It seems appropriate, given the currently airing Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu, to take a look at another Tamaki Hiroshi-Ayase Haruka collaboration, the 2008 drama Shikaotoko Aoniyoshi. This is an underrated gem that gets passed by often because of its fantastical plot, but it is an awesome watch and cannot be recommended enough.
Ogawa Takanobu (Tamaki Hiroshi) takes up a teaching job at a girls’ high school in Nara after being forced out of his research group due to conflicts with his colleagues. He stays at a boarding house with a few other teachers, including the history-loving Fujiwara Michiko (Ayase Haruka) and the wise Fukuhara Shigehisa (Sasaki Kuranosuke). Ogawa, however, soon gets off on the wrong foot with one of his students, Hotta Ito (Tabe Mikako), when she arrives late and gives a ridiculous excuse – that she got a ticket trying to park her deer in front of the train station. Ogawa later experiences something even stranger when he is confronted by a talking deer who orders him to prevent the destruction of Japan by fulfilling a very special mission…
When I first read about this drama, which is adapted from a novel of the same name by Makime Manabu, I was inclined to skip it because I wasn’t sure about the premise. But I’m intensely glad I gave it a shot and it’s now one of my favourite Tamaki dramas, and I love him for taking it on (he even won an acting award for this!). The drama beautifully weaves together old legends and the history of Nara and Japan in general with modern-day events and how everything ties in is just brilliant. A lot of little clues are strewn all over the drama, but they aren’t always obvious until the later episodes, and even then you’d realise more others upon the second or third watch. On the whole, it is a very intelligent drama with a very rich world that doesn’t take the viewer for a fool, and I can only imagine how powerful the source material must have been (the novel was nominated for the prestigious Naoki Prize for literature in Japan). The fact that the drama was filmed in Nara already sets it apart from the usual ones done in Tokyo – other than the many many deer that Nara is known for, there are plenty of beautiful scenery and historical sites to savour. Osaka and Kyoto also feature a fair bit, as the other two key cities in this story.
I thought about going into detail the story, legends and history involved, but that would take the fun out of watching the drama and piecing together everything. Besides, this is a drama that should definitely be watched to be able to appreciate the little details and pick up the clues, not to mention the comedy that comes from living in close quarters (literally) with those you work with. So here are some highlights:
1) The ending theme music
One of the best ending themes ever in a drama. It’s fantastic and full of verve. I love it! Have a whirl with the MV:
Affectionately named “Shika-san” by Fujiwara, the talking deer pretty much steals the show whenever he’s on screen. His scenes with Ogawa are hilarious, mixed with a dose of seriousness where necessary. He’s a mouthy one, Shika-san, and is adorable despite his grumpy ways. I love how Ogawa was initially afraid of offending the deer, but they slowly forge an understanding and their scenes are some of the most awesome in a drama that is already full of win. A scene that had me giggling was when Shika-san, upon learning that Fujiwara actually seems to believe Ogawa’s tale, is so surprised he goes “Haaaaa?”, but then wonders: “That woman… could she be… stupid?” Hahahahaha. Also, do look out for the “My Shika” scene, it’s worth it!
3) The chemistry between the various characters
Ogawa and Fujiwara have a fun, bickering relationship – she’s effervescent and chirpy, a contrast to his pessimism and luckless ways. She can talk nineteen to the dozen, especially when it involves her passion, history. He’s fumbling and awkward, unsure and hesitant to stand up for himself because of his previous troubles. Despite that, they are actually complementary in their own oddball ways. It’s pretty fun watching how their relationship develops as they figure out how to go about completing the mission. From thinking he’s delusional when he first confides in her about the talking deer and all, to her wholeheartedly believing in him and defending him to the best of her ability, Fujiwara is very likeable and provides the unexpected voice of reason whenever Ogawa thinks about giving up. I enjoyed the chemistry between Tamaki Hiroshi and Ayase Haruka, and I actually prefer Ayase in this to her Hanae role in Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu, because she is really lively and adorable as Fujiwara and is a good foil for Ogawa. Tamaki was excellent as Ogawa, there were no shades of Chiaki senpai at all and you really want to sympathise with and root for the poor sensei who is confused just trying to make sense of it all. I loved all of his silly expressions, and he had such a variety of them, they cracked me up so much.
Tabe Mikako is suitably mysteriously as Hotta Ito, who is a key part of the mission. I also liked Hotta’s scenes with Ogawa, they made a very intriguing pair. Shibamoto Yuki as Nagaoka sensei from Kyoto Jyogakkan was also likeable – nicknamed Madonna, Nagaoka sensei is well-liked by male teachers all round, and Ogawa is no exception (it’s hilarious when he thinks she’s in love with him, since she keeps dropping by Nara, and Fujiwara tells him he’s not “shika otoko”, but “baka otoko”, hahaha). Shige-san, of course, is just awesome.
4) Nara’s beautiful scenery and historical tidbits
There’s plenty of this, and what a refreshing change of location with the deer such an integral part of local life in Nara. Ogawa usually meets the talking deer in the park in the early mornings or evenings, so you get scenes of the beautiful sunset or early morning light strewn across a vast expanse of land. Early on when Fujiwara shows Ogawa around Nara, she takes him to a spot which offers a fantastic overview of the city. Later on, she drags him around the historic town of Asuka, which bore witness to significant political, social and artistic changes – the Asuka period in history also saw the change in the name of the country from Wa to Nihon. I felt I learnt quite a bit about old Japan watching this drama, and I enjoyed the experience since I like history.
For an explanation about the title, please visit this wonderful post.
5) The awesome kendo competition
Hotta joins the kendo club in order to help Ogawa with the Triangle quest, and what ensues is a fascinating kendo fight between the three schools from Nara, Kyoto and Osaka. Interesting that kendo was used, and I see it as some sort of link between the ancient legends/history, and the modern-day setting of the story (kendo is a fairly modern Japanese martial art). The ending theme is used to great effect here and it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a sporting competition in any drama or film (usually prefer watching the real stuff). There’s also an intriguing little scene with Shige-san and Nagaoka sensei.
Shige-san gets a special mention because he’s a very interesting supporting character with an oddball sense of humour. He’s astute and wise, a very good judge of character and makes very pertinent observations about various situations that seem to escape others. One scene that struck me about Shige-san was this: In episode 4, Fujiwara defends Ogawa stoutly over a particular incident, but gets a bit of a dressing-down for her outspoken behaviour. Fujiwara broods about this back at the boarding house and wonders if she should have behaved more like an adult and spoken more calmly. Shige-san, who is drinking with her, tells her gently this:”I don’t think that being an adult means that one is certainly in the right. For people who can’t say what they want to say, but can only bear it inside, perhaps they will envy Fujiwara-kun.”
As the subs point out, this is a very common phenomenon in Japan (and dare I say, in much of the rest of Asia), where people tend to take unpleasant things in stride and keep silent instead of speaking up. There isn’t the sort of culture that rewards one for being forthcoming with one’s opinions – instead, one should settle matters without causing hard feelings (this is what Ogawa’s mother hoped for by sending him the magatama, a good luck charm that would help him preserve the peace with his colleagues and students). There are pros and cons of such a culture, but I do like a drama that doesn’t force teachings and mantras down the viewer’s throat and instead allows the viewer to reflect on things in the drama and society in general.
To end: I don’t have the words that would do this drama justice, but it is definitely a must-watch. The first couple of episodes may be a tad slow, but it is ultimately very rewarding if you persevere with it, because you get to go on such a wild, fantastic ride with the characters, talking deer and all. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but if it hits your sweet spot, you can be sure this is a drama you can and will savour for years to come.