Hana Yori Dango [花より男子] Inoue Mao has such a stand-out role, and the drama is so involving, that it's easy to forget that it's basically a light romantic fantasy at best.
Wakaba [わかば] Wakaba seemed to go on forever - slow without being vital or original. Veteran Yuko Tanaka , however, is touching - bringing back wonderful memories when she starred in the remake of 24 Eyes..
jdoramadotcom's artiste votes (12)
Ayase Haruka [綾瀬はるか] Ayase has proven herself to be adept at tragedy, but she's engaging in comedy, action or drama. She has the kind of presence that can make her a real scene-stealer.
Fujiyoshi Kumiko While she's known for her work with this drama, Kumiko has proven her complete confidence in a role that demonstrates dramatic and comic skills. I'd like to have seen more of her work.
Hirosue Ryoko [広末涼子] Hirosue can milk a performance for all it's worth, turning ordinary dramas into ones that are memorable. Maybe the top actress here.
Inoue Mao [井上真央] She makes HND click; without her, it wouldn't be half as funny or over the top. For her to carry a show against her competition - absolutely amazing. She's often laugh-out-loud funny.
Kimura Yoshino [木村佳乃] Kimura can have a comic style like Nanako Matsushima, but with more range and subtlety - an effective actress and a exceptional beauty. She also speaks English with native fluency, only adding to her resume.
Matsushima Nanako [松嶋菜々子] Matsushima is just "okay" in dramatic stuff, but she really shines with comedy. In GTO, she had a series of great reaction shots, and in Hana Yori Dango, she outshined the other actresses with her playfulness. A real giff for comedy.
Matsuura Aya [松浦亜弥] Matsuura's a solid actress, but she's really made her name with a string of hit songs and seamless live shows. She's frighteningly cute.
Tanaka Misako [田中美佐子] This model/actress has sustained her success with touching roles that pluck at the heartstrings. She completely owns the screen whenever she's on camera.
Ueno Juri [上野樹里] Ueno made her mark with dramas that have a more musical flavor - and whether she's playing piano or a tenor sax, she's always cute and original. And great a comedy.
Yamaguchi Tomoko [山口智子] Tomoko is at her best in comedies like Double Kitchen, where her hilarious double-takes are almost an art form. She rises above most of her comic competition and even eclipses stars wtih bigger names. Tomoko's cuteness isn't "turned-on" - it's very genuine, and helps makes her best work delightful.
Yuka [優香] It's amazing that Yuka doesn't have more votes, given her unapproachable great looks and good acting.
33pun Tantei [33分探偵] Conceptual fun [Rating: 6/10] You know how detective programs always manage to resolve the mystery just when it's required? Well, this drama features a private detective whose cases are pretty obvious from the start; however, the PI finds a way to pad the mystery so it lasts the entire show. 33pun Tantei is certainly conceptual, and rather fun in theory - but the device loses its novelty after a while, repeating the same basic gag every time. I'm not sure if it's the writing or the acting (maybe both), but the well runs dry way too early for this show to succeed.
Aishiteru ~ Kaiyo [アイシテル ~ 海容] Serious, sincere... [Rating: 8/10] Based on the popular manga, AISHITERU does quite a few things right. The striking premise: a middle-school boy kills a younger child - an action that angers some and mystifies pretty much everybody else.
The camera lingers over Izumi Imamori in her role as the mother of the incarcerated son; her character is almost sacrificial in her prayerful humbleness. The immortal Misako Tanaka delivers a standout performance as a case worker cum harried housewife who has a certain way with chidden. The actors and writers show a obvious sympathy for the life of the departed child, as well as an appreciation for the equally hard lives of the guilty boy's family. But AISHITERU is less skilled at showing a lighter side, and the immutable attitudes of the grieving parents gets a bit tiresome after a while.
AISHITERU is consistently interesting, with good performances all around. The court hearings are unexpectedly effective. But the potent emotional content leaves hope that the plot will move beyond emotional correctness and dorama formula; it rarely does.
Anna-san no Omame [アンナさんのおまめ] Solid 8 [Rating: 8/10] This is the kind of gag that always manages to be amusing. The drama starts off with a story of a stunning, eligible girl - but the plot is deliberately hijacked by her best friend, a temp who thinks that every guy is interested in her. The comedy is buoyant and frequently LOL funny.
Becky has the lead role as Riri, a heroine who's so positive-minded that nearly everything she says (or thinks) is wildly distorted. This drama's concept catches fire at around episide 6, and, at its best, continues as a meta-parody of Japanese dramas. True, the writing is rather blunt as opposed to razor sharp, but the unique concept makes this a nice diversion.
Atsu-Hime [篤姫] Average expectatoins [Rating: ?/10] A fairly typical mix of light history and melodrama, as Japan deals with the encroachment of Western powers 150 years ago. Miyazaki Aoi is mildly appealing as the young princess working behind the scenes.
Atsu-Hime [篤姫] Quietly grabs your attention [Rating: 8/10] This tiaga drama addresses the period when U.S. forces in the mid-19th century attempted to "open" Japan - thus threatening hundreds of years of relative stability. At the heart of the story - Atsu-Hime (Aoi Miyasaki), who marries a shogun in dubious health. Miyasaki is adequate in the title role.
This begins slowly, and takes over fifteen or so episodes before you're thrust into the convoluted world of Japanese court life; halfway through, it's arresting. It's considerably more accurate than many other tiaga dramas, but still has wiggle-room for fiction.
Attack No.1 [アタック No.1] It's okay, but it grabs you [Rating: ?/10] You really can't go wrong with a drama about an all-girl high school volleyball team. And Aya Ueto turns on the cuteness to make many scenes much more fun than they'd ordinarily be. Add some sports action and some gorgeous vistas of Mt Fuji, and this turns out to be surprisingly watchable (even if a little emotionally frantic). With judicious use of the fast-forward, this is briskly enjoyable.
Attention Please [アテンションン プリース] Fun, typical [Rating: 6/10] This is by-the-numbers comedy-drama with Ueto as a former rocker who wants to become an airline stewardess, because they look hot in a uniform. Ueto tries way too hard to look upbeat and cute, and the results are sometimes counter-productive. Only a few scenes are truly funny, or moving.
On the other hand, two others make it worthwhile. Miki Maya is amazingly effective as the "evil witch" who has to train uncooperative Ueto, and Aibu Saki is effective as the fellow tranee who puts up with her antics. It's almost a commercial for JAL at times, but mostly stays on track.
Churasan [ちゅらさん] Good, but maybe a little overrated [Rating: 8/10] Churasan is an agreeable slice of life, a family story of people whose lives revolve around the parallel themes of Okinawan culture and fate. Especially as the series develops, the story teases out the personalities - each quite different - and, so far as the casting in concerned, also decidedly cute.
Churasan is rather mundane in the plot department, but compensates with a thee-dimensional cast of characters that (did I mention this?) are also really cute.
Ryoko Kunikawa is never at a loss for a broad smile (and of course, she's quite the looker), and Kenji Kohashi is almost her match. Tomi Taira is the energetic obasan who provides a running narrative of events. In fact, you might be tempted to ignore the rambling plot and humor that more often than not inspires more smiles than laughs. But for once, the easygoing Okinawan mood is a good excuse for a relaxed plotline, and the characters are (sorry, there's no avoiding it) cute enough to sustain your attention.
That said, Churasan is pleasant, but rarely compelling, It's a good excuse to pour a glass or two of cold sake.
Churasan 2 [ちゅらさん２] Warm and inviting [Rating: 7/10] Part of the appeal of the original drama was the way it made its leisurely pace through the lives and characters of an exotic Hokkaido family. Well, the characters are all back, but fitting everything into a six-part sequel involved some serious editing. Churasan 2 concentrates on the new careers of the major characters, who grow accustomed to new roles and responsibilities.
The main appeal of this series never with the slight, predictable plot, but rather with fully-fleshed out characters. Some, like Miho Konno, are left in uninteresting supporting roles; others, like Ryoko Kunnisake, has become an embodiment of the cuteness this drama aims for.
Dandori [ダンドリ] Cuteness, squared [Rating: 7/10] Okay, it's not Waterboys, but the first appeal of Dandori comes the irrepressible cuteness of the cast, particularly the head. The plot is strictly by the numbers, and it's difficult to point out memorable scenes (much less gags). Certainly, some may find it difficult to forgive its weaknesses - but the girls are really kind of adorable. If you're willing to enjoy it for what it is, Dandori is an engaging-enough teen drama.
Double kitchen [ダブルキッチン] Familiar and fun [Rating: 8/10] Double Kitchen does everything right in its own modest way - the uniquely Japanese story of newlyweds who take the top floor of the family house - and everyone adds to the comic melee. It's been done before, but all the characters are vivid, and the situations nearly always amusing. Versatile Yoko Nogiwa excels as the mother-in-law, while Tomoko Yamaguchi always has a lively, beatiful presence. Familiar? Yes, but it works.
Dragon Zakura [ドラゴン桜] Average [Rating: 5/10] Nagazawa Masami and Abe Hiroshi are the two more welcome aspects of this light drama, which follows in the huge footsteps of GTO and Gokusen. But while the latter are among the most successful dramas ever, expectations are high.
I liked Abe Hiroshi's over-the-top performance as a lawyer who tries to revive a dying, under-achieving high school - really, the perfect actor for the role. Nagasawa is always charming, but especially so as a mediocre student destined for a no-future life. But the writing isn't as sharp or clever than it might be, the situations not as dramatic. Several of the incidents impel one to use the fast-forward button more than usual. It's not surprising that Dragon Zakura didn't get any sequels or specials.
Egao no Hosoku [笑顔の法則] Pretty good, thanks to its star [Rating: 7/10] In many ways typical, star power pushes this drama up several notches. Takeuchi in particular is cute and energetic; she tries so hard that it's difficult not to pay attention, though at times her wacky reaction shots are a bit much. But the series excels emotionally - thanks to her - so you're willing to forgive small excesses.
Engine [エンジン] Outstanding, with an attractive cast [Rating: 10/10] This striking, nicely mounted series is also completely original in the world of doramas. This exceptionally attractive cast (which includes Kimura Takuya, Kaho, Koyuki, Erika Toda, Juri Ueno...and the list goes on) chains your eyes to the TV. And it's hard not to like the sound and small of motor engines - a real change from your standard office drama. Engine is gently humorous at times, but the flavor is more relaxed than you'd might otherwise expect.
Five [ファイブ] Slick, thrilling, and dumb [Rating: 3/10] FIVE is kind of like Subekan Deka in concept, but without the humor. This sliick drama is jammed with energy, and even has a few twists; the girls look great - especially sultry Saraina Suzuki. The fights and stunts are arresting, though the story doesn't make much sense. Tomoe Shinohara, as usual, is annoying. Despite sections with nice energy, annoying plot holes gradually expand like Swiss cheese - and then the drama becomes too much of a downer for my tastes. FIVE has a lot of potential, but squanders much of it along the way.
Fuurin Kazan [風林火山] A Winner! [Rating: 10/10] I don't give the top rating too often - it's the fascinating story of an unemployed, one-eyed samurai who aims to become an expert on the art of strategy. The plots have extremely clever twists, and the characters fairly appealing - not unlike the somewhat similar Musashi.
Gal Cir [ギャルサ] Watchable, for the girls [Rating: 6/10] Most of the appeal in the drama stems from over-made up girl cast, who serve as eye appeal for a mostly forgettable series. Mari Yaguchi, and Erika Toda, and a set of equally cute and spirited stars serve as eye-candy as the rather silly plot unfolds - mostly about a cowboy who descends from heaven to in a parachute, relying on the wisdom of his American Indian father to lead him to his family.
Of course, it makes little sense, but taken on the level of a blithe comedy, it's watchable - for the girls.
Gokusen [ごくせん] The planets align [Rating: 10/10] Everything aligns near-perfectly to make for a spirited comedy-drama in the spirit of GTO. The plot isn't completely unfamiliar: a high school teacher also happens to be the next in line to succeed a yakuza family.
What really makes it special is the cast. This series is packed with top talent, and the script is crisp and energetic. With GTO and Shomuni, one of my all-time favorites.
Gokusen 3 [ごくせん 3] Was there writing involved here? [Rating: 7/10] Of course, Yukie Nakama is again completely winning as the high school teacher, product of a yakuza family, faced with teaching the worst delinquents. The series is in its third run because it's so effective, and funny.
However, Gokusen 3 often comes off as a remake of Gokusen 2, right down to the plots and even the characters.
Golden Bowl [ゴールデンボウル] Strike! [Rating: 8/10] Takeshi Kaneshiro can come off seeming so intense that his projects may seem too serious. But there are exceptions. The Hong Kong film CHUNGKING EXPRESS had an almost French, quality in Kaneshiro's part of the movie, contributing at partly to its status as a classic.
GOLDEN BOWL is Japanese, of course, but Kaneshiro plays the role of a salaryman who avoids hanging around with acquaintances at work to bowl at his favorite haunt, the run-down "Golden Bowl." He becomes a bowling partner to Hitomi Kuroki - a charming housewife burdened with marital problems.
From the start, the drama is light and engaging, a disarming tribute to this unfashionable sport. Kaneshiro has been better known for this good looks than his acting, but he's affable enough to make the drama continually engaging. The breezy humor and light mood are a good match with the performers.
GOLDEN BOWL is underrated, but most people who have given it a chance have fallen for its spirit of light humor, and maybe even for its nominal standing as a "sports" drama. Its format is pretty predicable, episode after episode: a personal drama is played out in a climactic bowling match, highlighted by spirited banter between Takeshi and Kuroki.
The cast is likable, but watch out for a supporting role from JPOP starlet Aya Matsuura in an early acting effort, as well an appearance from a young Nanako Matsushima.
Gou ~ Himetachi no Sengoku [江 ~ 姫たちの戦国] Kind of Entertaining [Rating: 7/10] GOU - HIMETACHI NO SENGOKU has the expected richness in costume design and set design - but since the story has a strong female point of view, there's no blood even on most violent sequences. (This was written by Kumiko Tabuchi, who also penned 2007's ATSUHIME.)
Juri Ueno won the title role as wife of Hidetada, the second Tokugawa shogun. On its release, this drama was widely criticized for historical gaffes and the casting of Ueno, who's clearly too old for the character. She excels at modern, comic roles - not necessarily with a story of the warring states; the intrusion of Western music and even power chord guitars detracts from the atmosphere.
This has a tendency to sink to melodrama, but it's a decent look at woman's role in old Japan.
HAMMER SESSION! [ハンマーセッション!] Lite and enjoyable [Rating: 8/10] HAMMER SESSION is like GTO-lite - which doesn't stop it from being energetic and generally interesting. Hayami Mokomichi (ZETTAI KARESHI) is good-looking and enthusiastic enough as a master con-man who aligns himself with the good guys; Shida Mirai is a student who willingly helps uncover a series of series of problems that plague her school. The concept is not unlike GOKUSEN - a winning format - though it could use more of the latter's light satire it give it somewhat wider appeal.
GTO was legitimately great; HAMMER SESSION does its best to mine an inconsistent mix of comic and dramatic situations; it's pitched to a Japanese middle-school audience, addressing issues like juvenile delinquency, unemployment, and overbearing parents. Mokomichi is slim, tanned, and wears a knowing grin like a mask. Shida, on the other hand, brightens everything she's in. Her performance is less antic than in the memorable SEIGI NO MIKATA, but she throws herself into every scene with aplomb. Nobody has done this kind of role better.
Haruka 17 [はるか 17] Concept better than the execution [Rating: 6/10] It'a a promising concept: Haruka is fresh from college, but seems more capable at studying than finding job in Japan's stalled economy. Her last interview is successful, however: without knowing it, she's recruited to be an idol.
Haruka 17 works best as an idol comedy, with pokes at TV dramas, and the lighthearted mood makes for a pleasant enough time. But the individual episodes are, generally speaking, fairly predictable, and cliche'd situations don't stand up to close scrutiny. Some of the more slapstick moments are more humorous than amusing, and some sequences are so tired than you may be tempted to fast-forward.
If Haruka 17 had sharper writing, it might have transcended its 13 to 17 audience focus. Still, its story of an idol in the rough has its attractions, and even one or two surprises along the way.
Hotaru no Hikari [ホタルノヒカリ] Giddy fun [Rating: 9/10] Haruka Ayase is charming and amusing in her lead role as a hopelessly failed romantic unschooled in the language of love. Soon, she finds herself contemplating a relationship; but her home is a total mess, a problem that's complicated by the fact that she's sharing the place with her manager.
Ayase negotiates a role whose faces include an architectural assistant, a loner with self-esteem issues, and a "himono-onna" - doomed never to find romance. Ayase has already proven herself with tragedy, but she lends Hotaru no Hikari a giddy charm. Fresh and amiable.
Ii hito [いいひと。] Lite fun [Rating: 7/10] It doesn't pay to be too critical with II HITO, but the direction can be rather disappointing; every minute, scenes are overplayed or misplayed, despite the fact that the basic premise is quite winnng. The main character (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi) can't pass up the chance to do a good deed (helping an old lady across the street, chasing down a woman's misplaced purse, etc.), but his life is more challenging now that he's left Hokkaido for the big city (Tokyo, that is). However, it's his good fortune that the first people he helps are associated to an athletics shoes company he loves - and that he ends up being a new hire in that firm. II HITO (or, GOOD PERSON) is the story of an incessantly good, positive person whose qualities somehow diminish the petty flaws of anyone else he meets.
Miho Kanno has never looked prettier, though she'd show off her acting skills in later dramas. The same could be said for Kimura Takuya, too, or even ever-lovable Yuko Takeuchi (here, playing a high-schooler). A taut plot assures that there's not a chance of losing interest.
The orchestral soundtrack is energetic and uplifting, making for an even more energetic experience.
Imouto yo [妹よ] Not quite [Rating: 6/10] You can't fault the sweet, affectionate performance by Wakui Emi in a modern-day fairy tale. In fact, it's almost too simple to be really completely interesting.
JIN [JIN-仁-] "A" for effort [Rating: 8/10] What happens when a modern-day brain surgeon is thrown back over a century into a critical period in Japanese history? Adopted from the popular manga, JIN combines political intrigue with a speculative fiction plot, with a set of top notch performances as support. Haruka Ayase is charming, but Osawa Takao and Miki Nakatani provide real drama to the proceedings.
Of course, the plot may not be completely credible, especially with the paradoxes of time travel; but everyone is so engaging that it's easy to ignore the gaping plot flaws. This period drama features top stars in a well-done serial that never loses track of the difficulties of the Edo period.
By the end of the first part of this series, the mystery isn't solved yet (much less addressed satisfactorily); but fear not, the popular drama continues in JIN 2. I liked JIN 1 better.
JIN 2 JIN 2 [Rating: 9/10] Production and acting are as good as JIN 1, although the plot is a bit more melodramatic. But the cast is really what makes this drama click, offering an appealing set of multi-dimensional characters from historic Edo. Kudos to Osawa Takao as Jin; he has the kind of quiet authority born from a wide-ranging acting resume. The colorful views of old Japan are captivating, and the surgery scenes grab you every time.
That said, the "time travel" device was rather labored (and certainly not very credible)...and all the more unsatisfying because it was such an integral part of the plot.
Jyoou no Kyoushitsu [女王の教室] Involving, but kind of lame [Rating: ?/10] The plot is really gripping (though not quite in a GTO kind of way), and it's hard not to root for the herione. At the same time, the plot is sometimes awfully convenient, and the evil schoolteacher has a knowledge of her class and parents that's not possible. The acting varies, but Yuki Amani takes control of the drama in the same way her character controls her classroom. The kids are really cute.
Keizoku [ケイゾク] Okay, but great ending [Rating: 8/10] Early on, this follows a predicable pattern: a brilliant, somewhat eccentric Tokyo University grad (Miki Nakatani) starts off in the police department's dead file room. With her special abilities for deduction, she manages to solve some of the most baffling dead cases, usually half-way through an episode.
The pattern is fairly uniform. Miki Nakatani is competent, but never a particularly skilled performer. Her relative blandness is matched with a number of skilled, eccentric personalities - and an ending that's completely unpredictable (and really quite thrilling).
Kimi wa Petto [きみはペット] Icy Reception [Rating: 4/10] Kimi wa Petto has a concept that's almost fatally silly from the start: what happens when a good-looking guy (Jun Matsumoto) offers to become a busy career woman's (Sumire) dog?
It's preposterous, which is okay, but Sumire - called "Noh Mask" here - doesn't have the chops to render the comedy with the drama. Once we get past the unique concept, it falls into a predictable pattern. Matsumoto shows some skillful work; apparently for some, he's enough to make it work. I didn't buy it.
Kirakira Kenshui [きらきら研修医] Minami strikes gold [Rating: 8/10] Konishi shows the assured intelligence that makes her a natural for a doctor's role (not the first time for her), and this is a double-threat combined with her extreme cuteness. Her first chance to star, and she makes it work.
Koi no bakansu [恋のバカンス] A classic charmer [Rating: 10/10] This universal favorite is painfully difficult to locate, the delicious comedy of a salaryman playboy trying to juggle three girls at the same time. Truly funny, and arresting from stop to finish.
Koi no bakansu [恋のバカンス] Excruciatingly funny [Rating: 10/10] Koi no bakansu really knows how to turn the screws - a tightly written comedy about a womanizer who juggles three woman, and almost gets away with it. This is one of the rare things that are laugh-at-loud funny, assisted by a taut story line in which the main character's lies become a terrifying balancing act.
Kou kou kyoushi [高校教師] Serious...and that's about it [Rating: 7/10] A delicate subject: about the challenges and pitfalls of working at an all-girls high school. A new biology teacher (Hiroyuki Sanada) is falling in love with a lovely, possessive student (Sachiko Sakurai), while a fellow teacher (Maaki Miyamoto) blackmails the object of his affection (Noriko Watanabe). It's hardly light subject matter, but it's handled with sensitivity when it could have easily fallen prey to its potential pitfalls.
The acting is first-rate, and even the younger roles have surprising depth. That said, there's also a self-conscious seriousness that squeezes every bit of humor or brightness from the drama. The filmmakers knew they were making a controversial project, and seem to have done their best to show their seriousness - at the expense of a balanced mood.
What it does best is to show the varying standards or "moral" behavior in a culture what is still trying to weigh issues like honesty and dishonesty, purity and defilement, and youth vs. maturity. I don't believe that the drama was exploitative in the least, but certain cliches in doramas (like making characters silent only until dramatic exposition is needed) can be tiresome.
KOU KOU KYOUSHI is too serious for its own good; emotional breadth would have given this a dimension it almost always lacks.
Kou Kou Kyoushi 2003 [高校教師 2003] Aya is the one bright spot [Rating: 6/10] Aya Ueto is such an upbeat, spirited personality that she can't help but lift the mood of KOU KOU KYOUSHI - or at least that's the way it turns out. The complicated relationship between a high school student and math teacher with issues has a limp narrative and moments of angst.
What's missing is the kind of dramatic tension that would make this more diverting, though there's decent acting (and a plot that develops too slowly).
Kurosagi [クロサギ] Great concept, iffy delivery [Rating: 7/10] The world of con games is ripe with dramatic possibilities, and there's no question that KUROSAGI delivers on the ones that count. Each week's plot reveals a new twist on this theme, and the stories are always tense and well-plotted.
That said, the cast seems to be not quite up to the challenge. Or maybe it's because the dialog needs to be sharper, the human situations more detailed. Regardless of the reasons, there's unrealized potential here at every turn.
Long vacation [ロングバケーション] Top talent in a decent drama [Rating: 9/10] For about six episodes, the drama is hit and miss - but once the chemistry between the actors works out, we end up with an engaging story framed by romance and music. And there's nothing wrong with a happy ending.
Individual performances highlight the story. Although she appears in only a few episodes, young Ryoko Hirosue is commanding as a strong pianist whose own future is both promising and uncertain. Takuya Kimura is a soft-spoken pianist who, unconvinced of his abilities, contemplates quitting the instrument entirely. Tomoko Yamaguchi is an energetic former model who somehow manages to inspire hope in her friends - though her own romantic history is spotty. While the pacing is deliberate, it's quite pleasing as it draws to its finish.
I'm not completely convinced by certain elements, but overall, it's quite enjoyable, with a contrasting group of characters. The script doesn't have any antagonists; it's just a sampling of people who gradually work at their flaws.
Love generation [ラブジェネレーション] Uneven, but generally good [Rating: 8/10] It takes a half dozen episodes before the plot finally gels, but solid acting and the undeniable chemistry between Tatako Matsu and Kimura Takuya is consistently appealing. Takuya is likable and convincing, here as a sensitive, brooding would-be salaryman - who can't seem to forget his first love (Jinna Risa). Matsu is flirtatious and guarded about romance, and it takes some time until they realize they might be ideal for each other.
The main drama tries to sustain tension through a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications - which can be somewhat annoying over time. LOVE GENERATION isn't exactly predictable, but it's a fairly typical love story that desperately needs something (wit, inventiveness) to push it to the next level. The soundtrack is fairly bland, and doesn't capture key moments as well as better dramas. Even the title is about as generic as they come.
The theme is more carefully thought out than you might think. The glass apple that appears frequently in various episodes suggests that transparency of motive helps balance out the ever-present possibility of temptation. The two pair of couples at the center of this drama address this issue constantly, and transparent honesty is supposed to be the antidote to the risks of intimacy. Of course, knowing the theme doesn't solve the drama's loose, indifferent pacing.
The main problem is that the co-leads, though good at drama, are only passable at comedy. In addition, a number of dramatic sequences begin promisingly, then fizzle.
Mokuyoubi no Shokutaku [木曜日の食卓] Charming domestic drama [Rating: 9/10] This drama begins where The Graduate ends - an anxious guy (Nishijima) walks into a church and steals away with the bride (who doesn't put up much of a fight). Mokuyoubi no shokutaku starts from this premise to provide a light, quietly engaging love story. The bride doesn't escape, but nobody can understand why such a quiet boy should suddenly be possessed with such a will. Unlike The Graduate, the drama explores the most fascinating aspect of the entire situation: how does an apologetic Japanese family deal with such an extravagant show of love?
While dramatic, this is never heavy or overdone; it's essentially a love story.
Moppu gaaru [モップガール] Funny, but it's all Keiko [Rating: 8/10] Keiko Kitagawa is the cute, absent-minded 21-year old girl setting a course in the world of work - except a mishap demotes her to "mop girl." At a funeral services company. As morbid as it sounds, Kitagawa excels in the comic lead; her wacky grimaces are an unending source of laughs. Sure, the plot device is familiar, and maybe a bit thin, but stay around for the Kitagawa, who has enough charm to fuel the whole serial.
Moto Kare [元カレ] Mixed results [Rating: 6/10] The concept is iffy at best - the stories of a group of 20-something employees at a department store's food court. Dohmoto Tsuyoshi is perhaps fatally understated in his role a new employee learning the ropes; Rina Uchiyama is an elevator girl who likes her relationship with Tsuyoshi, but is concerned about an energetic new manager in the food section (Ryoko Hirusue) - who may not quite be over her boyfriend quite yet.
Interest varies according to situation. Scenes at home are uniformly dull, and the same criticism can be made of scenes at a ballroom dance studio. Tsuyoshi has all the charisma of a clod of earth, though Uchiyama shows more depth than some of her other roles to show herself as a vulnerable woman uncertain of her personal and professional role. Predictably, the drama's highlights come from uber-talented Ryoko Hirosue; she's masterful with drama and light-comedy, expressing all sorts of emotion without saying a word.
On the other hand, Tsuyoshi is better suited for comedic roles, and minor ones at that; he's certainly not a leading man. Uchiyama has always had to fight being seen as just another pretty face in middling dramas, but Moto Kare suggests that, in better roles, she has real talent; Hirosue is commanding in every scene. On the other hand, the budding romance between a 30ish dumpling maker and a 20-something school teacher (Amano Hiroyuki, Yoshie Ichige) was awkward and riddled with chiches.
I found myself fast-forwarding over the less interesting sections, paying closer attention to the portions with Hirosue. Finally, I realized that the entire drama was unsurprising, and written with the kind of predictability that hurts its earnest ambition to be "mature". For a more "adult" drama, the action is surprisingly limp and unoriginal. I suppose it comes down to chemistry; Moto Kare comes closer to a slower-paced character study than it should, and the chemistry between the characters is lost in the process.
MR. BRAIN Fabulous cast, mediocre drama [Rating: 6/10] There's so much acting talent in every episode that Ryoko Hirosue is reduced to under ten minutes in the introductory episode - which as as tense and thrilling as anything you'll find in doramas. Takuya Kimura plays a man whose recent brain injuries spark an interest in novel approaches to crime prevention, and heading the "brain" unit lets him assist in solving crimes unsolved for years. In two episodes, Yukie Nakama shines as a victim of multiple personality disorder - a highlight of the series.
Haruka Ayase, whose proven her skill at comedy and action, falls between the cracks in her lackluster role as Mr. Brain's assistant.
The drama take its inspiration from programs like The Mentalist, but with added production gloss. Ultimately, it comes of as somewhat shallow and even puerile at times, calling upon high-tech graphics to suggest an approach to crime solving that's often preposterous. A major antagonist is never quite brought to justice - which suggests that MR. BRAIN 2 is always a possibility.
Never boring - it's just a waste of top-flight acting talent.
Musashi [武蔵] Superior [Rating: 10/10] Based on the popular novel, it just doesn't get much better than this. You can quibble about details (e.g., the real Musashi was painfully ugly, not a hunk as shown here), but this drama captures the time and characters vividly. The real Musashi may have been a relatively obscure person, but his tale feels spot-on.
This series patches in the sketchy details on Musashi's life the best it can, making for a drama that captures the main events of the time, and enlarges upon its bigger than life personalities.
Onsen e Ikou 2 [温泉へ行こう２] A favorite [Rating: 9/10] Onsen e Ikou 1 was an engaging, amusing drama packaged in thirty minute installments; but the followup is even better, as the girls try to find a way to revive an onsen that has seen its better days. Lightly comic, with a vivid plot - this is still quite fun.
Orange Days [オレンジデイズ] Good...just good [Rating: 7/10] A fine cast and engaging characters doesn't disguise the fact that the drama 100% convincing - though the everyone is uncommonly good-looking (like throwaways Ueno and Monishi). The drama's attitude toward music is frankly naive, or even realistic.
Oshin [おしん] A classic [Rating: 10/10] Oshin pushes beyond "classic" into the realm of "phenomenon." This story of a woman's life from poor child to prominence captures Japan as it moves through series of trials that always seem intimate and, very often, melancholy.
It originally aired in 297 episodes over the period of one year. No Japanese drama has approached Oshin in terms of its world popularity. It grabs you and won't let go.
Otousan [おとうさん] Sort of a sequel ot Oyaji [Rating: 9/10] The basic concept isn't too different from OYAJI, a drama that was plotted so uniquely that you can't tell what's going to happen next. OTOUSAN isn't quite as inventive, but it's hard to ignore its taut pacing and bevy of strong actors. Ryoko Hirosue is wonderful at comedy, but her role as a harried, unconfident nurse is as memorable as Miki Nakatani's as an older sister who wants to change her life's role.
The players are almost uniformly attractive (aside from the comic foils), and plot would get ungainly if not the fact that the various conflicts manage to balance out quite nicely. Perhaps not an exact sequel to OYAJI, but the formula has been duplicated admirably.
If you look very carefully, you'll even find a few performances by performers who would become very big in their own rights.
Over Time [オーバー・タイム] The "Beautiful People" [Rating: 7/10] The plot revolves around a group engaging 20-somethings in varying states of love, with each character finding their way other characters' lives. It's more like community (and sometimes like a commune), but the cast is so likable and basically good-hearted that you can't help but enjoy the relaxed drama.
The cast is strikingly attractive, so even the "plain jane" (Naomi Nishida) is a former Shiseido model. The stately plot is the kind you can predict episodes in advance, but it's so agreeable there's no hard feelings.
Pink no Idenshi [Pinkの遺伝子] Teen trash [Rating: 3/10] Basically, this is serio-comic glimpse at teen love - the main focus is the quest for a kiss. This is for a girl's audience, very early teens, and you'll find yourself losing interest pretty quickly - even if you're a girl in your early teens.
Pride [プライド] Okay, but... [Rating: 7/10] Superior acting, though it tends to be overwritten - it's all about "pride" and "the game of love." But the setting of hockey is unique. The relatively rare segments of sports, compared to a terminal quantity of dialog.
Proposal Daisakusen [プロポーズ大作戦] Clever and amusing [Rating: 9/10] The concept is for this fantasy/romance is quite engaging - that the little moments are the ones that are most important. The hapless hero is faced with the painful irony - of helping put on the wedding for the girl he loves most of all. There's good chemistry with all the actors, and a sweetness to the whole project. Once you buy the basic idea, there's a Midsummer's Night Dream quality to the drama that's hard to shake off.
Q.E.D. ~ Shomei Shuryo [証明終了] Appealing and fun [Rating: 9/10] The high concept - of a pair of high schoolers out to solve unsolvable mysteries - is probably more engaging than logical, but MoMiusu veteran Ai Takahashi turns on the charm. Each episode involves some murder or another, but that's a satisfactory engine for the cute teen relationship that's at the core of the series. Takahashi really makes the series work; you can't help but smile whenever she's on screen.
Satomi Hakenden [里見八犬伝] CGI-crazy swordplay [Rating: 7/10] This special has a pleasing set of actors and an engaging energy, but it's the kind of story that needs to be seen from the beginning, no cheating. Heavy on effects and dependent on supernatural goings-on, we watch as a fabled group of "dog warriors" gather together to fight forces of dynasty. It's likable and fairly predictable, pitched for the 16 to 24 age range, but could have been more original.
The basic moral is that war is bad, but unavoidable sometimes. This drama isn't bad, but avoidable if you want something with more substance.
Satorare [サトラレ] Amusing, if contrived [Rating: 9/10] Satorare is founded on the improbable concept that the main character, a perceptive doctor, is a satorare - his inner voice is so loud that everyone can hear him. For some reason, the people at work and at home are too sensitive to let him know of his problem - an ability that purportedly affects one of every ten mission people. The main entertainment derives from everyone knowing his thoughts are being heard - except him.
The concept is thin, but it's also unusually entertaining - a story about eavesdropping, in reverse. You're more than willing to forgive the story's basic improbability so that you can enjoy the comic consequences. Best of all, the casting and performances are spot-on, and the script deftly written.
Seigi no Mikata [正義の味方] Hilarious [Rating: 9/10] Shida Mirai shows a certain comic mastery in SEIGI NO MIKATA. She's a young girl under the power of her beautiful, controlling older sister - whose unwillingness to compromise makes her a sister from hell. The plot is often inventive, but Mirai is laugh-out-loud funny one scene after the next. She's so amusing that it's clear the director made every effort to include her full repertoire of expressions. Mirai is best noted for dramatic roles in both films and dramas (including the acclaimed KABEI and the remake of HIMITSU), but that won't prepare you for her antics in SEIGI NO MIKATA.
Mirai is a middle-school student whose life is plagued by the presence of her beautiful older sister (Yamada Yu), who's beginning to have second thoughts about an impending marriage. The comedy plays between the manipulative older sister and the frazzled younger sister; before long, the whole family is turned topsy-turvy.
As a feather-light comedy, and almost a fantasy in some ways - or at least doesn't bear much relation to real-life. The series was adapted from a manga, and has an almost childlike innocence at times. But it's clear that, without Mirai, this drama wouldn't be half as effective.
Sekai no chuushin de, ai wo sakebu [世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ] Staggeringly depressing [Rating: 6/10] No question, this is an elegant, tasteful adaptation; however, the plot wallows in tear-jerker territory far too long, as the young female co-star contends with acute leukemia, suicide, family turmoil, and the fear of death.
The acting is uniformly strong, but I found the second, later-life subplot more touching than the death-and-disease that swallows up the rest of the drama.
Shika Otoko Aoniyoshi [鹿男あをによし] Strangely funny [Rating: 9/10] Earthquakes are rocking Japan, and it's up to a fledgling high school teacher and a talking deer to solve a "myth" that may destroy the country.
Sound strange? You bet, but once you begin to wade your way through the legend and symbolism, you end up with a smart, funny, and engrossing drama that has its share of near-classic moments. Hiroshi Tamaki (NODAME CANTABILE) puts in a performance somewhere between bafflement and deadpan comedy, while Haruka Ayase is more subtly amusing. Its post-modern flavor may interest David Lynch fans, but the cultural vocabulary is pure Japanese.
Shomuni [ショムニ] All time favorite [Rating: 10/10] An incredibly energetic, clever sendup of inter-office politics from the POV of those at the bottom of the pole. One of the few dramas I've actually watched more than once.
Shomuni [ショムニ] The best [Rating: 10/10] Shomuni is like a comic manga, with a diverse set of women who have literally dropped to the basement of their company. The concept of under-performing employees isn't new, but Shomuni brings the concept to a new level. The instrumental soundtrack has an almost cinematic dimension, and the filmmaking singlehandedly updated the way dramas are seen.
Shomuni spawned several sequels - each good in their own way - but the original has such energy and originality that it deserves its own recognition.
Sutaa no Koi [スタアの恋] Not the best, not the worst [Rating: 7/10] This love story about love, fame, and the enjoyment of fine ham has an agreeable dramatic arc. However, lead actress Fujiwara comes away looking great but seeming rather wooden, and the central metaphor of "the chair" is pretentious and, yes, wooden.
This is a simple romance that would have been more satisfying if there had been more chemistry between the stars. Given the warm reviews, I was expecting something more. In particular, the last third of the drama loses steam and doesn't seem to know where it's going.
Taju Jinkaku Tantei Psycho [多重人格探偵サイコ] Weird [Rating: 7/10] Picture watching one of Miike Takashi's weirder movies filtered through a Twin Peaks moodiness, add some gore and more than its share of odd plotting, and you have MPD Psycho.
A cop is after a criminal who controls his victims' minds by sending them cell phone messages, and whose distinguishing characteristic is that they have bar codes printed on their eyes. The whole thing doesn't make a lot of rational sense, but the series is visually interesting and certainly has more than its share of exciting moments. Ultimately, it's kind of hit-and-miss.
Taju Jinkaku Tantei Psycho [多重人格探偵サイコ] Miike meets Twin Peaks [Rating: 4/10] An eclectic Miike Takashi mood enfolds this six-part crime drama. Striking visuals, intense violence, and an arcane plot combine in a way that isn't entirely satisfying; it seems that the plot is more interested in building the mystery than resolving it, making for curiously uninvolving series. If this had been distilled into a more concise form, it would have been more compelling
Tatta Hitotsu no Koi [たったひとつの恋] Slow, tired, okay [Rating: 6/10] The middling reviews of this drama pretty much give an accurate idea of what's right and wrong with it. The first thing you notice about this is that, despite some good acting and production, it's so tired and slow; making it though to the next episode is a challenge because there's little to keep you watching. The next thing you notice is how cliche'd the plot line is - the kind of thing you've seen before, and often.
There are are few bright moments, but there's little in the way of humor to enliven things, and there's no real chemistry between any of the players. I'm a staunch fan of Haruka Ayase, who can be captivating in the right role; but here, she needs meatier material than the round of make-ups and break-ups. The whole thing got to be so predictable that I skipped to the end just to see how things turned out.
I'm glad I did. I was let down by the fact that there was so much promise to this drama, a promise that was for the most part unrealized.
Tenchijin [天地人] Kind of disappointing [Rating: 4/10] With the exceptional cast, which includes name stars even in supporting roles (Kazuki Kitamura, Misako Tanaka, Abe Hiroshi, Jo Shishido, and so on). this is sometimes engaging - with a floridly beautiful visual sense.
That said, many scenes look as if they were filmed on a cheap sound stage. Visual effects like flashbacks and lap dissolves can look cheap and unconvincing. Fantasy sequences are painfully awkward. Unfortunately, the action can be rather slow, as well.
This drama may benefit from the fast-forward button.
Tenchijin [天地人] Ordinary, but likable [Rating: 6/10] Given the level of star power (which includes Misako Tanaka, Abe Hiroshi, Kazuki Kitamura, Masanobu Takashima, Yoshino Kimura, Aibu Saki...and the list goes on), one expects more. This drama boasts a more intimate, personal viewpoint in its story of an Uesugu samurai who prefers peace to constant war, and at its best, Tenchijin has s striking visual sense.
However, the awkward use of flashbacks and stagy effects frequently halts the drama in its tracks, with key scenes theatrically put on a cheap sound stage.
With this series, Eriko Komatsu moves from writer to director, but it's a journeyman effort at best.
Toshiie to Matsu [利家とまつ] Strong, not brillliant [Rating: 8/10] This period drama has a top-notch cast and a plot that continually engaging, but Matsushima Nanako holds the whole thing together as the wife of a minor general during the era of the Warring States. We come into contact with all of the major figures of the time, and one or two stretches are genuinely touching. You'll never forget Matsu's, "I'll take care of it" - an assurance that holds her clan together time after time.
This is more of a family drama, and so may not have as man of the breathtaking fights as the most successful period dramas. This works on a lower key, but still quite competent.
Tsubasa [つばさ] Lite family fare [Rating: 7/10] Very light, often melodramatic, this has the feeling of a morning drama. The title character (Tabe Mikako) takes on duties at her family's sweets shop, accepting even the more menial tasks with energy and cheerfulness; of course, the rest of the family is less enthusiastic about things. There's an airy, gentle mood to this drama, though sometimes it needs more focus.
Tabe Mikako may not be an idol, but her character grounds the drama, making it watchable even when the story devolves through various tangents.
Unubore Deka [うぬぼれ刑事] Surprisingly good [Rating: 8/10] Too many Japanese comedies fall prey to formula: offering an interesting premise, a familiar delivery, and ba by-the-numbers conclusion. Superficially, UNUBORE DEKA falls into the same pattern - and it's all the more surprising that it's so appealing and funny in spite of itself.
A handsome detective (Tomoya Nagase) wins the hearts of a succession of lovely women, with a catch: in each case, the object of his affection is guilty of some crime or another, whether it's murder, fraud, burglary, or worse. As a result, he wins the admiration of colleagues for his astonishing success at nabbing villains (while losing potential girlfriends in the process). Nagase (MY BOSS MY HERO, TIGER AND DRAGON) has a gift for flamboyant reaction shots, and other actors (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Mika Nakashima) put in winning supporting performances that are almost as funny.
Does this get repetitive? Admittedly, yes, but it's hard to resist a good joke, and the script mixes things up to freshen old gags. Like ep2, where Nagase inadvertently downs a sleeping drug, and juggles three tasks - nabbing the femme fatale, proposing marriage to her, and snoring in between breaks in dialog. I only wish the series could have been longer.
Zettai Kareshi [絶対彼氏] Almost perfect [Rating: 9/10] Zettai Kareshi has a silly concept, but runs with it to make an engaging and frequently funny drama. When lonely Aibu Saki contracts for a "love robot," the complications include bonding issues, amorous competition, and the expected repairs. Saki is sweet and understated, and somehow believable as the girl with boy problems and android issues.