Mini J-drama puffs: 2022 half-time round-up

Greetings after a long while of silence. Hope everyone’s been doing well and watching dramas! In the past few months, I’ve watched a number of Japanese dramas but just haven’t had the energy to dedicate specific posts to each of them. So here’s a wrap of what I’ve put my eyeballs on so far.

I. Hakozume

I had not expected to like Hakozume as much as I did. The drama is pretty funny, but more importantly, it has a lot of heart. Nagano Mei plays the young koban officer Kawai Mai, who is in the job only because it offers her stability and not because she likes it. Her attempts to quit are thwarted by the arrival of a reportedly fierce and imposing senpai, Fuji Seiko (Toda Erika), who takes Kawai under her wing and teaches her the ropes, and a number of other things.

The chemistry between Nagano and Toda was spot on, and I really enjoyed their professional and personal interactions. Miura Shohei added much hilarity with his turn as Minamoto Seiji, who is Fuji’s peer and has a bickering relationship with her. Yamada Yuki completes the quartet as Minamoto’s cop buddy Yamada Takeshi, and the four often go sleuthing together despite their differing positions – Fuji and Kawai are with the local koban, and are often asked to help the guys out at the neighbourhood police station, a slightly bigger enterprise. Muro Tsuyoshi was hilarious as Fuji and Kawai’s boss who seems useless but somehow has a lot of qualifications.

J-drama cop procedurals tend to go big and fancy with hotshot detectives and special units, but it’s not often the spotlight is shone on your average small-time officer who helps out the ordinary citizens with mundane tasks such as redirecting traffic and taking part in community events. There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially with Minamoto’s ramen hair and flair for theatrics, but it’s the little life lessons – such as the episode where Kawai learns how to deal with a victim of sexual assault – that make much more impact and will remain with me long after.

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II. I Turn

I don’t know how to categorise I Turn. Is it a comedy about hapless salarymen unable to catch a break? Is it a yakuza drama? Workplace hijinks? The trials and tribulations of the underdog? This drama has it all, and a lot of other crazy moments.

Muro Tsuyoshi is Komae Mitsuo, an ad man who is banished to a small branch office after offending the company bigwigs. A mistake with the advertising leaflets for a client lands him in hot water with Tatsuzaki Kenji (Tanaka Kei), who turns out to be a yakuza boss and wants Komae to pay for his mistake. Komae is in bigger trouble when Tatsuzaki’s rival, Iwakiri Takeshi (Furuta Arata), takes a shine to Komae…

I Turn is probably the kind of drama where if you jive with the comedy, you’ll find everything hilarious and enjoyable, and outside of the humour there are also occasional gems from Komae trying to make the best of this nutty situation. I do think the drama benefited from having very strong actors in the key roles to carry off this kind of offbeat crazy. Muro’s face is perfect for this sort of down-on-your-luck type of character who doesn’t quite know what hit him and is pretty much reeling from the ridiculousness of it all throughout the drama. Tanaka was effective as a cool, menacing yakuza boss, while Maiguma Katsuya’s turn as a bleedin’ heart underling was lovely. I also really liked Komae’s reluctant friendship with Iwakiri and how they managed to outsmart some of the more nefarious schemes. Shoutout to Sasano Takeshi for his hilarious turn as Donuma, the boss of the printing company.

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III. Ima Koko ni aru Kiki to Boku no Kokando ni Tsuite

This was airing on NHK’s website (English title being How to be Likeable in a Crisis) and at five episodes, was a breezy watch. Matsuzaka Tori shines as the hapless PR man of a university who must navigate various conflicting interests without trying to show he’s partial to any – resulting in his saying nothing of note and coming off rather useless. A very strong social satire that examines how (Japanese) society, seen here in the microcosm context of the university and its internal politics, handles unpleasant matters and the consequences of its actions.

The drama was very funny and realistic in its social commentary, and you have to feel for Matsuzaka’s character as he tries to do what he thinks is the right thing, while his mind goes into overdrive over any number of things and he gets himself entangled despite his best efforts to remain small and invisible. While ostensibly the drama is about Japanese society, it also behooves us to think, on a wider scale, how the issues raised apply to how we perceive things, and the meaning and weight (if any) that we ascribe to actions and words.

Strong performances all round anchor the drama, in particular Matsuzaka, Suzuki Anne who seems pretty underrated, and the veteran cast led by the dependably solid Matsushige Yutaka.

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IV. Izakaya Shinkansen

This drama is about finding joy in the small things in life amid the daily grind. Takamiya Susumu (Mashima Hidekazu) is a salaryman who has to travel to various parts of Japan for his job, but makes it a point to buy local specialties to try out on his train ride back to Tokyo. His one-man “izakaya” gains a following on social media, where regulars chime in about the history, flavour and other interesting nuggets about the items and the area(s) of origin.

I really enjoyed how Takamiya went around hunting for interesting local food instead of just going for the tried and tested. Train rides aren’t always the most interesting, but a little twist here and there makes the long journey more enjoyable. The various items he bought always made me feel hungry while watching, and I was constantly amazed by the full set of cutlery he laid out in preparation for his “mini feasts”. Credit to Mashima Hidekazu, who looked like he had a whale of a time eating all that food!

I was also really pleased to see the drama feature a number of places in the Tohoku region, such as Aomori and Sendai, and Takamiya taking the Hayabusa makes me want to go back to Japan asap. I also didn’t know Utsunomiya was known for its gyoza to the extent of having a gyoza sculpture! Japan has food dramas aplenty, and Izakaya Shinkansen is a worthy candidate for having multiple seasons. Don’t watch this on a hungry stomach!

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V. Jizoku Kanou na Koi desu ka

It’s been a while since I watched Ueno Juri in any drama, and thought this looked interesting. Right off the bat, I liked her pairing with Tanaka Kei a lot more than I expected, which was a happy surprise because other than Tamaki Hiroshi and Odagiri Joe, I hadn’t particularly thought she had much chemistry with her other screen partners.

The drama worked in some yoga teachings thanks to Ueno’s character Kyoka being a yoga instructor, which meant the overall tone of it skewed more reflective despite being billed as a rom-com and having its fair share of funny moments. Issues such as what one looks for in a partner, the concerns about older people getting into a relationship, and finding a balance between love, work and one’s needs were also explored. While I didn’t quite get what it meant to have a “sustainable” love, I was glad the characters found the resolution they needed and was on board with Kyoka’s eventual choice.

The romance was very subtle, but I enjoyed that Kyoka took the initiative regarding her relationship with Seita (Tanaka Kei), who because of a previous failed marriage can come off frustratingly hesitant at times. I liked the chemistry between Ueno and Tanaka and thought they looked pretty compatible onscreen. There was also a beautiful and heartwarming moment in the penultimate episode between Kyoka and her father (played wonderfully by Matsushige Yutaka) that exemplified what it meant to be a family.

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VI. Kishibe Rohan wa Ugokanai (2 seasons)

Technically, I watched the first season last year but I want to mention both because this is such a weird and surreal series. Each season is only three short episodes, but enough to send a chill down your spine. Takahashi Issei is brilliant as the mangaka Kishibe Rohan, who has a very special power which he uses to great effect in various situations. I honestly think only Issei is able to pull off the weird outfit and still look perfectly normal in it.

Iitoyo Marie was a neat addition as his perky manga editor who isn’t aware of Rohan’s mind-reading abilities, but unwittingly gets involved in the various weird situations that invariably find their way to Rohan’s door. I thought the two had solid chemistry and enjoyed their scenes together. The drama was great at creating a creepy, suspenseful vibe, especially with some of the episodes set in places such as deep in the forest or deserted areas. I also really liked the execution of Rohan’s special power, and the library in his house is great. Here’s hoping for another season of Rohan’s surreal adventures.

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VII. Koisenu Futari

A drama about aromatic asexuals is pretty rare, and I enjoyed this for the respect and sensitivity it showed towards exploring such a theme. Sakuko (Kishii Yukino) finds it difficult to live in a society where it is assumed she will naturally fall in love and be in a relationship. After meeting Takahashi Satoru (Takahashi Issei), she learns about the aroace identity and what it means to be truly herself…

I was not aware of the aroace identity, but this drama allowed me to learn and understand, through the characters’ journeys and interactions, not only about aroaces but also what it means to live life for and be true to oneself. The various aspects, such as Takahashi’s touch aversion and whether getting into relationships means you’re not aroace, are handled with gentleness and sensitivity, and the development of how the characters, their family and friends come to terms with aroace is done very well and without judgment.

Kishii and Issei were outstanding in their portrayals, which were handled with nuance and care. Issei is fantastic as usual and it’s always a pleasure to watch him on screen, but I was impressed by just how well Kishii matched him, and they played off each other perfectly. The drama also showed, from every aspect of production, how it aimed to properly explore this underrepresented identity in mainstream media with all the respect and care it deserved, and the end result was wonderful and heartwarming.

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VIII. Cold Case season 3

I hadn’t been on the procedurals train for a while, but Cold Case season 3 brought back all the feels of a solid crime drama. Ishikawa and co are back in the business for a third time, and the opening two episodes about a case of child abuse hit one hard. This season also had some pretty solid guest stars including Eguchi Yosuke, Nakamura Toru and Kuroki Haru, and also made use of more Japanese songs (I could recognise at least three).

Just about every episode could be prefaced with “trigger warning”, for the cases felt pretty hard-hitting. I thought the middle episodes seemed the strongest of the batch, and the penultimate episode also dealt with a difficult chapter in Japan’s history on the return of orphans who had been stranded in China after World War II. Each episode, however, ended more abruptly than I remember for previous seasons and I would have liked a smoother finish for a less nonplussed feeling.

Acting was still excellent throughout and I have liked seeing Ishikawa and co again, with Nagayama Kento especially a sight for sore eyes. It was like revisiting old friends knowing that you’d still have an enjoyable time with them. There was a little more insight into some of the team members, with one episode dedicated to an old case that Takito Kenichi’s character was involved in, and the return of another familiar face from season 1. The finale ends on a note of hope, for perhaps a season 4.

junny@9.36pm

4 thoughts on “Mini J-drama puffs: 2022 half-time round-up

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