, Ima Ai ni Yukimasu, which became a blockbuster, selling more than a million copies in Japan.

Its success put Ichikawa on the Japanese literary map, and lead to this powerful and positive tale of loss and love being reimagined as several major feature films in Japan, Korean and China, as well as in other formats, including manga and anime.

The new drama I-novel, Shishosetsu, stars Koji Seto playing the fictionalised role of the author and Juri Ueno as his wife at the time of his breakthrough as a major bestselling novelist and the challenges that this presents for an individual prone to panic attacks and on the Autism Spectrum with several associated so-called development disorders.

Takuji Ichikawa’s study where he writes his novels. Photograph: Red Circle Authors.

The screenplay was developed by Yoshikazu Okada and the television drama is produced by Watanabe Entertainment Inc, bringing most of the team behind the hugely successful adaption of Be With You together again. The drama is also the first time in 12 years for Seto and Ueno to star alongside each other, since they appeared in the critically acclaimed 50th NHK Taiga Drama, Gou – Princess of the Warring States, in 2011. 

I-novel is a “heartwarming love story” about an unusual “pure-hearted couple” confronting society as it is, not as it should be, from their peculiar “gentle world”, after the author confidently promised his wife, shortly after their marriage, that he will become a bestselling writer, and the challenges that actually meeting that unlikely milestone presents them both. It is a narrative about facing life’s obstacles as a team, a couple, supporting each other and finding, the often elusive, mysterious route to happiness, Ichikawa explains.

Takuji Ichikawa at his home with a signed copy of Monkey Man, translated by Lisa and Daniel Lilley, the 7th title in the Red Circle Minis series, published 2021.

The genre of I-novels is an established one and they are a style of novel with a long and popular history in Japan, that some consider a uniquely Japanese publishing phenomenon. I-novels are generally a type of confessional autobiographical novel mostly written in the first person.

That said, outside Japan these types of semi-autobiographical works are now often given the modish label autofiction. They are referred to as watakushi shosetsu or shishosetsu in Japanese. There is some dispute about who actually wrote the very first Japanese I-novel but they have been penned since at least the early 1900s.

The production team visited the Ichikawas home in Saitama, built and designed especially for them from the proceeds of Ichikawa’s writing success, to get a sense of the author’s surrounding, personality and the room where he writes with the aim of rendering Ichikawa’s work of autofiction as authentically as practically possible into a compelling visual narrative for television. The Ichikawas, who visited the TV set where they met, spoke and interacted with Seto and Ueno, say they are delighted with both the choice of actor and actress, and the result. 

Ichikawa has recently penned two dystopian novellas Monkey Man, translated by Lisa and Daniel Lilley, and The Refugee’s Daughter, translated by Emily Balistrieri, for the Red Circle Minis series, a series of short captivating books that brings the narratives and voices of Japan together as never before. Each book is a first edition, packaged in a beautifully pocket-sized slice of Japanese culture, written specifically for the series and is being published in English first. Ichikawa joined this growing curated circle of high profile Japanese authors in 2019 after the publication of I-novel

More information in Japanese about the TV drama which will be broadcast over two evenings on 7th and 8th of April is available here and an interview with the author is available in English here.

Display of the seven books already published in the series Red Circle Minis. Photograph: Red Circle Authors Limited
  • RedCircle
    About Red Circle:
    Red Circle Authors Limited is a specialist publishing and communications company that conducts bespoke projects on behalf of a carefully selected and curated group of leading Japanese authors. Red Circle showcases Japan’s best creative writing. For more information on Red Circle, Japanese literature, and Red Circle authors please visit:
    • Takuji Ichikawa
      About Takuji Ichikawa:
      Takuji Ichikawa is an author who ignores traditional boundaries, and is impossible to pigeonhole; whose positive fantastical narratives touch the soul through storytelling that not only 'transforms and heals', but also sells in the millions.