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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo [j-drama]

the Japanese (language) that the Japanese (people) don't know

This is the first time that I've been watching a series as soon as it is aired in Japan.  It's much easier to download a series when it comes out instead of waiting for dead links.  Nihonjin is currently airing and this week will mark the 6th episode, but the rating have been rather poor.  Episode one had 5.8% and episode five had a shockingly low 1.3%  Despite these ratings, it is an entertaining series with many lessons in Japanese and reasoning to certain rules in the Japanese language.    This series is softsubbed which makes it even faster to watch and upload.  The drama is based of an illustrated book of the same name where a teacher is explaining how she teaches foreign students.  The premise of the series is a fashionable shop assistant named Haruko who has always dreamed of being a high school teacher.  She ends up getting a job as a temporary teacher, but finds out when she gets there that it is a school for foreign exchange students.  At first she is intimidated by all of the questions and curiosity of her students, but they end up teaching each other valuable lessons (because come on, it's a drama!).  The cast is one of the most amazing parts of the series!  The main character is a popular actress this season, but the class is actually made up of a wide range of foreigners who speak very good Japanese.  Unfortunately most of them are not popular actors, so there are very few pictures of the whole cast.  I hope that this picture will give you the basic idea of what the whole cast looks like.  (click on the image to see the entire image)

                                                         Naka Riisa (Yankee-kun to Megane-chan)                  
                                                                                                                                                                                              She plays the character Haruko who is given the position of teacher to a class full or foreign students.  She wants to be a Japanese high school teacher and is promised a teaching position if she can get all of her current class to graduate.  She typically dresses like she's a fashionista instead of a teacher and can often get overwhelmed by the types of questions her students ask.  Typically the way the foreigners learn Japanese is quite different and much more formal than most Japanese people are used to using.  She might be a new teacher, but she has a big heart and treats her students well.  

This series is very entertaining and informative.  As a past student of Japanese I found the lessons to be very interesting and also incredibly useful.  It teaches you about some of the little things such as counters, reasoning for kanji readings, "standard speech" vs. "everyday speech," and many various topics.  In one episode one of the characters is into yakuza traditions and even has a high stakes hanafuda* match.  The foreigner's Japanese is very good and it flows just as easily as quickly as some of the Japanese characters within the series.  Perhaps the reason the show isn't too popular in Japan is that it points out things about Japanese language that most people already know or feel like they know.  The students know Japanese from the way they were taught from textbooks and their own countries, and many of the questions are about super formal things in the Japanese language that typical Japanese people don't even think to question.  I suppose it's like that for any foreign country, where you have the way you speak, and you think nothing of it and the way it must sound to a foreigner.  For instance in one of the episodes there are specific ways to talk when working at a restaurant and giving food to customers, but in textbook terms it seems like very strange Japanese to say it the professional way.  I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in the Japanese language and the little things that make up the rules of a language.  


Characters: 5 out of 5 (The cast is pretty much non-Japanese who speak fluent Japanese throughout the series.  Each character has their own personality and they all have good chemistry)

Story: 5 out of 5 (I thought this story was super original and was very good with the information about Japanese language)

Irritation Level: 0 out of 5 (No love misunderstandings, the only thing people might complain about is the characters constantly questioning the way things are.  But if you've taken a language, the willingness to learn and understand is something that many can relate to)

Overall: 5 out of 5

It's a good series with an extremely original premise.  Being an ex-Japanese major, I can relate to wanting to know everything about the language and just being fluent.  Even with the low rating system I am hoping that the rest of the series will be just as good.  I'm guessing there about 5 more episodes before the end and can't wait to see the other students' stories and experiences.  There are 9 students total meaning that everyone should have their own story line, plus a finale.  :)  I hope you also enjoy this series as much as I do!

*A traditional set of hana cards.  It is traditionally a gambling game, but also a very fun card game.  I've tried teaching it to friends in the past, but they have a hard time getting into it.  My grandpa and my family used to play this a lot when we would visit.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shinzanmono [j-drama]

People lie to escape from their sins and to continue living their lives.  

I have been trying to find a good detective-type drama since I watched the series Odoru Daisosasen back when I was in high school.  It's been recently that I've been researching dramas and keeping up with current seasons (because it is always so much more convenient to download when links are fresh) and found that there are actually a lot of detective ones.  Shinzanmono is a spring season drama that finished back in June.  The actors high profile and the story is moved by multiple mysteries, clearing up the big mystery of who killed newcomer (in Japanese the word for newcomer to a town is shinzanmono) Mitsu Mineko.  The cast was well put together and each character had screen presence.  The main cast appears throughout the series, but there are many recognizable actors in each individual episode.

Abe Hiroshi (been in various dramas and movies for the past 13 years)

He plays detective Kaga Kyoichiro who has been recently transferred (also a shinzanmono) to Ningyo cho, a small shopping-district town famous for it's family owned shops.  He is placed as head of the investigation into the murder of Mitsu Mineko and has very good skills at reading people and the little actions.  

Kuroki Meisa (1 Pound Gospel, Tada Kimi wo Aishiteru, former JJ Model and singer)

She plays journalist, Aoyama Ami who knew Kaga Kyoichiro when she was still in school and is dating the son of Mitsu Mineko.  Ami feels like she has to find out why Mitsu Mineko was killed and starts doing a bit of her own investigating.  

Mukai Osamu (Beck, Osen, Nodame Cantabile, Bambino!)

He plays Kiyose Koki, Mitsu Mineko's son who left home to pursue his acting career against the wishes of his divorced parents.  He feels like his mother regretted having him and does not feel the need to be in contact with her.  He seems to not care about his family since he did not feel wanted, but he can't seem to completely cast away his family.  

Mizobata Junpei (Hana Kimi, Buzzer Beat, Seito Shokun!)

He plays Matsumiya Shuhei who works for the police force and is constantly put with Kaga Kyoichiro.  He is the typical understudy type character who is constantly wondering if Kaga's techniques and questioning really works.  Matsumiya is always trying to prove himself and is a good detective.

Miura Tomokazu (Ryusei no Kizuna, The Taste of Tea)

He plays Kiyose Naohiro, ex-husband of Mitsu Mineko and father to Kiyose Koki.  He is constantly under suspicion from the police because of the background between the two.  He has distanced himself from her, but it is apparent that he still cares, even after her death.

Harada Mieko (Ran, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis, Dreams)

She plays Mitsu Mineko and is shown in every episode through various flashbacks and recollections of the town inhabitants.  She is a kind woman who just wants to find out more about her son and his life.

I picked this series up because I was happy to see a detective drama.  I am also familiar with Kuroki Meisa because she was a former model in my favorite Japanese magazine, JJ.  She has also been in my all time favorite Japanese love movie, Tada Kimi wo Aishiteru.  The first episode also had a small segment on kendo (Japanese fencing) and me being a kendoist for the past few 7 years, I was excited to see a drama with a kendo segment.  I was pleased with my first detective drama since Odoru and have been looking for other great ones since.  Some have been more comedic, while others have been boring, but I will be interested to learn if there will be another great detective series out there.  :)


Characters: 4.5 out of 5 (Awesome variety in cast and great character movement.  It was the perfect mix with only a few stereotypical characters, but overall good range.)

Story: 4.5 out of 5 (Loved the story and how great of a character Kaga Kiyoichiro was.  He reminded me a lot of Kindaichi from one of my favorite manga's The Kindaichi Case Files.  The town residents were very unique and interesting to watch.)

Irritation Level: 0 out of 5 (No constant, irritating, quarrels and misunderstanding between lovers here!)

Overall: 5 out of 5

I loved this series.  It was very different from the typical comedic-romance high school drama or the heartbreaking love story that Asians love to watch.  Abe Hiroshi plays Kaga Kyoichiro very well and is an awesome character to watch.  I liked how by solving each of these mysteries, you get closer to the big mystery of who killed Mitsui Mineko.  I hope you guys find joy in this series and perhaps it will spike your interest in the ever popular Japanese detective stories.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Drama Rating System

Since I started to review dramas, I decided to make a rating system.

Characters: Based on the personality of the characters and the way they interact with each other.

Story: Based on the originality of the story and how well it is executed.  (since most are based on manga, this would entail the originality of the manga and how the drama executes it)

Irritation Level: Based on how much I feel irritated with the characters and the typical drama stupidness that people in love can have.  For example, the main guy sees the main girl with another guy and assumes the worst so he gets mad and sulks by ignoring her.  Or if they cry the entire series about their unrequited love (don't worry, after Winter Sonata, I learned my lesson when it comes to super dramatic dramas).

Overall: Based on overall enjoyment of the series and if I'd watch it again.

For the 3 standard scores, it's just based from 1 being bad to 5 being amazing (with irritation level high numbers mean high irritation)
1= bad
2= okay
3= good
4= great
5= amazing

For the overall score, I based the number system like netflix does, but I will add the .5 to the mix.  =P
1= hated it
2= didn't like it
3= like it
4= really like it
5= love it

Sunao ni Narenakute [j-drama]

So it seems like lately I might be doing drama reviews here.  I know a lot of other blogs already do this, and a lot of people already have reviewed a lot of the series I have, but since I have so many, I might as well start somewhere.  :)

I just finished up a series called Sunao ni Narenakute, which translates to Can't Be Honest.  It's about a group of four people who meet each other via Twitter and become great friends.  They finally decide to meet up in real life and get to know each other.  It's about how they learn to be honest with each other and their feelings and how they live their lives.  It's a typical Japanese life drama, but the characters are lovable and ones you get attached to easily.  The cast includes some of the following super stars.

Ueno Juri (Nodame Cantabile, Last Friends)

She plays the main girl character (twitter name Haru) who is a provisional high school teacher who lies and says that she is a legit high school teacher.  She has feelings for her fellow twitter friend Nakaji, and can't wait to meet him.

Eita (Nodame Cantabile, Last Friends)

He plays the main guy character (twitter named Nakaji) who is a photographer for adult magazines, but he lies to his twitter friends saying that he photographs for magazines like Vogue and Elle.  His father was a war photographer and he also wants to follow in his father's footsteps but has a hard time getting into the industry.

Jae Joon (international superstar, part of Dong Bang Shin Ki)

He plays a character named Seonsu (twitter name Doctor) who is a sales guy for a medical company, but he lies and tells his twitter friends that he is actually a doctor.  He is incredibly shy and is often bullied by his coworkers for having the worst sales records.  But he has feelings for Haru before they meet in person and wants to act on them.

Tamayama Tetsuji (Nana)

He plays a character named Kaoru (twitter name Linda) who works at a magazine as he is trying to be an editor, but he lies and tells his twitter friends that he is the head editor of a magazine.  He would do anything to make it in the business, but is being blackmailed into sexual favors by the head editor.  He cares deeply about the friends that he has made and wants to do everything that he can to help them.

Seki Megumi (Ganbatte Ikimasho, Hachimitsu to Clover)

She plays a character named Hikari (named Peach for ever episode after the first) who is Haru's best friend and goes with her to the first twitter meet up.  She is the type of girl who always wants to be loved and is having an affair with her boss.  She has suicidal tendencies and tries to kill herself in the first episode, but her friends save her in time and she decides that she needs to change herself.  She decides to join them up on twitter and changes her name to Peach in a way to reinvent herself.

I originally picked up this drama because of the two main characters, Ueno Juri and Eita.  They have been together in at least 2 other dramas and always have a good chemistry.  I also saw pictures of Eita with a Nikon camera and was intrigued, and I found some nice hardsubs by GOE;SS (gods of the east subbing squad) and finished this series in only 3 days.  It had the typical drama elements of bad timing and misunderstandings, and the self-sacrificing love.  It might sound too girlish, but it was very nice and had a good morale.  Tell the truth about your experiences and feelings.  If you don't it can eat away at you and cause unnecessary pain.

The theme song is by Sugawara Sayuri and is called Sunao ni Narenakute.  The funny thing about drama music is that you might not like it upon first hearing, but by the time the series is done, you will be listening to it all the time.  This song is typical Japanese ballad, but the lyrics are what make the song.  I remember hearing this song before I even heard of the drama because I liked the album cover.  It's such a pretty picture and I tend to download songs just because of the album art.  XD

Sunao ni Narenakute; Sugawara Sayuri
I can just feel it if you protect me
Come and hold me close right now
I want to show you these feelings that were always dear to me
Because my heart couldn’t become honest “…I miss you”
We walked back home and within the silence there was no one
This beating heart feels like it will burst open
I wonder if you can hear it?
Is there a deep love for these closed lips of mine?
I cannot say anything in front of him
I always held in these gentle feelings that you had been deprived of
Because my heart cannot become honest “…I miss you”
I swore I’d live my life, never crying in front of others
But in front of you, my heart becomes overwhelmed with tears
Is there any meaning in the words you gave me in the warmth of your arms?
I held you from behind and muttered softly
I won’t ever let you be alone because I always want to be there for you
I want to feel all of your warmth, I believe you
Because miracles just happen, they are not guided by fate
I was drawn to you so we cannot drift apart
I always held in the gentle smile you wanted to see
Because I want my heart to become honest
I want to show you these feelings that were always dear to me
Because I want my heart to become honest “…I miss you”
I hope that if you watch this series it will be as good of an experience for you as it was for me.  The theme is close to people's hearts because we always hide our true feelings to keep ourselves from hurting, but in the end, you end up feeling worse.  It's a very nice series if you're looking for one that is a bit more drama like, without the super depressing Korean teary characters/endings.  Enjoy and happy watching!!

Characters: 4 out of 5 (nice variety of characters.  they feel insecure at first, but grow to trust each other)

Story: 3.5 out of 5 (it's a typical life story drama where the characters have to learn to trust their friends.  some of the relationships are a bit stereotypical drama)

Irritation Level: 2 out of 5 (quite low, but there is some of that self-sacrificing bits that some people find annonying)

Overall: 4 out of 5 (good series, great characters, good chemistry, mild irritation level because of typical misunderstandings)