As unlikely as it may seem, the hit 1991 Fuji Television series 101st Proposal (see chapter six in my Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon) is being revived next month as a stage play in Fukuoka. Takeda Tetsuya and Asano Atsuko will revive their roles from the original series–but the story is being reworked into a jidaigeki: a samurai drama set back in the Edo period.
The Asahi newspaper reports (Japanese-language only) the play will run at the Hakata-za theatre in Fukuoka, March 2-28, with possible runs in Tokyo and elsewhere to follow. No word on whether the piece will include a shamisen version of the theme song from the show, Chage & Aska’s “Say Yes.”
After an extended period of healthy abstinence, we’re sliding back into our sinful ways. That is to say, we’ve been watching several Japanese television series this summer.
Jin: This scored high ratings when it was broadcast in Japan on TBS back at the beginning of this year. Our local neighborhood pusher (TV Japan) is only now getting around to airing it, but we’re enjoying the show despite the delay. An oddball melange of samurai drama, science fiction, and romantic comedy, it also contains a clever parody of the current NHK Taiga Drama, Ryomaden (see below). A doctor from contemporary Tokyo whose girlfriend is in a coma finds himself inexplicably transported back to the Japan of the 1860s, where his use of modern medical knowledge starts monkeying with the course of history. Can he save his girlfriend? Can he get return to the present? Will he become a historical bigamist, with a wife in each era? Stay tuned….
Ryomaden: Every January when NHK rolls out its new year-long Taiga historical drama series, I browse an episode or two but then fall by the wayside. I’ve stuck it out a bit longer this year, though, with this retelling of the life of the super-patriot Sakamoto Ryoma from the 1850s and 60s. Fukuyama Masaharu plays the lead role as something of a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Errol Flynn. The real joy here is Kagawa Toruyuki’s wonderfully overacted performance as Iwasaki Yataro, Ryoma’s hometown rival and the future founder of the Mitsubishi empire. We’ll see if I manage to persevere through December and Ryoma’s untimely demise.
Gegege no nyobo: It’s been ages since NHK has enjoyed a hit with its morning serial drama, but this spring I started hearing rumors that the current title, based on the life of the wife of Mizuki Shigeru (the manga artist who created the classic Gegege Kitaro series) was a notch above the usual. We picked up on it a few weeks ago–more than halfway through the run. I have the feeling we missed the best parts (the years of courtship and early struggles), but it’s a mostly painless show, and it’s entertaining to see NHK portray what our old Tokyo neighborhood around Chofu-shi looked like back in the 1960s.
We’ve also started taping episodes of Magerarenai Onna, the NTV comedy from earlier this year. I’ll leave you today with an amusing teaser from that one.
Before the crush of Winter quarter really takes over, we’ve been trying to finish watching “Ryusei no kizuna,” a Japanese television series originally broadcast on the TBS network in autumn ’08 and rebroadcast here late last year on the TV Japan network. The original Japanese-language homepage for the series is here.
Based on a mystery novel by Higashino Keigo, the series won a number of Television Drama Academy Awards last year, including Best Drama. It’s a bit of an odd duck, a hybrid bricolage of every popular J-Drama genre. In the first episode it started out as a mystery, then spent several episodes as a con-game yarn in the mode of the J-Drama series Trick, and now (I’m up to episode seven of ten) it has morphed into the always popular romantic-tensions-among-attractive-young-people-who-live-together mode. The children of a restaurant owner sneak out one night to watch a meteor shower; when they return home they find their parents brutally murdered. Flash forward to fifteen years later: the grown children devote their lives to finding the true murderer and along the way realize that they aren’t actually blood relatives, setting in play unexpected romantic tensions.
The oddest touch of all is the appearance of singer Nakashima Mika in a recurring role. She plays a mysterious girl obsessed with the oldest brother in the family. Nakashima sings “Orion,” the show’s closing credits theme, and it’s not unusual for a musician performing a series’ theme song to make an appearance in it as an actor. After all, the role of the oldest brother here is played by Ninomiya Kazunari, a member of the idol band Arashi who provide the show’s opening theme, “Beautiful Days.”
What makes Nakashima’s appearance so striking is the strange role she plays. She shows up at the oddest moments, bearing in hand precisely what the main characters need at that point and accepting only one thousand yen (about ten dollars) in payment for her services. Whereupon she goes and throws herself into the ocean — literally. Moreover, in episode six, she breaks through the fourth wall of tv drama realism: the two brothers are having an argument outside on the street when the camera cuts to Nakashima sitting on a staircase inside. She is singing the closing theme, at times looking straight into the camera. No narrative explanation is given. When the quarreling brothers burst in on her at the end of the song, she tells them she couldn’t hear what they were arguing about because she was singing. For a brief moment, this very commercial series crosses over into the realm of surrealism.