Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

J-Drama Update

Posted in J-Drama by bourdaghs on the January 6th, 2010

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.

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