Japanese Dramas and Romantic Comedies

Thanks to switching to streaming video I have discovered a craving for Japanese TV shows. Below is a list of all the series I have watched along with a brief comment about each. The series must have more than 5 episodes, be available on a streaming service, and be made after 1997 (the year I left Japan). Most of these are based on manga which I think improves the writing and pacing of episodes overall – as fans of Preacher and the Walking Dead would likely agree. The Japanese also don’t portray romance very well. Kissing tends to the chaste and there’s a reliance on innuendo rather than physical affection – kind of like American movies in the early 1960s.

99 Days with the Superstar (Boku to Star no 99 Nichi)- A fun romantic comedy about a Korean actress who falls in love with her bumbling Japanese bodyguard. While the ending is a bit of a let down the series has many moments. In particular the interplay between bodyguard Kohei and his childhood friend “Ganmo,” played by Kuranosuke Sasaki (Iryu: Team Medical Dragon). Sasaki shines in the supporting role, and it’s too bad the writers didn’t do more with his character.

Always the Two of Us (Itsumo futari de) – Pretty decent love story about friends who fall in love. Worth watching for the verbal parrying between the two main characters.

Angel Heart (Enjero Hato) – Currently watching.

Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files (Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou) – A standout of Japanese dramas and one I wish they would continue. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was instead a petite young Japanese woman owning a used bookstore who investigates mysteries where famous novels play a key role. Top notch writing makes this series a must see. It also showcases one of my favorite books, A Clockwork Orange.

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Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files

Biyou Shounen Celebrity – Yes I watched it. It was weird but charming in a way. Evidently the Japanese don’t stereotype male hairdressers as “gay” at least in their media. I’d probably like it if I was 20 and stoned but middle aged and sober it’s not a favorite.

Crazy for Me (Kokoro ga Pokkito ne) – In a year of watching Japanese dramas and romantic comedies this is my clear favorite. It’s quirky and about 40 somethings instead of the usual high school, college age or newbies in the workforce that are commonly portrayed in their dramas. All the characters have baggage and everyone is broken in their own way, yet in the end they heal and overcome their neuroses.

Dad of Light (Final Fantasy XIV) – Heartwarming story about a son who gets his dad hooked on an online video game so that he can get closer to him. Short <30 min episodes keep the story moving in this sentimental-in-places drama. Worth a look, especially if you are familiar with online games.

Death Note (Desu Noto) – Perhaps the most famous Japanese drama of recent times which, along with the translated anime, spawned an American version. While the plot of death note seems taken from the fevered mind of a bullied junior high schooler, the characterizations of this version are what make it worth watching. In particular Kento Yamazaki is perfectly cast as “L” and it’s easy to flip between wanting to see Kira succeed and “L” catch him. I sure wish American audiences were sophisticated enough to enjoy an original show from abroad instead of having Hollywood puree it and then spoon-feed it to them in a remake.

Dinner – Currently watching.

Doctor’s Affairs (Ishitachi no Renai Jijou) – Another adult love story although the romance is glacially paced. A strong supporting cast elevates the drama from the average. Mr Perfect Young Doctor meets Ms Jaded Burned Out Doctor and sparks fly – just in slow motion.

Dr. Coto’s Clinic (Dr. Koto Shinryojo) – Based on a manga this older series (from 2003 and 2006) ages well. The story revolves around a young doctor from Tokyo who moves to an isolated island clinic, and the challenges he faces from the villagers and his own past. Although the main character is somewhat two-dimensional I enjoyed this series for the medicine as well as the characters on the island.

Galileo – An exceptional crime drama about a physicist who assists in murder investigations, and the plot always revolves around a scientific fact or curiosity. One part Bill Nye the Science Guy and one part Cagney & Lacey make this a highly recommended show. First episode “Burns” is especially creepy.

Gokuaku Ganbo – Is it possible for a show to make loan sharks look human? This show does. It provides a glimpse of the consumer loan industry in Japan which is extremely different from the industry elsewhere since banks do not lend much to consumers. This allows a private industry of loan sharks to thrive, and this show is about a group of them including a main character who suffers from them and decides to join them to beat them at their own game. Although not as highly rated at various drama sites, I think it was one of the best dramas I’ve watched so far. Reminds me ever so slightly of the original Oceans 11 with Frank Sinatra and crew.

Good Morning Call – Ok this romantic comedy is about high schoolers. Yes admitting that I like this romcom makes me feel creepy (sukebe), but the main character Nao Yoshikawa (Haruka Fukuhara) is so adorable that it’s impossible to resist wanting to see her happy. And the abuse she suffers from her crush Hisashi Uehara (Shunya Shiraish) makes you want to stage an intervention, preferably with loud black women saying things like “Damn girl he’s not good enough for you.” I’m not sure what one can learn from a culture through TV given how foreigners think Americans are humping when we aren’t shooting at each other, but there is an entire sub-genre of Japanese romantic comedies based on kataomoi (unrequited love) so it’s easy to believe the Japanese will love anyone except those who love them.

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Good Morning Call’s Yoshikawa Realizing She Needs A “Black Woman Intervention”

Good Morning Call was my first romcom that started me down the path of Japanese drama and it remains my favorite. The character of Nao is one of the purest, most innocent I’ve ever seen on TV, and it would be impossible for it to translate into a western, particularly an American setting. Her love for Uehara is so intense and so ideal, yet she herself is so naive and innocent that you want to see her win Uehara’s heart. In a way the show is a throwback to a simpler time. In an era when anything and everything goes and is accepted, the show stands out and is a welcome respite from the usual sexual and violent fare on TV.

Hard to Say I Love You (Sunao ni Narenakute) – Although on the surface this is a typical Rom-Com filled with unrequited love, below the surface it deals with some serious themes including sexual harassment, homosexual attraction in a heterosexual society, and societal pressure for women to conform to norms and expectations. More complex than expected which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.

Hero 2014 – One has to be careful when learning about a culture through its art, but this show highlights an important cultural difference between Japan and the USA. Japan has a 98% conviction rate and relies heavily on confessions to achieve that. This show provides a glimpse of that world where prosecutors coerce confessions out of suspects, and occasionally convicting an innocent man in the process. This show has a great ensemble cast including Yutaka Matsushige from Dinner and Death Note (among others). The stories are tightly written and entertaining. Sorry to see the end of this one.

Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman – Currently Watching.

The Many Faces of Ito – Having spent a fair amount of time in writing courses I’ve decided that the only thing more boring than that are stories about writing classes. The story had promising elements but strived to be unnecessarily profound, like many writers in a writing class. And maybe it’s just because I’m a former smoker, but nothing screams “bad acting” to me like an actor who doesn’t know how to smoke, as the actress playing the main character does not. I’m sure she would have preferred to leave the smokes out of the script, so that makes two of us.

Million Yen Women (Hyaku Man En no Onna Tachi) – This is a very sophisticated and dark drama based on a weird premise: 5 women move into a struggling writer’s apartment and pay him a million yen a month ($8,800) to live there. In return he has to cook and clean house for them, but can never ask them questions. I found this show very unpredictable – unusual for Japanese drama which can be very formulaic – with sparks of genius. At 30 minutes an episode the writing was tighter than some hour long dramas and I found the show easy to binge watch.

Wakako Zake – I’ve read about people being paid to livestream themselves while they eat. This show is definitely in that vein and like most of the others is based on a manga. The story is about a 26 year old office lady who likes to eat and drink alone. In the show she attends real restaurants and bars (although usually staffed by actors) and eats and drinks, commenting on what she consumes. It’s hard to watch this and not get a serious craving for Japanese, although I think Wakako-chan should cut back a bit on the booze. Can’t wait for Season 3: Wakako-chan samples the cookies and coffee in AA meeting rooms throughout Tokyo.

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Wakako Zake

 

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