Tuesday, December 13, 2005


STAR NO KOI _ **** _ Fujiwara Norika, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi _ Like Notting Hill in Tokyo _ instead of Julia Roberts, we have shapely Norika-san as Kirishima Hikaruko, star of such cinematic gems as "Plot"; instead of Hugh Grant, it's Kusanagi of SMAP as ham salesman Nakata Sosuke; instead of a bookstore, it's San Marco Ham; instead of wacky family and buddies, it's wacky ham hawking coworkers!

The show's director has a thing for long tracking shots _ pulling back from a Norika performance to reveal that hey, it's actually a set! It gives it a look distinct from the usual tv dorama.

I've never seen Norika act. She's no Matsushima Nanako (the bar which all JTV actresses shall be measured), but she holds her own. She has two expressions: the sheltered dumb movie star, and the zen-smiling actress betraying signs of intelligence. She even emotes well when they ramp up the dorama for the ep 8-11 third act.

Kusanagi plays straight man ham salesman Sosuke _ versed in Japanese archery _ whose chance encounter with disaffected movie star Hikurako will change his life for the next 11 eps. Best supporting actress (and uber-hottie) Hasegawa Ryoko is Koizumi Tsubami, Sosuke's coworker at San Marco, who has a soft spot for him.

Each ep is damn hilarious, and touchingly builds on the central relationship to conclusion _ something that lesser romance doramas have trouble sustaining through 11 shows. Veterans Toda Keiko as Hikurako's agent, Ukaji Takashi as the handler, and Morimoto Leo as a sagely, ham-loving arthouse director, along with the Ham shop guys round out the show.

Besides a great "love-conquers-all" story, you also learn a lot about ham, Japanese celebrity and talent agencies, and even some archery philosophy. The runaway ep, the archery ep and the stalker ep are standouts. Globe's dance-cover of "Stop in the Name of Love" is high energy like Alice DJ.

ITSUMO FUTARI DE (Always the Two of Us) _ *** _ Matsu Takako, Sakaguchi Kenji _ It's like Long Vacation-lite _ a co-habitation romantic comedy with Matsu doing pouty kawaii act and some guy _ oh it's Sakaguchi Kenji, who I guess was in KimuTaku's Pride, but I haven't watched it yet. Anyways she moves to Tokyo from the frigid fields of Hokkaido to become a writer, only to have gotten stuck with no money and nowhere to go except for the color-coordinated trendy Daikanyama pad of her childhood playmate Hachi (Sakaguchi), who happens to be single and has a spare bedroom. He's a writer and errand boy for tv host Fuwa Keijiro (desu), played by Nishimura Masahiko in full-smirk.

Hachi has a crush on dental nurse Yoko (best supporting hottie Hasegawa Ryoko who works in the same building. Matsu works at a ghetto game magazine publisher Matsu Publishing, which is on its last legs, and meets its flirty young chief Okuda Naoyuki, who started out as a bespectacled Kashiwabara Takashi (Shota of Shota no Sushi), but he drops out after the second ep because of illness (he had a severe headache, according to jdorama). He's replaced by Katsurayama Shingo, who's not bad, but you can't help but think the writers had plotted more for the character _ Mizuho and Okuda (as Kashiwabara played him) had mucho chemistry, which dissapated with the change. Matsu also befriends a cranky, reclusive bookstore owner who looks like Sonny Chiba, whose name I don't know.

Will these young, good looking 20-somethings achieve their dreams in the big city and find love? In a romantic comedy, it's not too hard to guess the answer, so it's in the execution. The show started with the ingredients for a great dorama, though some missed opportunities with plot and character development left it merely good, which is a testament to the skills of the ensemble here to lift what could be trite material in less capable hands. Its fun watching Matsu do her perky girl act, though her chemistry here with Sakaguchi was slight. Cool supporting cast too, including Sato Hitomi from Beach Boys as Matsu's best friend Yuko. The theme song "Always" is catchy.

It's a trip going from this to Star no Koi _ Hasegawa is one of
Kusanagi's coworkers at San Marco Ham, and Sato plays Kusa's country girlfriend in the first ep.

DENSHA OTOKO _ **** _ Ito Atsushi, Itoh Misaki _ Yeah, it's the My Fair Lady redone with otakus, the Internet and wall-to-wall Itoh Misaki fan service megahit of summer 2005. Sweet, sweet Itoh Misaki _ so hot and leggy, yet with so few lines, an emotional range limited to pout and pain, and little brain. Otaku dream girl indeed _ I don't think an anime nerd would know what to do if they're thrown into the kind of emotional train wreck from Tokyo Love Story.

Twenty-three year old Yamada Tsuyoshi, handle: Densha Otoko(Ito) is your typical home-bound ota obsessed with anime, video games and some drawing with carrots coming out of her butt called Mina. By serendipity, he rescues elite OL Aoyama Saori, handle: Hermes(Itoh) from being harassed by a drunk on the train. She took down his address and number, and sends him a set of Hermes tea cups; he with the help of a Web forum musters up courage to call her out for a date. Can an unsocialized geek hook up with a hottie like Itoh Misaki? With the help of dozens of forum posters throughout Japan, why not? It's all supposed to be based on a true story that sparked a multimedia wish-fulfillment mini-industry. Judge for yourself.

Tons of Mobile Suit Gundam references for the fans out there (bandai is a prominent sponsor). There are a few neat otaku cameos, but for me, it's all about watching Itoh Misaki looking hot. Soooo hot...

Ito as Yamada trying to woo her can be a bit infuriating, especially when he's stuttering, and he's really freaky in full ota mode. Not too much fat in the show _ there's some good character development each ep as we watch Densha go through an identity crisis in mainstreaming himself, heads online for advice and eventually strikes a balance between geeking out and an "adult" relationship. The last ep is a bit too long _ a lot of flashbacks and forum bonding.

Oguri Shun does have a SPEAKING role _ he doesn't just communicate in ascii art.

Also worth mentioning Shirashi Miho as Jinkama Mizusu, a client of Yamada's employment agency who can't quite keep a job and gets off breaking the balls of our hapless hero. She's spirited and not above straigtening out this smelly ota when he needs it. Sudo Risa (Nami from Yamato Nadeshiko) kinda reprises the same role here as Hermes' coworker, except she's desperate because she's 30.

It's a good time _ it offers hope to lonely otakus of all obsessions everywhere, though I wouldn't confuse this with real life.

NOW VIEWING: Kou Kou Kyoushi 2003