J-Drama: The Best of 2000-2009 (In My Opinion), #1-5
Japanese dramas (TV). The addiction of housewives, young girls, learners of Japanese, and fans of beautiful people. Often knocked for their low-level of cinematography, acting, and general filming woes, J-Dramas nonetheless attract countless numbers of native Japanese as well as people around the world who thrive off of custom subtitling groups and free distribution sites via Livejournal, other blogs, or the popular Daddicts. What’s the draw? Well, it depends on who you ask. Most watch J-Dramas for their favorite actors/actresses, some watch them for their dramatic, effective, slowly-unfolding stories, others watch them to improve their Japanese or just to kill time. There’s a certain emotional weight to some J-Dramas that draws you in and doesn’t let you go until the series finishes.
Personally, I began watching J-Dramas as an input method in my study of Japanese. I soon discovered that I LOVED watching them and spent countless hours researching actors, writers, and what I would try next. In some cases, I was so drawn into a certain story that I stayed up all night just to finish the series. J-Dramas introduced me to the Japanese entertainment industry and were the launching point in my love for Japanese film. What follows are the select dramas that I enjoyed the most. Most of them are quality productions, examples of the best in the field. Some of them may suck in the eyes of others, but connected to me on a different level. Enjoy.
Main Cast: Tsumabuki Satoshi, Shibasaki Kou, Narimiya Hiroki, Shiraishi Miho, Eita
~Story: The setting is a University campus in spring, the story is inspiring and heartwarming. Yuuki Kai (Tsumabuki), unlucky with job hunting, one day meets a girl playing the violin on campus. She is Hagio Sae (Shibasaki), who is beautiful, has an impertinent personality, and lost her hearing four years prior. They unexpectedly become close, drawing in a group of friends that experience love and friendship in a period that they, and you, will never forget.
Orange Days is the best of the best, a drama that I doubt will ever be surpassed in my mind. The cast and characters are perfect, containing a chemistry that I have never seen, even in film (Tsumabuki and Shibasaki entered into a relationship after this drama, and continued their chemistry into the first Dororo film). Even the supporting roles are incredibly likable, as the drama highlights their relationships almost as much as the main relationship. Music is great, especially the ending song, “Sign,” by the influential band Mr. Children. The romance is fantastic as well, not only focusing on one relationship, but many. If there ever were an inspirational and life-altering drama, this and the next drama on my list are it. The first episode will hook you; I finished the series in one sleepless night. Do yourself a favor and watch Orange Days, you will never forget it.
Main Cast: Sawajiri Erika, Nishikido Ryo, Narumi Riko, Yakushimaru Hiroko, Jinnai Takanori
~Story: Heartbreaking and inspiring. 15-year old Ikeuchi Aya (Sawajiri) was a normal girl about to enter high school when she found out about her illness–she has spinocerebellar degeneration, which will slowly kill her, gradually deteriorating her brain. The drama depicts her reaction, her first love, her unabated resolve in fighting the disease, and her inspiring influence on the people around her.
1 Litre of Tears is the pinnacle of sad dramas. It rises above the rest not only because it’s story is the most heart-wrenching, but because it is presented in a logical and well-thought out manner. It also has the perfect actress, Sawajiri Erika, in her breakthrough role (it brought her fame and fortune, but also hatred; she became a very despised Japanese actress). She is cute, but more than that, she effectively depicts the struggles and emotions that her character experiences. Let’s also not forget the incredible insert song, “Konayuki” by Remioromen, along with the rest of the music in general. This drama will make you cry, or at least feel incredibly touched, but it is not just a depressing mess. 1 Litre of Tears proves to be inspirational and life-altering, causing the viewer to stop and think about their life, their friends and loved ones, and how important it all is. Like Orange Days, it is unforgettable.
Main Cast: Nagase Tomoya, Kubozuka Yosuke, Watanabe Ken, Sato Ryuta, Yamashita Tomohisa, Kato Ai
~Story: Unique, strange, and hilarious. Makoto (Nagase) lives in Ikebukuro West Gate Park, an area known for gangs and delinquency. Makoto’s friend, Takeshi, or “King” (Kubozuka), is a leader of a gang, the G-Boys, who are always causing problems for the local police. Makoto’s dream is to be a detective, though he often finds himself in situations where he is helping his friends who are criminals. In investigating a friend’s death, he is soon drawn in to helping solve many mysteries and problems that the IWGP inhabitants encounter.
IWGP is a dark comedy that is also effective in exploring human problems and solving mysteries. The cast is absolutely star-studded, with many familiar faces of past and future spread out within. This also contains the most unique presentation and story of any drama I have seen, so it receives major props from me. It is not often that a drama impresses so much with its originality. I have to highlight Kubozuka Yosuke’s character, “King,” because of the sheer insanity and hilarity that the character emits. It is the perfect character for him to play, and he plays it perfectly–“King” is the most memorable character in the drama. There are many moments in this drama where I was caught off-guard, specifically in the realm of humor. Sometimes the camera will shift to a random scene which is completely hilarious, then show a brutal murder or a shocking incident. This effectively keeps the drama engrossing. Watch it!
~Story: A summer spent with virgin Japanese teenage boys. Four high schoolers decide that they no longer want to be the only virgins remaining in their school. Randomly, a “princess” that they knew as children 11 years ago moves back into the neighborhood, but she is no longer as beautiful as they remember. This is a story of love, friendship, school, family, the hypocrisy of adults, complications of life, experience, and failure.
Going where many mainstream dramas fail to go, Stand Up!! reminds me of an American teenage coming-of-age film, with an extremely Japanese spin. It succeeds in being hilarious as well as insightful into the problems and clumsiness that teenagers experience. Much like IWGP, Stand Up!! is presented in a less-than-conventional manner that works–it is unique and really separates itself from the bulk of normal dramas. The casting was good–Ninomiya, Narimiya, and Oguri were great and over-the-top in portraying their characters, which was perfect. Yamashita acted like a rock, but succeeded in looking good and being the “cool one” in the group. The only gripe I had with this drama is Suzuki Anne. She is a bit annoying to me, and I hated her more and more as the drama progressed (though that’s what her character is supposed to be like). Despite that, Stand Up!! is a great example of an entertaining, hilarious, original Japanese drama.
Main Cast: Yamashita Tomohisa, Nagasawa Masami, Eikura Nana, Hiraoka Yuta, Hamada Gaku, Fujiki Naohito
~Story: Nostalgia. Iwase Ken (Yamashita) has been in love with Yoshida Rei (Nagasawa) since pretty much the beginning of time. Too bad he sucks at romance and is now watching her walk down the aisle with another man (who is hard to dislike). What happens next? Well, a male fairy appears and allows Ken to go back in time, to each photograph that appears on the wedding slideshow, so that he can change time, alter his life, and ultimately improve the photograph. This is his second chance to win over the girl that he loves.
I think this was the third or fourth J-Drama that I watched, and it emotionally affected me in a way that no other has. I know many will knock me for selecting this as one of the best dramas, but to me it is. Yamashita Tomohisa and Nagasawa Masami as leads? I actually thought they did a pretty good job. Yamapi’s acting actually fit this character, a guy who is shy and unable to express his feelings. The story is what got me. I felt that I connected personally with Yamashita’s character, as I had some sort of similar experience earlier in life. What if I got a second chance, I thought. I don’t often get emotional when I watch something, but somehow I felt it during each episode even though not much really happened. The drama as a whole is steeped in nostalgia as it peers into the past, examining school life and mistakes made. The music is effective and memorable, especially Kuwata Keisuke’s ending song, “Ashita Hareru Kana,” and Mongol 800’s insert song, “Chiisana Koi no Uta,” which is among one of my favorite songs, even before watching the show. In short, I would recommend this drama to anybody looking for a nostalgic romance story. Who knows, maybe it will affect you in the same way it affected me.
Done for now. I have like five more J-Dramas that I consider to be among the best, so I will write on them in the future. じゃ、また。