Quick thoughts on the Spring 2008 Japanese doramas I'm watching now

Since scoring myself a free television last month, I've been watching the Japanese doramas every night even though there aren't subtitles and I struggle at most times to understand the language. But hey, thanks to the fact that the performances in most doramas are really... 'expressive', I can just read their faces and body language and deduce what's going on.

So, here are some brief thoughts on the doramas that have been airing the past few weeks. (I'll borrow the synopses from Tokyograph's Spring J-dorama preview)



CHANGE


Fuji TV's Monday night drama will star the ever-popular Takuya Kimura. He plays an elementary school teacher with no interest in politics whatsoever who, due to some circumstances, gets becomes the Prime Minister of Japan. Eri Fukatsu co-stars as Kimura's secretary, an ambitious woman aiming to reform the country. The script is being handled by Yasushi Fukuda, who has written for popular dramas such as "HERO" and "Galileo." Kensaku Sawada ("Saiyuki," "Hero Special") is directing. The show also features a theme song by pop star Madonna.

Catching a Kimura Takuya dorama is a yearly affair, so I, along with my few Chinese classmates, had immediately turn on to that series when it premiered two weeks ago (in fact, in Japanese oral class, two of the girls from China made references to watching the dorama when asked by the teacher to create a sentence)

My first thought was that this dorama lacked the mindblowing production values and cinematic quality of Karei-naru Ichizoku (check out my review of Karei-naru Ichizoku). Then I realized I had trouble understanding it because it's so dialogue-heavy. One thing though, Abe Hiroshi's pretty badass here and I think he might have stolen the show from Kimutaku (based on the first two episodes I watched, I missed one last night) But that's only because he brings in his usual TRICK/ DRAGON ZAKURA-style charismatic overacting schtick into the series, as opposed to everyone else who were more subdued.

I'll continue watching this just to see what is it like to have Kimura Takuya become the prime minister of Japan.

Madonna's Miles Away during the end credits of CHANGE

ZETTAI KARESHI (絶対彼氏)

This drama is based on Yuu Watase's shojo manga "Zettai Kareshi" (also known as "Absolute Boyfriend"), starring Mocomichi Hayami and Saki Aibu. In this version, Aibu plays a temp OL in search of a boyfriend, and she ends up in possession of a "robot" (Hayami) who is programmed to be the perfect boyfriend. However, this creates a love triangle with a distinguished young man at Aibu's company (Hiro Mizushima) who has feelings for her.
I've been enjoying this more and more, Hayami as the "robot" boyfriend is amusing. Seeing him constantly getting his owner into one funny situation after another, it's a little like Chobits with a gender twist. The love triangle is engaging stuff, but I definitely can't see the appeal of the Hiro Mizushima's 'other guy' character, except for the fact that he's, ah, human. In this episode that I'm watching (while typing this), the robot boyfriend often walks around half-naked and flex his muscles in front of his owner for the sake of her attention. He often fails though. I pity the robot, and despises the ungrateful bitch of an owner.
Music video of OKAERI by Ayaka, theme song of Zettai Kareshi, good song

OSEN (おせん)

This is an adaptation of Shota Kikuchi's "Osen" manga series. Yu Aoi plays Sen Handa, the young "okami" (proprietress) of a long-standing restaurant in one of the lower parts of Tokyo. Though she is normally airheaded and loves to drink, she has an impressive mastery of a wide range of skills, from cooking to ceramics to calligraphy. While the drama follows various events surrounding the restaurant, one of the series' highlights is its illustration of Japanese food and culture.
I watch this after Zettai Kareshi. Good production values, I think it's shot in HD. This is pure eye candy, Yu Aoi is insanely cute as her quirky character. And she reinforces my opinion that she's one of the finest young actresses of Japan. It's also dialogue and character-heavy, so I often have problems trying to understand what's going on.
Osen's opening credits sequence

HOKABEN (ホカベン)

"Hokaben" is based on a manga series originally written by novelist/lawyer Hiroyuki Nakajima. Aya Ueto stars as Akari Domoto, an idealistic lawyer who joins a large law office, but ends up in a lowly department headed by Kazuki Kitamura. NEWS' Shigeaki Kato co-stars as an elite attorney who becomes her love interest.
I watch this just like why I watch OSEN. Aya Ueto's ridiculously and inhumanly cute. I didn't notice that in Azumi, but started swooning when I watched a bit of INSTALL, the film adaptation of Wataya Risa's novel. She was filming something near my dormitory few weeks ago but I was in class and missed the chance to see her. Sigh. Kazuki Kitamura is really awesome in a normal role (I last saw him as the crazy cosplaying baddie in AKIHABARA@DEEP).
Aya Ueto and Kazuki Kitamura in a variety show

LAST FRIENDS (ラスト・フレンズ)

Today’s generation of young people are faced with a variety of social issues. In this drama full of today’s popular young actors and actresses, the characters will confront these issues head on. The drama stars Masami Nagasawa as Michiru, a beauty parlor assistant who suffers from domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend (Ryo Nishikido). Juri Ueno plays Nagasawa's classmate Ruka, a successful motocross racer who carries an unmentionable burden in her heart. Attracted to her is Takeru (Eita), a hair and make-up artist who has a fear of sex due to a past trauma. The lives of the three characters become intertwined when they begin living together in a share house.
This is a compelling watch, arguably the most compelling among all those that I've been watching. It's frustrating at first to watch Masami Nagasawa's Michiru constantly forgiving and returning to her abusive boyfriend (Ryo Nishikido, whom I last saw as the love interest in 1 LITER OF TEARS), it's 'awwww'-inducing to see Takeru being attracted to the cute Ruka (Ueno Juri, also an awesome actress), who is a tomboy and also a lesbian (she has a thing for Michiru, I think). Utada Hikaru's PRISONER OF LOVE is its theme song. Characters are multilayered, like the aforementioned abusive boyfriend, who is so much of an asshole, yet so heroic and protective when he was hanging out with a child. The next day after I watch this, I would ask friends about some scenes that I didn't understand.
LAST FRIENDS' opening sequence. Very intense.

GOKUSEN 3 (ごくせん)

Yukie Nakama is back as Kumiko Yamaguchi in this third series based on Kozueko Morimoto's comical "Gokusen" manga. Affectionately known as "Yankumi," Yamaguchi is an idealistic teacher who also happens to be the next-in-line as the head of a yakuza family. This time, the main group of male students is played by Yuya Takaki (Hey! Say! JUMP!), Haruma Miura, Hideo Ishiguro, Shohei Miura, and Junta Nakama and Akito Kiriyama (both from B.A.D.).
I love Nakama Yukie since I watched the first TRICK (that would also be the beginning of my mancrush for Abe Hiroshi). This highly-rated dorama was interesting at first (I only watched bits and pieces of the first two GOKUSENs) but I started realizing that each episode is more or less the same. We see another one of Kumiko's students getting into trouble with gangsters, then we see him (and friends) being beaten up badly in an empty warehouse, or factory. After everyone's nearly dead, Kumiko rushes in to save the day. It's a dramatic entrance where she starts removing her nerdy glasses, lets her hair down to become the beautiful Nakama Yukie and starts beating people up. Since then, I only bother watching the last ten minutes of each episode, beginning from the 'dramatic entrance' part.
Gokusen's ending sequence
So, anyone else following any of the above dorama series? Obviously you don't have to be in Japan to watch them anyway, these days.