Sunday, November 27, 2005


TOKYO LOVE STORY (Tokyo Rabu Sutori) _ *** _ Suzuki Honami, Oda Yuji _ It's more of a U.S. nighttime soap drama than a typical Japanese plot-driven dorama with wacky comic moments. The characters are befuddling and infuriating because they're extreme manifestations of different kinds of love _ from needy to generous to self-absorbed and obsessive-compulsive. The show (and source manga) at its best is a keen study of all the fucked-up 20-somethings that are out there, in Tokyo or otherwise.

The sole doramatic high point is Suzuki's Akana Rika, the only character that's well-adujusted and kind (to a fault), perky and likable, sort of like Izumi Inamori's Hana in Pretty Girls brought to a human level. She works at Heart Sports, an athletic gear company Oda's Nagao Kanji just joined, and became immediately smitten with him.

The rest of the cast in thise doramatic love pentagon needs a good smacking, especially the two male leads _ long-haired Eguchi Yonsuke's Mikami Kenichi needs a haircut and some serious counseling to undo his borderline-socialpath behavior. And indeed, as a fellow d-addict said, Oda is the Japanese Ben Affleck. As white trench coat-bearing Tokyo new arrival Kanji, he can only register painful angst, and slightly less painful angst. He also has a slight overbite.

As the schoolyard crush for both Mikami and Kanji, Sekiguchi Satomi (Arimori Narimi) is REALLY annoying at first _ this wishy-washy kindergarten teacher more than the others enjoys sitting alone in the dark, but straightens out later. Sendo Akiho, as Mikami's borderline bipolar medical school classmate Nagasaki Naoko, rounds out the gang.

Overall, it's sometimes a drag to watch, but a few of the twists and the final episode make up for rough parts. One thing _ did Rika ever return Kanji's watch?

Now Showing: Densha Otoko

Sunday, November 20, 2005


PRETTY GIRLS _ **1/2 _ Inamori Izumi, Yonekura Ryoko, Katase Nana, Tanabe Seiichi _ A romantic comic dorama with great ideas _ a stew of magical realism, fairy tale romance, department store management immersion, and bubble economy corporate nostalgia. But it ultimately falls short because the writer couldn't decide whether the show should be a merry fairy tale or a penetrating examination of feminine psychosis.

Supernaturally optimistic Noyama Hana (Inamori) is a vagabond who wandered into struggling Ginza department store Andrew's. Partly through happenstance and design, this wildflower gains the trust of HR Director Ino Shouko (Katahira Nagisa) and company president Takamine Ryotaro (Utsui Ken), and is unleashed to rescue the store with hands firmly planted on the ground, revamping one troubled department at a time, at least for the first five or so episodes.

Hana indirectly butts heads the president's son Takamine Ryo (Tanabe), who as the executive director is trying to cut costs and line up financing to save the debt-ridden company. But at what cost? For dad, not if it means losing Andrew's soul.

Hana's less-than-willing best friend Jurai Ayumi (Yonekura) is a doormat of floor sales girl who has a crush on Ryo that borders on stalker-like obsession. She dreams of being Cinderella _ finding her prince in the executive director who doesn't even know she exists.

The third pretty girl Araki Rieko (Katase) works at the store information desk _ a friend to the two leads in a glorified character part.

So Hana's out to make everyone happy over nine episodes _ she has to save the department store, hook-up her friend with the president's son, who needs to see the errors of his heartless Nikkei bottom-line ways, reuniting son with father.

Well, she succeeds in two out of three. How so? Because the writer failed to pair-up Ryo with Ayumi convincingly _ he's still a bit clueless, she doesn't really overcome her wimpiness. She never really earned the right to be with her prince and you wonder how she will get by without Hana.

The Ayumi plot alone would've made the show unwatchable if not for veteran Inamori's warm and kawaii performance as Hana. She injects spunk and spirit into what could easily be tooth-rotting sweet with a less capable actress. Her antics light up the screen, adding a splash of color to the grays and blacks trailing Ayumi.

But we don't get enough of her. Instead, we have to slog through Ayumi _ the most weak-willed, annoying and self-absorbed character ever penned for dorama. (Seikiguchi from Tokyo Love Story comes close, but that's another review.) There's some hinted depth to Hana _ she may not be all THAT happy _ but it went unexplored as the writers push to wrap up the show. (Maybe it's low ratings.) The best part of the show remains forever out of reach.

Also, a great plot twist in episode six quickly ran out of steam. It's too bad _ all the pieces for a quality dorama are there, they just didn't quite come together.

GOOD LUCK!! _ *** _ Kimura Takuya, Tsutsumi Shinichi, Shibasaki Kou, Kuroki Hitomi _ Lightweight Kimutaku fare that doubles as a recruiting film/commercial for ANA. Don't look for any real serious dorama like Beautiful Life here _ it's just some not-too-severe baggage that plays out like a relatively smooth international flight with a just slight bumps along the way. Besides, I don't think the brass at All Nippon want to show their airline in any other light than glorious: caring cabin crew ready to counsel the needy; tough-as-nails pilots and co-pilots ready and willing to go the extra mile to deliver passengers promptly and safely to their destinations; all professionals laboring on behalf of the rising sun.

(In fact, the sunrise above the clouds is almost a fetish for Kimutaku's character. What was he implying with that speech on peace and conflict? Hmmmmm...does he merely wish for peace or is it more of a Neo-Con peace by any means necessary kind of guy? What's Kimutaku's stance on Japan's role as aggressor during WWII? Does he yearn to see the rising sun above East Asia once again or does he merely aim to influence policy by peddling SMAP's soft power? We'll never know...)

Anyways, Takuya is ANA co-pilot Shinkai Hajime, another in a his repetoire of kohais with potential but needs guidance. Ready to whip this punk co-piloto into a captain is Kouda Kazuki (Tsutsumi), the no-nonsense pilot/flight auditor with a low tolerance for imperfections and a hint of baggage. Nicknamed "cyborg" by fellow pilots, he's the hurdle between Shinkai and that fourth stripe.

Kimutaku doesn't break any new ground here _ it's a stock dorama character he has been playing since Long Vacation, only the occupation's different. It's Tsutsumi who's the stand out. In a pitched-perfect peformance as the semi-tragic Kouda Captain, he inspires contempt and sympathy in equal measure. Only a veteran actor of his stature could pull off this balance.

MILFilicious Kuroki-san is chief flight attendant Togashi Noriko, who shares a past with Kouda and is Shinkai's mentor. Ogawa Ayumi (Shibasaki), ANA's ONLY female mechanic, is a good foil for Shinkai _ she's blunt and has bad people skills, and it's up to Kimutaku to cut through her baggage with witty banter and win her heart. Still, as Shibasaki played her, she looks pissed off half the time _ maybe the role demands it.

There's a random plot twist in episode 8, perhaps because the writers realized they had cleared the show's only running subplot, but still had two more episodes to go. Ride on Time is a catchy song. Look for Takenaka Naoto as Jane Naito, a flirty captain who likes loud shirts and drops in random foreign language pharses in conversation. Good times.

Now Showing: Tokyo Love Story, Bewitched in Tokyo (Okusama Wa Majo), Gokusen 2